The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) at the end of the month is – amazingly – the 27th such event. Unlike Dubai’s Emirates Festival of Literature , which is very much designed to put authors in front of readers, ADIBF has always been primarily a B2B show for regional publishers; and as the most ambitious, fastest growing and probably the most professionally organised book fair in the region, it constantly provides a convenient opportunity for taking the temperature of Arabic publishing.
This year the conference/seminar element has been beefed up with “a unique cultural programme”. Mostly this consists of specialised seminars on the UAE’s literary landscape – including sessions on‘The UAE’s generations of creative writing between Arabic and English’, ‘Narration in the UAE: the brilliance of the female voice’ and ‘Emirati poetry and displaying the Emirati song’ (how poems put to music helped shape the memories of generations).
There are also seminars with a more educational bent, effectively geared to ensuring a market for reading among the younger generation. Top pick here is ‘Arab ç Challenge – Ambassadors of the Future’, a progress report on the largest project in the Arab world to encourage reading among students.
The Reading Challenge, launched last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, aims to instil the habit of reading in students; more than 2.5 million in 15 Arab countries have taken part. It has a complicated procedure that is designed to produce a handful of winners – schools and individuals benefit by quite substantial sums in the search for the most avid readers, which at first sight might not be the best way to encourage a lifelong reading habit among the unsuccessful participants. Hopefully the ADIBF session will include some analysis.
The other leg of the ADIBF cultural programme is a fashionable but entirely sensible desire to cross-fertilise the arts. Mustafa Said, a noted Egyptian singer, musicologist, composer and a virtuoso oud player, is prominent in this; he’ll be playing music a selection of poems of the Sufi mystic, poet and philosopher Ibn Arabi, who is the Book Fair’s ‘Personality of the Year’.
Tunisian singer/songwriter Ghalia Benali will talk about her experience in performing Ibn Arabi’s poems in a seminar entitled ‘Love is My Only Faith’. Ghalia Benali has succeeded in attracting new audiences of Arab listeners to her distinctive style of Arabic song, through performing the poems of Al Hallaj and Ibn Arabi.
Mustafa Said will also be comparing Chinese music to Arabic in a performance/seminar entitled, ‘Music of China: Ambassador to the World’. Live illustration comes with the participation of the Chinese Music Ensemble. (China is this year’s ‘Guest of Honour’.)
Another of ADIBF’s themes this year is Arab theatre. A seminar entitled ‘Theatre Away From the Stage’ discusses the importance of preserving and restoring traditional play scripts. There’s a session on ‘Pocket Theatre’ in Beirut. And an ‘Art for All’ seminar will illustrate the success of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services in supporting the theatrical abilities and talents of people with disabilities.
The 27th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair begins on 26 April with doors opening to the public at 11am. It runs until 2 May from 9am to 10pm, except on Friday from 4-10pm. More information here.