Arab culture fest comes to Seoul

By Honorary Reporter Shaimaa Helaly
Photos = Nehal Helaly
In late August and early September, the 10th Arab Culture Festival was held at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul, and at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, under the joint auspices of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and dozens of Arab governments. Moreover, it was organized by the Korea-Arab Society, which is a non-profit foundation established by governments, corporations and related organizations to promote exchanges and cooperation between Korea and the 22 Arab countries in the world. Admission was free, and pre-booking was available two weeks prior to the performances, either online or by phone.
The Arab Cultural Festival started in 2008, side-by-side with the establishment of the Korea-Arab Society. In order to make this year’s festival different from the last festival held five years ago, this year organizers promoted a diverse program of theatrical arts, including many Arab artistic groups, to present various types of traditional and folkloric Arabic art. This included folk art from Sudan, an oud performance from Iraq, and a violin performance from Tunisia.
The performance at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul started at around 8 p.m. with the folk band Ranin Elbalimbo from Sudan. The band consists of a group of 11 musicians who presented traditional music from various regions in Sudan using modern instruments, as well as traditional Sudanese instruments.
In the second session, the amazing oud player Ahmad Shamma from Iraq performed Iraqi folk songs and some original songs. His performance was magnificent to the point you felt that the music touched your heart as soon as you heard it. Finally, he performed a duet with his wife, the famous singer Azza Zaarour from Palestine. He composed the song “To My Lover’s Eyes” for his wife when she asked him to compose a romantic song for her, and it’s written using an Oriental scale.

In the third session, there was a wonderful show by the young violin artist Yasmin Aziz and her band from Tunisia. She played such amazing and unique violin music. One of the folk songs she played was “Sidi Mansour,” which is a very famous piece in North Africa. She energized the audience when she played “Sidi Mansour” to the point they stood up to dance and sing with her.
Finally, the day ended with a great performance by the oud player Ahmad Shamma, the singer Azza Zaarour, and the violin player Yasmin Aziz and her band, all of them performing together. It was such an amazing comeback for the festival, and also a great chance for the Arabic audience to enjoy traditional music and to recall memories of their traditions, and for the Korean audience to explore traditional art and Arabic folk music.
Hopefully, there will be more like this in the future.