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A weekend of musical space:
Mawaheb Festival


The melodious string notes of the oud fill the courtyard of St. Petersburg State Academic Capella as listeners soaked in the sun and dulcet tunes. In early June, as the annual St. Petersburg Economic International Economic Forum, SPIEF, came to an end, Russia’s northern capital hosted a sprawling festival introducing its citizens to contemporary and traditional arts and music.

A weekend of musical space:
Mawaheb Festival


The melodious string notes of the oud fill the courtyard of St. Petersburg State Academic Capella as listeners soaked in the sun and dulcet tunes. In early June, as the annual St. Petersburg Economic International Economic Forum, SPIEF, came to an end, Russia’s northern capital hosted a sprawling festival introducing its citizens to contemporary and traditional arts and music.

Titled Mawaheb, meaning talents, the festival aimed to showcase Arab traditions and highlight contemporary art and music of the Middle East as well as pay an ode to traditional arts of the past.

Hosting several hours of music, cinema and discussion, the Mawaheb Festival featured a series of multi genre events dedicated to cultural dialogue between Western research and Eastern music traditions. From discussions to workshops, film screenings with artists and musical concerts, the ambitious program had a wide variety on offer.

The festival kicked off with a musical journey through the culture of Qatar and the Arab World — the Mawaheb x Sound Up: Music of the Oasis. From the canon tunes of pearl divers, traditional Arabic folk music and modern beats of Egypt’s popular shaabi notes — street music that enjoyed renewed popularity with the series of protests dubbed as the Arab Spring, the audience travelled the musical landscape of the Middle East. Qanun and oud, traditional string instruments of the region were introduced to the audience, as well as works of contemporary Russian composers, composed especially for the musicians of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.

During the Mirage audiovisual concert, electronic musicians and media artists from Qatar, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen presented projects created for the dome screen of Planetarium 1. Qatari artist and writer Sophia Al-Maria shared two videos of technocratic dystopia, The Future Was Desert I & II, exploring the visual and aural aesthetics of deep time in the Gulf. Between fossil fuel dependency, wealth and environmental devastation, Al-Maria creates a set of delirious apocalyptic dreamscapes in intricate detail, where the past and future are nothing more than an arbitrary temporal reference in a complex geopolitical landscape.

Egyptian electronic artist Zuli, known for his sounds that veer between hip-hop and grime, similarly introduced works from renowned Middle Eastern artists.

Concluding the festival was a leisurely all-day picnic hosted by EastEast online magazine, with a wide ranging program featuring Middle Eastern and North African songs, a themed vinyl market, traditional meals and educational talks.

In a panel discussion, theatrical director and composer Faisal bin Ibrahim Al Tamimi, delved into the history of traditional arts in the Gulf. Drawing on his experience with local folklore ensembles, the audience were introduced to the music of the region, alongside live performances from Qatari musicians.

Bulat Khalilov, co-founder of the Ored Recordings label also held a workshop sharing his experience of creating audio in the field. The label arranged an impromptu recording for the music of the Syrian Circassians performed by accordionist Alan Sheujen. 

Documentaries were also screened at the picnic, including Planet Malek, the story of the Algerian musician Ahmed Malek, Oulaya’s Wedding, a portrait film into a family of the well-known wedding band of Dahkla, focusing on the week-long wedding celebration of the eldest daughter in the family and Gitara, a documentary studying the influence of the guitar on the culture of Azerbaijan.


PHOTOS: 1–4, 9–10: Mawaheb press centre, 5–8: Anastasia Lisitsina

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