Jordan’s Jerash Festival hopes to be summer draw despite row over artists’ pay

A number of Jordanian artists are boycotting the festival, complaining of ill pay compared to non-local Arab performers.
Sunday 23/06/2019
‘Unfair treatment’. Jordanian singer Rami Shafeeq is among Jordanian performers boycotting the Jerash Festival.  Roufan Nahhas
‘Unfair treatment’. Jordanian singer Rami Shafeeq is among Jordanian performers boycotting the Jerash Festival. Roufan Nahhas

AMMAN - Despite its high ambitions, the Jerash Festival, Jordan’s leading summer attraction, is facing a boycott by Jordanian artists for what the performers say is poor management and poor pay.

Singers Rami Shafeeq, Ghada Abbasi, Haitham Amer and Tawfiq Al Dalo announced their boycott after rejecting organisers’ offers, which the performers said were “degrading,” compared to fees paid to non-local Arab performers.

Shafeeq, who has a wide fan base at home and in Arab countries, said: “There should be a fair treatment between Arab and Jordanian artists.”

Jordanian singer Suleiman Abboud said he would boycott the festival in support of his compatriots.

“I am supporting my colleagues in their decision. The Jordanian Artists Association showed an unappreciative attitude towards our work. They offered me $1,130 to participate in the festival while offering (visiting) Arab singers $70,000. It is unacceptable and illogical,” Abboud said.

Jerash Festival Executive Director Ayman Samawi, in a statement, said: “The budget allocated for Jordanian artists has been doubled, reaching around $36,600, while (visiting) Arab artists will receive about $373,700 in total, which confirms the importance of the Jordanian artists’ presence and participation.”

The statement referred to the local participation as “excellent” with two nights dedicated to Jordanian artists on the southern stage in addition to the participation of 25 Jordanian folklore groups from various governorates, poetry recitals and exhibitions showcasing handicrafts, food products and other traditional Jordanian items.

The 34th Jerash Festival is scheduled for July 18-28 and organisers said they hope to “restore the local community and visitors’ confidence in the festival and boost its artistic and cultural appeal.”

The festival will include new activities such as a film festival, during which 25 movies will be screened, and the “Jerash Festival Lights” programme.

Taking place in the ancient city’s Greco-Roman theatres, 48km north of Amman, the Jerash Festival had a humble start in 1981 when it was founded by Queen Noor. It quickly gained popularity, attracting large numbers of locals and visitors from the Gulf region.

The festival had a 4-year interruption but was revived in 2011 and today Jerash, once known as Gerasa and referred to as the Pompeii of the East, carries the flag as the main and leading attraction for summer festivities in Jordan.

The festival previously faced harsh criticism from the public and media but this year “things are going the right way,” journalist Majdi Tell said.

“There were some ups and downs but it seems the festival has finally found a way to be more attractive and well-organised with a host of interesting activities and an ‘A list’ of local and Arab artists,” Tell said.