Host Spotlight: an opportunity to shine a light on our wonderful radio hosts and wider community, be it a new music release, a brand new music residency or simply to champion them as an individual. This time, the spotlight is on the UK’s longest running festival of Arab arts and culture, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival! We chat with creative producer Laura Marie Brown to find out more about where it all began…
Songs From Palestine with Saied Silbak
How was Liverpool Arab Arts Festival born?
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival was founded in 1998 to raise awareness of Arab arts and culture. We have a year round programme, working within local communities, schools and colleges to stimulate curiosity and promote learning. We have a wide range of events and participatory projects designed to bring together artists and diverse communities.
Every year in July, we hold a ten day art and culture festival, the UK’s premier Arab arts festival. Launched in 2002, the curated programme showcases the richness of Arab culture through visual art, music, dance, film, theatre, literature and digital events.
What are your overall aims of the festival?
LAAF’s mission is to represent both Arab culture and Arab people in a positive way. Art has an ability to enable people to share their stories and experiences in a way that encourages empathy, curiosity and understanding. As a festival team we are also very much into dancing.
How has the festival changed or adapted in response to the pandemic?
We were one of the first festivals to pivot to a digital programme in 2020, and so our entire 2020 festival took place online. For the team, it was an important way to connect our communities and artists online, but also to provide joy, curiosity and interesting stories while we were all stuck in our homes and generally not feeling great. Digital programming helped us to connect with an international audience – we had digital visitors from across the Arab world, America, Europe and Africa. Digital programming will form part of our festival moving forward, but for events like a music gig, or our famous Family Day, it’s difficult to recreate that experience anywhere other than in a theatre or concert hall.
With a region that breeds such rich and diverse musical talent, how do you decide which artists to feature in the programme?
Choosing Arab artists and performers is no different than programming any other art form. We know our audience likes a mixture of traditional and contemporary music, so that’s always in our minds – to provide a balance. We spend a lot of time listening to emerging artists and working with venues on artists and performers we know are touring or want to come to the UK. The great thing about Liverpool is that it’s a beacon for music lovers across the North of England, so an act playing here can attract fans from hundreds of miles away. If there’s one thing that unifies the artists we’ve worked with, it’s that they each create a special experience – whether it’s 47 Soul, Cairokee, Daraa Tribes or Saied Silbak, each might have a very different sound but they create both great music and engaging performances.
What is it about Liverpool that makes it a great home for The Arab Arts Festival?
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival was born out of Liverpool’s Arab community. It is of, and from, this city. Liverpool is richly diverse but not everyone might know quite how deep that diversity runs. This is a city home to Yemenis, Somalis, Sudanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Algerians, Moroccans, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, from every corner of the Arab world. Our festival is about celebrating that, as much as it is providing a platform for Arab artists and performers from around the world.
What’s next for LAAF?
Our event programme for 2022 is already being drafted and our festival will return in July next summer. Our artist callout for the 2022 festival is live on our website, so anyone who feels they might fit can check that out and send us their proposals.
Keep up to date with Liverpool Arab Arts Festival here, and listen back to their latest show with Laura and Palestinian composer Saied Silbak below: