AWAN: The festival that brings phenomenal Arab women artists together
Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) returns for its eighth edition with an exciting and electric mix of collaborations with inspiring female Arab artists presenting their creative projects and participating in a space for cultural and artistic exchange.
It aims to expose Arab women artists to new audiences and increase their visibility in the UK and beyond.
"The festival honours female creatives from the Arab world and its diaspora and includes music, comedy, literature, visual art, theatre and performance"
In honour of International Women's Day, the festival will take place in March.
In addition to celebrating contemporary creativity, the festival will challenge stereotypes and bring together women from different communities.
“Rich Mix's AWAN 2023 programme will feature cinema/films with post-film Q+As, music, dance, talks, and comedy,” said a spokesperson from Arts Canteen, the organisation producing the AWAN festival.
The festival honours female creatives from the Arab world and its diaspora and includes music, comedy, literature, visual art, theatre and performance. Additionally, there are workshops and development opportunities for up-and-coming artists.
Fadia Ahmad is a Lebanese photographer and filmmaker known for her series of portraits and landscapes in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“It is very meaningful to me that the AWAN festival empowers women in all aspects, and it is important for us women to have our voices heard and our work to be seen," Fadia told The New Arab.
Since this piece is dedicated to Beirut, Ahmad explained to The New Arab what the city means to her.
“Beirut runs through my veins, Beirut is my identity, my roots, it’s also my strength and my weakness,” she expressed.
A lot of her work and inspiration come from Beirut, and this is why Fadia describes Beirut as a “living soul” with its streets, houses and history.
Through film, Fadia offers her only means of preserving that history.
Beirut, The Aftermath is Fadia Ahmad's first feature documentary film addressing the aftermath of the explosion that shook Lebanon. In addition to winning several awards, the film was selected for many film festivals.
When asked about why that piece was chosen in particular to be presented at the AWAN festival, Fadia said: “I come from a background of contemporary art, so when the blast happened, it was a mission and a duty that pushed me to leave a piece of history, a collective memory and a piece for our archive in order to have it forever braved.”
Despite the progress Arab women artists have made, the challenges they face remain ambiguous. They are subjected to family pressures, gender roles, and societal stereotyping. The pressure rebounds between their nationhoods and ethnicities, but whereas it creates tension, it also inspires
A music event will be featured and held by artists from the region, DJ Jana Saleh from Beirut and Palestinian singer-songwriter Samah Mustafa.
Since 2010, Jana Saleh has been an active member of the DJ and music scene from Beirut who moved to the United Kingdom in 2020 after the Beirut port blast. She has more than a decade of experience playing in clubs and parties in Lebanon, the Levant as well as Europe.
Jana told The New Arab: “What I’m presenting this year at AWAN is a continuation of what I have been working on after the Beirut blast that was based on Tarab music.
“Tarab and electronic music are very similar in terms of how they are presented; Tarab nights usually last for 45 minutes for one song where the artist transcends and takes the audience to another place that we call 'saltany' in Arabic,” she explained.
“In electronic music, this can be achieved too by blurring the lines between the musician and the public where the energy is mutual and is taken into another space."
For AWAN, Jana had done a thirty-minute remix of Oum Khulthoum’s performance and a thirty-minute performance of Badria El Sayed’s performance.
“For AWAN, I have tried to recreate that energy between the public and the artist by using what was considered popular music back in the 30s in the Arab world, which was dominated by music from Egypt,” she explained.
"It is also very impressive to see how many female DJs there are in the Arab world, as opposed to 10 years ago, now they are at the forefront of DJing in the world where they’re playing at big festivals, they’re more present and people are responsive to that in a very organic way"
Jana feels lucky that she was invited to play this year and is now discovering the UK Arab scene as AWAN is an opportunity to get closer to that scene and understand what it means to have a diaspora interested in Arabic music and creatives.
“It is also very impressive to see how many female DJs there are in the Arab world, as opposed to 10 years ago, now they are at the forefront of DJing in the world where they’re playing at big festivals, they’re more present and people are responsive to that in a very organic way,” Jana said.
In developing her unique style of music, Samah Mustafa incorporated classic oriental singing and folk Arabic music into her musical journey.
As a band leader, Samah writes, composes, and arranges ambient, folk, and experimental music using vocal loops and other instrumental loops, musical images in her lyrics and vocals.
“This festival is an honour to be at because it celebrates Arab women artists and enables them to showcase their art while delivering a message through their work and creativity,” Samah told The New Arab.
The music that Samah creates breaks boundaries and allows listeners to open their hearts.
“Most women in the music industry have become known for mostly a traditional status but we do not often see them as instrumentalists,” she said.
Aiming to break the traditional status of women in the music industry, Samah wants more women to lead bands.
“What is interesting about AWAN is that it is all a female line-up, which is also very important to me as when it comes to music and art – having all women is something that should happen more often, and we don’t have the platform dedicated only to that, so AWAN is a great opportunity to fill in that gap,” Samah concluded.
Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese British journalism graduate from Kingston University in London covering Lebanon.
Follow her on Twitter: @Rodayna_462