Why worlds will collide at this unique event

From Egypt to Amsterdam, the returning Barzakh Festival is a musical melting pot of global beats! 

Ukranian and Emirati folk, 60s Cambodian pop, North Indian go-go, Mauritian psych rock, Dutch punk, Haitian rock – suffice to say, Barzakh Festival is covering all the elements.

The annual world music festival, created by The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, brings together a seemingly random assortment of quirky, fun and innovative musicians and bands for two days of back-to-back performances, with this year’s festival taking place on 6th and 8th March.

The name ‘barzakh’ is inspired by a place in the sea where sweet and salt water meet and exist at the same time without diluting each other. But rather than creating a bitter and juxtaposing liquid, it results in a harmonious blend – and it’s a brilliant metaphor for what The Arts Center has created.

Encompassing sounds and rhythms from around the world, the festival is billed as a ‘musical meeting place’ where artists of various genres bring their unique styles to the table. It’s not only the artists that differ from each other, but each creates their own artistic contrast within their work, blending traditional music from their home country with global influences from other genres, more contemporary beats or non-traditional instruments.

“When we had our first season [at The Arts Center], we presented a few artists from Africa and the Balkans,” begins Bill Bragin, executive artistic director of The Arts Center. “We had The Nile Project that brought artists from across East and North Africa and was about finding musical meeting places. We had a Malian group that mixed traditional Malian music with jazz, Latin music, rock and other influences. A lot of people came up to us after these shows and said it was the best music they’d heard since Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance) was on the Corniche.

“Working in ‘world music’ – which is a term that nobody likes but everyone accepts – is something I’ve been committed to for a long time in my programming,” Bill continues.

“[We said], we don’t need to bring Womad here but we can create our own event that’s annual and open enough to allow artists from different musical traditions in. What they share in common is that they’re bringing together different influences, whether it’s stylistic influences from local and global traditions or generationally bringing in traditional and contemporary music.”

About the artists

This year’s Barzakh Festival kicks off with Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, a dance orchestra created by Seun’s father, Fela Kuti, who Bill calls “the creator of Afro beat”.

“Afro beat was rooted in Nigerian music and then Fela went to New York where he captured the music of James Brown and jazz and funk. Then he came back to Nigeria and, along with other musicians such as Tony Alan, invented Afro beat. Everyone recognises it as Nigerian music but it exists because a Nigerian went to New York City, so it’s about that conversation; a lot of these artists are mixing these influences in different ways.”

Though following in the footsteps of his father, Seun puts his own spin on the musical concept, creating beats inspired by the African continent’s struggles and cultures.

Also performing on the day is the Brooklyn-based group Alsarah & the Nubatones, showcasing East-African retro-pop inspired by migration patterns and cultural exchange between Sudan and Egypt.

“Alsarah has put out dance music remixes and has become really popular both throughout Africa and the Middle East,” Bill says. “Again, the roots are very much in older Sudanese pop songs but in a way that really can only be from today. This is not revival, it’s something classic.”

Day two will see Egyptian trio Lekhfa take to the stage with what’s billed as electro-shaabi music, blending popular Egyptian sounds with electronic and club music.

For the funky finale, Amsterdam-based Altin Gün will close out the festival with a combination of Turkish folk songs, funk rhythms, guitar and organs.

It’s safe to say, Barzakh Festival 2019 is set to be as diverse as ever.

Barzakh Festival. 6th and 8th March. AED 105 for adults, AED 52.50 for students. The Arts Center, NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island. 7.30pm. Visit: nyuad-artscenter.org

WORDS Rachael Perrett

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