London’s stunning summer showcase of Arab contemporary culture has been warmly received by the thousands who enjoyed a rich programme of visual arts, theatre, music, architecture, literature, film and dance.
Organised by London Mayor Boris Johnson, sponsored by HSBC and supported by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, the Shubbak (Arabic word for window) Festival drew on the resources and creative input of over 30 key cultural venues which staged 70 events featuring more than 100 artists from across the Arab world.
HSBC Group General Manager Zarir J Cama explained that the festival, which concluded on July 24 after its opening on July 4, was “the first event of our 2011 and 2012 global cultural exchange programme, ‘Arabian Journeys’, which will include research with the Economist Intelligence Unit and Arabia Offscreen, an international education project”.
The digital film production of the award-winning Qatari play, Me.... You...The Human, was featured at the festival through Gulf Stage. Gulf Stage was formed of the British Council, Digital Theatre UK, Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and Qatar Foundation.
It featured original theatre productions in Arabic captured by Digital Theatre during the 2010 GCC Youth Theatre Festival in Doha. Hafiz Ali, Arts Programme Manager of Qatar Foundation, said: “It is very rewarding to see our efforts featured in other parts of the world.”
He added that he would welcome further international collaborations in projects that “nurture young Gulf talents and create opportunities for knowledge exchange”.
London has a significant British Arab population, estimated at 500,000, from throughout the Middle East.
It’s a measure of how significant the Arab population is that the programmes of popular Qatari based Radio Station, Sout-Al-Khaleej, have been transmitted to London through collaboration with London’s Spectrum Radio since 2009. In fact, Sout-Al-Khaleej’s London fans got a thrill this month when star presenter, Saeed al-Hajri, flew into London to broadcast his show live from the capital with a link-up with Doha.
Sout-Al-Khaleej which broadcasts in Doha, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Baghdad, Basra and Al Musel, was launched in 2002 and has ambitious plans to expand its London output.
Mohamed al-Saadi, Sout-Al-Khaleej’s head of foreign services, said: “London is very important to us. We are planning to start a breakfast show live from London and are looking for presenters. There are a lot of students here in London as well as the business and diplomatic communities. We want them all to listen to us. We also plan to extend our reach in Europe and Africa. In the near future we will broadcast in Morocco and Malta.”
Sout-Al-Khaleej is the only radio station in the UK that broadcasts the prayer call. Its output reaches the UK cities of Oxford, Brighton and Nottingham.
Lending her support to the joint venture between Spectrum Radio and Sout-Al-Khaleej was HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who visited the Spectrum Radio studios during the live Sout-Al-Khaleej broadcast. HH Sheikha Moza said: “I think this type of co-operation between Qatar and the United Kingdom builds on our historic ties. London is a very famous city and a good base for Gulf and Qatari citizens. People feel happy and proud when they hear the station from London. I wish all the best to Sout-Al-Khaleej and extend my thanks to Spectrum Radio.”
Spectrum Radio is owned by British businessman Toby Aldrich, who used to work for the Arabic Satellite Television and Radio Broadcaster, MBC. Aldrich, who bought Spectrum 10 years ago, explained that the station was set up in the early 90’s by “a group of very passionate potential broadcasters who got together and applied for our 558 AM licence”. This group had been thwarted in their attempts to get individual licences to broadcast to their respective ethnic communities and so joined forces to form multi-lingual, “One World, One Station” Spectrum Radio whose segments now serve 23 ethnic communities across the capital.
Spectrum’s Arabic output through Sout-Al-Khaleej fills what Aldrich calls, “an incomprehensible gap in the market.”
John Ogden, network director of the Spectrum Radio Network, said: “There is a huge market for an Arabic radio station in London. People are very excited because there is nothing like it on the radio on London – it’s hugely popular. Our audience is broad – there is something for everyone. The potential for advertising is huge with over half a million Arabic speakers living in London and half a million on top of that over the summer.”
Presenter Saeed al-Hajri said there was “an amazing response” to the live London show. “I found it was the same feeling as back home in Doha, except that here in London the audience is from many different Arab countries. It was a fantastic experience.”