Friday, June 28, 2013

Fete de la Musique at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

I don't think I've ever seen Souk Madinat Jumeirah as crowded as it was last Friday evening during Alliance Francaise's Fete de la Musique. It would have been great if it were held in the outdoors during the less sweaty season, because in whatever corridor of the souk the musicians were performing, one had to either take an alternative route, or squeeze past in single file. We saw some great local musicians, though, and a veritable buffet of genres.

The Hamami Brothers had an especially thick crowd around them, but pretty much any group or artist attracted a healthy number of onlookers. Genres included acoustic rock, saxophone, blues, and more, as well as a couple of groups performing in French.

I quickly headed for one of my favorite local bands, The Gypsy Swing Project, who were jamming with Johnny Miller at the time.

I also hung around these guys a lot. Hitherto unknown to me, this trio had a really good blues sound going.

One of the acts that was most popular and stayed on the longest was Gayamb & Jazz Zone, playing Creole music, bossa nova, and rearranged pop. It was also probably one of the most jam- acts, as the lineup sem to change each time I dropped by their spot. They had an especially good lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist as well.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bull Funk Zoo CD Launch at Jambase

The Bull Funk Zoo launched its CD last Wednesday with a special performance at Jambase. Given the achievements of many of the band's constituents Hamdan al Abri, Elie Afif, Jeremiah John, Assaad Lakkis and Rami Lakkis (making it a sort of local supergroup), it comes as no surprise that the place was packed, and enthusiasm was high.

There was a lot of fusion funk, and some songs were not funk at all, though the BFZ's members worked well together on whatever genres they were playing. One of the more novel ones from the album was the rock-blues fusion number "Shit House Blues" (first time for me hearing a blues song being growled). I particularly like the playful and very funky "Afterparty (307)" (included in the album as a live performance recording, including the audience participation bits). "Drifter", a funk-rock-reggae fusion song, has a catchy funk-rock progression hook, and funk-rock fusion song "Junk Funk" has nice lyrics with a peppy funk backdrop.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Osang concert and comedy at Rocky's Cafe TECOM

Jeffrey "Osang" Soliven, made famous through his X Factor Philippines performance, made Ramee Rose Filipino bar Rocky's Cafe his penultimate stop on his Ramee/Regent Dubai tour. Rocky's, which is conveniently in my 'hood, has a somewhat limited menu of Filipino food, but the resident band Off Limits made it worth a previous visit. After the band's set, Osang started his performance. The stand-up comedy was mostly in Tagalog, so there was very little for me there. I can imagine it was good for Tagalog-speakers, as he had stage presence and charisma. His singing, on the other hand, was very entertaining - not in the least, his Tagalog version of a popular dance fad song.

Point of View rock concert feat. Bumblefoot at The Fridge

Although some folks pulled chairs from themselves out of the stacks at the back of The Fridge, there was still a majority standing audience when Point of View did their hard rock gig for the penultimate Fridge Concert Series concert. After performing a couple of songs, and jamming with members of Nikotin and Behold the Locus for a couple more, they were joined by the reason for the Guns N' Roses T-shirts seen on some audience members: Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal.

Fresh from their collaborative India tour (by hours, in fact, with Murphy's Law ensuring some of their instruments getting lost en route), POV and Bumblefoot performed together for the rest of the night. Apart from POV originals I'd heard before, and some classic covers, including "Sweet Child of Mine" (powered by Bumblefoot's singing), we also got to hear Revolutionize the Revolutionary's 11th track "Chainsaw" live, which I really liked for its fast tempo and guitar support.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Dubai Drama Group

Brooke Butterworth as Titania, Ciaran O Maoilchiarain as Bottom, Cliff Single as Oberon, and Zain Sheikh as Puck

My last acquaintance with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was back in literature class in school. Dubai Drama Group's production of the famous comedy of errors at DUCTAC last weekend was far removed from the ancient Greek imagery in my young head, though, set as it was in mid-20th century America.

Jennifer Cooper as Helena, Olivia Middleton as Hermia, Ben Franklin as Demetrius, and Stefan Malinowski as Lysander

I was very pleased with both the choice and implementation of the costumes. All the human characters' clothes looked sharp and consistent. Having the royal fairy couple dressed up in East Asian attire was a nice touch, as were their hairstyles and face paint; all of these served well to set their world apart from that of the humans. Set design was also good - minimal, but quality. I'm not sure why the fairy underlings had to manipulate puppets of themselves, but this was executed well too.

Erik Hadden as Theseus, Celia Cookson as Hippolyta, and Hani Yakan as Francis Flute

As for the actors, practically everyone made excellent work of it, and while there were a few dialogue fumbles post-interval (this was the first show, though, so I trust this would have been remedied in subsequent shows), everything went on smoothly.

Toby Masson as Tom Snout

I especially liked Cliff Single's Oberon, and Zain Sheikh gave us an unceasingly energetic performance as Puck. Among the humans, I thought Olivia Middleton as Hermia and Ben Franklin as Demetrius were particularly outstanding. Ciaran O Maoilchiarain's Bottom was brilliant in all three forms, and Toby Masson's portrayal of Tom Snout was hilarious. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cooking Cymreig

I knew a good deal about Wales. Well, its history, at least. But it was at the last Feline Friends Kitten Ball, seated by chance at a table full of Welsh families, that I was first inspired to explore the culture of my Brythonic brethren. Months later, I made it the theme of my latest culinary adventure.

Tales of Wales

Native Welsh refer to their own land as Cymru, an endonym which was Latinized as Cambria, itself lent further to the name of the famous Cambrian geological period. The culinary symbol of Wales is the leek, which is used a lot in Welsh cooking (I bought more leek for this one meal than I normally buy in a year). The Welsh, blessed with abundant pastureland, are also known for their mutton/lamb, and love their cheese (known as caws in their language). Not many Welsh speak the Welsh native tongue Cymraeg today; Ioan Gruffudd is perhaps the most famous among those who can, and he even acted in Cymraeg TV series and films early in his career. So, to add a little Welsh touch to the lunch beyond the food, I found a number of Cymraeg songs to loop in a playlist, and constructed a modest leek centerpiece for the dining table.

Caws and Effect

For the starter, I was considering making Caws Pobi, or Welsh Rarebit, but decided against when I figured it had been done to death in pubs. Instead, I chose to make another cheese-based comfort snack called Selsig Morgannwg, or Glamorgan Sausage.

I had a tough time finding authentic Welsh Caerphilly cheese, so I settled for Wensleydale, which has a texture and taste similar to young Caerphilly. In one bowl, I mixed grated cheese with breadcrumbs and chopped leeks. In another, I whisked mustard, thyme and chopped parsley with egg yolk and pepper.

Combining these mixtures yielded a nice firm lump that can be split, rolled and flattened into sausage or patty shapes, and fried after dipping in the leftover egg white and breadcrumbs.

Although a subject of poverty humor much like the aforementioned Welsh Rarebit, it was actually very tasty, and it was a bitter fight to save a morsel for the most tardy of my guests.

Good Cawl

For the soup course, I went for the classic lamb stew that the Welsh know as Cawl.

I diced up a fresh bunch of root vegetables, including potato, parsnip, carrot and turnip, and (of course) chopped up some leek.

I threw all of these into a pot with mutton and lamb that I had been stewing for a few hours after browning with onion, along with bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and parsley. I also added some semolina to thicken.

A few minutes prior to serving, and while it was still piping hot, I tore up and stirred in a small head of Savoy cabbage. A hearty stew that is perhaps better suited to more wintry days, it nonetheless went down very well with the guests.

Ffowlyn Love with Chicken

For the main course, I prepared Ffowlyn Cymreig, or Welsh Chicken.

I diced turkey bacon, sliced carrots, and chopped leeks (yes, that again) while I browned pieces of chicken in a large pot.

I combined these and added a bit of milk and flour, followed by parsley, garlic powder, paprika and basil. I let all this stew for a couple of hours until the flavors had thoroughly penetrated the chicken and vegetables, and added chopped cabbage.

I cut trenchers out of country bread for each guest, onto which I ladled hot servings of now succulent and flavorful Welsh chicken.

Breaking Brith

For the dessert, I made two preparations, the first of which was a baked fruity cake/bread called Bara Brith - literally, Speckled Bread. It's almost like a Stollen, but darker and denser.

To start, I soaked dried fruit overnight in hot tea. To this, I added a mixture of caster sugar, egg and orange marmalade.

Adding self-raising flour and mixed spice resulted in thick batter, which was softened out with a splash of milk. After baking in a shallow tin, I glazed the top with honey.

These are usually served as a tea snack, slathered with butter. We just cut our dietary losses and had them plain.

Sweet Cake of Maen

The second dessert preparation was a batch of griddle cakes called Picau ar y Maen, or Bakestone Cakes.

It was a fairly simple combination of butter rubbed into flour, to which raisins, egg and caster sugar are added. I flattened small lumps of this mixture onto an hot iron pan that had been greased with a little butter, giving each side three or so minutes.

By this point, we were quite stuffed, but we all enjoyed our sample-sized picau, and our Cymric gastronomical experience.

10th anniversary concert of Dubai Chamber Orchestra

The Dubai Chamber Orchestra celebrated their 10th anniversary on Thursday with a special free concert at Saudi German Hospital. Convenient for me, as it's right in my neighborhood, although it was strange to walk through the corridors of a hospital to find a concert venue. Acoustically and aesthetically, the hall was actually a good one, especially considering the kind of facility for which it had been built. Air conditioning, though, was somewhat insufficient, and there were a lot of people packed in there on that rather warm night.

Conductor Barnaby Priest spoke between some of the pieces about the orchestra's operation and challenges, such as being in a place with a mostly transient population. On that note, he congratulated three musicians who had been in the orchestra from its nascency, and had them cut the orchestra's birthday cake. Clarinetist Andrea Gould joined the orchestra for the second piece, and Priest's own composition, "Needs Must" was featured as the third. The piece that sounded most thoroughly-rehearsed, though, was Dmitri Shostakovich's "Chamber Symphony Op 110a", played right after the interval. Most pieces on the program that night were somewhat somber in tone, but the modern-era Percy Grainger composition "Molly on the Shore" made for a nicely folksy end to the evening, along with the uplifting encore.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scene Club film "Sta Per Piovere" at Knowledge Village

The Scene Club's latest film feature, It's About to Rain, is set in Florence, Italy, depicting an immigrant father and his Italian-born sons fighting against deportation to their native Algeria. The father has lost touch with Algerian culture, and his sons never had it in the first place.

It's an overall good movie. I liked the raw setting in the average home and street, rather than high culture and landmarks; the director confirmed during Q&A that this was a deliberate decision to make it possible for any Italian to relate to it. There was some really good choices with lighting evident in it as well. The only drawbacks were it pontificating a bit when the characters went over the legal issues, and what I think was overuse of montages.

The Q&A with Italian-born half-Italian half-Iraqi director Haider Rashid brought up some interesting points on the casting, writing and reception of the film. As expected, it attracted some ire from Italian right-wingers. Rashid also suggested that the treatment of Italian immigrants to other countries in centuries past should invoke empathy for modern-day immigrants to Italy. Naturally, the issue of expats living almost all their lives in the UAE (born and raised, in many cases) was brought up a couple of times. Rashid tactfully stayed away from opining on what would be the right thing to do, hoping instead to open the topic for discussion.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Philippe El Hage piano concert at The Fridge with the Afifs

The latest show in The Fridge's current Concert Series season featured Lebanese pianist and composer Philippe El Hage, supported by Dubai resident jazz musicians, the Afif brothers Elie and Rony.

It took some mental adjusting for me in the first couple of pieces, as the event was categorized as "Jazz" in publicity, and I therefore came primed for the kind of jazz to which I am used. But I detected hints of what I know to be jazz in only a few of the pieces he played, such as "Byblos", "Memories" and "Song For You". There was also a bit of Middle Eastern influence in some of them, such as in the solo "Hymn Variations" and in "Memories".

However, the overarching sound was one of contemporary piano-centered instrumental composition, rather like Yanni. Not that there was anything wrong with that; El Hage's compositions were beautifully vivid and uplifting to hear. He also plays with a visible passion, almost dancing and sometimes even getting up when his feet are not on the pedals. "Memories", "Song For You", "Sunday Afternoon" and "Where We Used to Hide" were especially good, I thought. Despite what seemed an odd combination, Elie Afif and Rony Afif did a commendable job in providing accompaniment.

El Hage also took the opportunity to premiere a piece called "Diane in White", dedicated to his new bride. He finished his program with a dramatic final piece, in which he put one of his hands "under the hood" and manually damped and strummed the piano strings.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Drama Dubai Desert Monologues Showcase Performance

Drama Dubai's latest season of the Desert Monologues course wrapped up this Saturday with a monologue showcase by the course participants at DUCTAC. Everyone did pretty well; there did not seem to be any major fumbling. A lot of young-looking participants as well. My favorite ones included Zeina Menzalji as Juniper, Giane Lamb as Nervous Lady, Omar Bou Kheir as President Muffley and Frances McEwan as Rose. I also liked Nigora Normatova's parodical Cleopatra and Shilpa Mathew's female version of Calvin Candie.

Bertam Kober photos with Swiss Art Gate at Yas Viceroy

A Swiss Art Gate exhibition of photography by Bertram Kober is running from 5th June to 7th September at the Yas Viceroy hotel's Lightbox Gallery. It's a good selection of pictures taken at Italy's Carrara, which is famous for its white and grey marble with blue veins. Such marble would be and was very popular for sculpture going back to Ancient Roman times. Some photos of the quarrying caves, with their pools and right angles, have the ethereal beauty of an ice palace. The most interesting pictures, though, are those of rocky, mottled, mountainous landscape with sheer, white, flat marble faces cut out here and there by quarry workers - a striking depiction of man-made and natural beauty.

Dubai Comedy Workshops 1st Graduation Performance

It's been nearly two months since Dubai-based expat comedians Ray Addison and Salman Qureshi set up Dubai Comedy Workshops and its first 6-week stand-up comedy course, also making themselves one of the first few users of the new Courtyard Playhouse performing arts space. On Saturday, they showcased out their first ever batch of course participants in a graduation special stand-up event.

Salman Qureshi

I expected it to be held at the Playhouse, but it was moved a couple of days before to the 1UP bar in TECOM. Marketing it rather boldly as the "The Michael McIntyre Warm-up Show", they roped in an ensemble of active Dubai-based stand-up comedians to perform between course participants' 5-minute showcase sets; these included Russell Bell, Lamya Tawfik and Rodger Talty, with Dubai old-timer Nitin Mirani throwing in an uproarious finale act. It was also a golden opportunity to see some great new material from Salman, who served as the show's emcee.

Brent Jenkins

As far as the course participants went, there were a lot of good bits to enjoy. I loved Brent Jenkins' new memory lapse arc (although I would expect no less from the experienced stand-up performer he is), and newcomer Janet Lundstram's opening joke was great.

Andreea Zoia

A big hand to model and fellow improvver Andreea Zoia, who not only had the stage presence one would expect of this presenter and emcee, but clever material as well. The WAG (is it in singular if there's only one of each?) also did well; Emma Addison gave us what I think was the best debut set of the night, while Sarah Murphy used a posh accent to deliver probably the most unique set of the night: a send-up of a clueless, FWP-afflicted "Palm Pamela" (a niche adaptation of the Jumeirah Jane, apparently).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nadine Artuhanava and Viktoriya Zaharieva concert at The Fridge Concert Series

Artuhanava and Zaharieva

The Fridge's 13th Concert Series performance last week was a classic duo of strings and keys, with violinist Nadine Artuhanava (who, by the way, played a short set during BOLDTalks Woman 2013) and pianist Viktoriya Zaharieva (who has a musicology PhD) pairing up for this classical concert. After Bach's baroque violin and Chopin's piano ballade solos by the respective instrumentalists, they demonstrated practiced dexterity and good coordination as a duo with a few more pieces, including a Grieg sonata and a rapid succession of Bartok-composed Romanian folk dances, ending the evening on Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 as an encore.

Stoyanov, Artuhanava and Zaharieva

One of the pieces they played - and a highlight of the evening - was the local debut of a decade-old competition-winning composition by locally-based composer and prolific pianist Stoyan Stoyanov. With its dynamic shifts and striking progressions, I think it would make a great score for a good dramatic film or such.

Kurt Hentschläger with Campus Art Dubai at Pavilion Downtown

Last Sunday, Campus Art Dubai brought renowned audiovisual artist Kurt Hentschläger to Pavilion Downtown, where he presented and discussed some of his projects. The presentation included not only his independent work, but also his Granular Synthesis collaboration series.

A lot of these were really impressive, especially given that Hentschläger has made something of a name for himself in creating large-scale, immersive works. As well as a select few others, he spoke about two of them - CORE and ZEE - at length, noting how the former projected a hellish impression of mis-coordination and intrusion, while the latter facilitated the self-perception of disembodiment and loss of visual bearings that was described by some as heaven-like (those in whom it did not induce epileptic seizures, that is).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Oud concert by Nina for the children of Peru

With the tourism logo of Peru in the backdrop, Lebanese musician Nina skilfully strummed her oud on Saturday in a special concert at The Fridge, raising funds for education of children in Peru. There were a lot of sponsored bites (including a wheel of really good cheese) on which to nibble until the concert started. After the concert, the organizers held a raffle on some donated and sponsored prizes too.

Nina, backed by Shady Asfour, sang and played an enjoyable, foot-tapping series of Arabic songs, including some popular classics; a dance party erupted at the back of the venue, and many clapped to the beat.

Video from the concert:

Social Web at Pavilion Downtown

I've been attending the Social Web events at Pavilion Downtown for the last couple weeks. It's been pretty interesting so far - some sessions more than others, depending on how deep the moderator and audience probed. It's a commendable series, nonetheless, and the upcoming topics look exciting.

The first session I attended was supposed to be about trending. Tala Samman of the MyFashDiary fashion web channel and Clive Azavedo, Lavanya Narayan and Kunal Bilakhia (who, incidentally, all met each other on Twitter), the team behind the @WeAreUAE curated twitter feed, described how they use social media, in a discussion moderated by Leah Manasseh, the founder of the My Dubai My City web video channel.

We learned a few things about "catfishing", Wild Peeta's now famous pre-launch social media engagement and other topics, but the discussion was otherwise mostly generic. Since I study social networks as a science, the actual dynamics of trending were of more interest to me; unfortunately, this was not really covered in any depth. It got rather entertaining towards the end, though, with an animated debate about the effectiveness and attractiveness of online video as a medium.

The next session, about Instagram, featured guests Melina Mitri of s*uce and Elliott Brown of Moloobhoy & Brown moderated by blogger and social media manager Saad Naamani. A few case studies of image campaigns were discussed first, including #WHPdearphotograph, #LiveLoveBeirut, and #friskissthlm.

Mitri's really cool #WeBuiltThisCity social image campaign and its resulting music video were discussed next, and Brown talked about his daily image tag #MB365, along with the implications for tag choice (hint: if you decide on something specific and unique enough, it's less vulnerable to hijacking). During the audience question portion, we also discussed tag engagement (organic vs gimmick-/competition-driven) and the difficulty in being silent once one commits to engagement through social media.

The next weekend's first session was about artists using social media to promote their work, featuring The Third Line's Sunny Rahbar moderating a discussion with local photographer Ammar Al Attar and visual artist Khawla Darwish. It was an okay discussion; some of the more interesting phases were the points when they were talking about the etiquette of engagement - dealing with comments, likes, etc - and about the need for galleries when artists can ostensibly use social media to curate their own works online.

The second session that day was about the choice of medium for conveying ideas online: Words vs Images. The panel was composed of geometry-conscious artist and photographer Salem Al-Mansoori, expressionist painter Nasir Nasrallah, photographer Farah Al-Qasimi (who happened to be exhibiting in one of the galleries of the venue at the time) and articulated tweeter Maitha Al Mehairbi, moderated by columnist Mishaal Al Gergawi. It was one of the most interesting sessions. For example, we had a discussion on the importance of the number of followers, in which Al-Qasimi expressed the view that quality trumps quantity, and locked her Twitter account to keep away people who had nothing deeper to say than "good face" (LOL).

Perhaps the most interesting part was the extended discussion on writing online in Arabic, and translating between languages, with Nasrallah and Al Mehairbi having different approaches to the latter. Gergawi also brought up the idea that Arabic falls victim to a colloquial/formal divide, unlike English; because Arabic is predominantly used at home and with older generations of family, it became associated with formality. On the other hand, some were of that opinion that it is now "cool" to use Arabic on Twitter. Also, there was a later discussion of whether usage of Arabic or English is aimed at specific audiences; tweeting political opinions, for instance, in Arabic might provoke a storm that tweeting it in English would not.

There are still 3 sessions left in the series, and I hope to be able to check them out as well. Don't forget to drop by the entrance gallery exhibition of graffiti photography by Rhea Karam too.

SMCCU Heritage Tour and Emirati Brunch

I had long been postponing my planned tour and meal with the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding because I thought there was only a weekday option (blame the outdated brochure). When I recently checked the website, however, I found a very convenient Saturday morning 09:00 tour, followed immediately by a 10:30 brunch option. And there was even an online booking option, with cash payable on arrival. Perfect!

I and my friends arrived at the SMCCU majlis just in time for the guide's introduction and Q&A session, during which dates and coffee were served. We spent quite a while talking about the coffee and the local etiquette of serving and drinking it, then moving on to other topics of family and tradition, along with lighter topics like the different dialects/patterns of Arabic spoken in different emirates.

Our walking tour took us through the alleyways of the Bastakiya, where our guide explained the construction materials and design intention of the buildings, the doors and the windows, as well as the trees and walls.

She took us into the coin museum as well. Actually, I had been to Bastakiya umpteen times, and the coin museum on several occasions. Still, the rest of the tour was very informative.

We rested on the terrace for a bit before heading to the mosque next door. In the mosque, she explained Islamic beliefs and traditions, including prayer and sartorial customs, and invited questions (which I was, again, happy to oblige).

Those of us who signed up from brunch went back to the majlis and joined the others who had come for just the brunch.

Top middle: Machbous
Bottom right: Lugeymat
Bottom left: Balaleet

Our guide described the spread before us, and another introduction/Q&A session began. Some of the topics had already been covered earlier, at the beginning of the tour. But with added probing, we got to talk about topics in Emirati society such as marriage (age, cost, matchmaking, etc), subcultures (anime, metal, hipster, etc), taboos (homosexuality, alcohol, Westernization, etc) and such.

I highly recommend this combination. It's a great use of a Saturday morning, with hearty food and a chance to delve into the deep recesses of our host nationality's world.