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Montpellier to pay tribute to Mahmoud Darwish at Festival Arabesques

Now in its thirteenth year, it was the first event of its kind in Europe to host a wide spectrum spanning the arts with music, spoken word, storytelling, dance, calligraphy workshops and film showcasing the Arab world to western audiences
Palestinian poet and journalist Mahmoud Darwish is seen as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism Reuters 

The city of Montpellier in the South of France is currently gearing up for its annual eleven-day celebration of Arab culture with Festival Arabesques, which starts on Wednesday and goes on until September 23. Created in 2006 to provide a platform for Arab art in Europe, it aims to promote visibility of works from the region, promote dialogue and cultural diversity.

Usually held in May or June, this year’s instalment will take place in the autumn as dates clashed with the month of Ramadan. Now in its thirteenth year, it was the first event of its kind in Europe to host a wide spectrum spanning the arts with music, spoken word, storytelling, dance, calligraphy workshops and films showcasing the Arab world to a western audience.

The festival has attracted an impressive line-up of performers in the past including the Cairo Opera Orchestra, Moroccan Gnawa legend Hamid El Kasri and more contemporary indie acts such as 47Soul, Mashrou’ Leila, Speed Caravan and Emel Mathlouthi. This year is no different – performing artists include Algerian folk singer Souad Massi, French-­Tunisian musician Dhafer Youssef, a collaboration between N3rdistan, Bachar Mar-Khalife and Palestinian oud group Le Trio Joubran. The festival will also close its programme with a tribute concert for the late Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Darwish, marking 10 years after his passing.

Festival director Habib Dechraoui says the festival benefits and enriches everyone. He spoke to The National about the role it plays in Montpellier and across France. “This festival has always been very popular. In fact, the social networks have just permitted a better visibility for the Arabic culture,” Dechraoui says.

“I think this festival has made it possible for us to discover and rediscover our beautiful city of Montpellier, as it is unique in its kind,” he says. “And Arabesques in France is a way to fight sectarianism and change perceptions of the Arabic culture, especially at a time like this. Given the growing audience [every year], I daresay that this year’s edition looks very joyous. Moreover, in the various testimonies we receive from the public and professionals each year, it seems that we are at the right place because our project contributes to promote solidarity and cultural openness.”


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For someone going to the festival for the first time, I ask him what they should expect. “Arabesques is not only known as the first festival in Europe dedicated to Arabic arts and cultures, it’s also known as a family festival which gathers people of different generations, a festival where you can find real social diversity (the prices we fix have to be accessible to everyone), and of course, a programme which presents the best of the Arabic scene, combining tradition and modernity at the same time.”

For Dechraoui, there are two acts he is most looking forward to seeing this year as part of the festival.

“Without a doubt, the tribute to Mahmoud Darwish,” he says. “I had the privilege to meet him, which fulfilled me with joy, so I am very moved to pay him this tribute through big names participating in the festival this year. Dhafer Youssef also, because I love his music and his compositions, but mostly because he is a great man with a lot of charisma and personality.”

Festival Arabesques opens on Wednesday in Montpellier

Updated: September 10, 2018 04:35 PM