The Barzakh Festival is again returning to The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, on 6 and 8 March.
Barzakh’s programmers position the festival as a marker for the way the UAE is becoming a
As Executive Artistic Director at The Arts Center Bill Bragin says: “I’m especially interested in artists who represent hybrids – of identity, of style, of heritage and future-orientation. The mind-blowing artists in this year’s edition are all deeply rooted in their own cultural traditions, but work in the spaces in between roots and funk, rock, jazz, folk and electronics, with messages of hope, poetry, and deep social consciousness.”
Incidentally, why ‘Barzakh’? The word means ‘separation’ or ‘barrier’ in Arabic. It can be interpreted as the dividing line between the physical and spiritual worlds, but in the Qur’an it’s also used to mean an impassable barrier between fresh and salt water – they may eventually intermingle, but there’s a point at which a river remains distinct from the ocean into which it flows. Barrier? Or junction? You decide.
Day One: 6 March
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 / Alsarah & The Nubatones / DJ James Locksmith
Seun Kuti (
They’re on stage with Alsarah & the Nubatones, the “East African retro-pop” brainchild of Sudan-born but Brooklyn-based Alsarah and Rami El Aasser that blends East African tunes with Arabic sounds. Here’s NPR, describing the band as creating “a lavish, joyful, era-spanning sound full of Arabic-language reflections on identity and survival. It’s modern and nostalgic, timeless and new”.
Alsarah says it’s all about identity, but she doesn’t want to be called a ‘refugee artist’ – “I wasn’t from any one place any more. Sudanese people said I wasn’t Sudanese enough. Arabs said I wasn’t an Arab. Americans said I wasn’t American. I used to be like, ‘I don’t belong anywhere! Now I’m like, you’re all mine. All my countries, you’re all mine.”
Here’s Ya Watan from a couple of years ago. The band currently includes Armenian-American oud player Haig Manoukian and French born, Togo-raised bassman Mawuena Kodjovi.
Warming up the crowd pre-show and between bands is Dubai’s DJ James Locksmith, a mainstay of the creative club scene and a longstanding champion of global sounds in the UAE.
Day Two: 8 March
Lekhfa / Altin Gün
Egypt’s alternative indie supergroup Lekhfa is one of the most enticing musical projects that’s pushing the boundaries of a burgeoning underground music scene in Cairo. It features Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca and Tamer AbuGhazaleh, three creative forces who together deliver a potent mix of hypnotic vocals, guitar, slide guitar, synths, beat loops, electronica, ouds, buzuq, mizmar, percussion, and harmonium.
Their lyrics are usually based on the somewhat dystopian poems of their contemporary Mido Zoheir, whom they’ve dubbed the fourth member of Lekhfa. Here’s Nefsif Akli from their self-titled album.
Altin Gün is an equally fun group, a Turkish
This is Altin Gün live in Groningen last year.
These two bands are also contributing interactive workshops to the Off The Stage programme at The Arts Center. In ‘ The Making of Lekhfa’, Tamer AbuGhazaleh, Maryam Saleh and Maurice Louca dissect several tracks from their album Lekhfa; Altin Gün offer ‘Reconstructing Traditional Music with a Modern Interpretation’.
Both workshops are at the same time – 7pm on 7 March, which is a shame. Spaces are limited and pre-registration is required; click here to sign up.