x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

From steely Arabic prose to metal's suburbs

Cultural calendar The Abu Dhabi Association of Cultural Heritage's series of talks on the Arab novel culminates with a suitably starry turn from Gamal al Ghitani.

<i>Self-portrait at Night, Paris</i> by Youssef Nabil from his photographic book <i>I Won't Let You Die</i>.
<i>Self-portrait at Night, Paris</i> by Youssef Nabil from his photographic book <i>I Won't Let You Die</i>.

The Abu Dhabi Association of Cultural Heritage's fascinating series of talks on the Arab novel draws to a close on Wednesday with a suitably starry turn from Gamal al Ghitani, who will speak about "narrative heritage". He looks a good pick, though it's hard to predict which hat he will wear - the Egyptian war correspondent, the medieval scholar, the historical novelist, the literary-magazine editor or occasional carpet-maker. Obviously one hopes to hear a bit from the author of the magnificent Zayni Barakat - which bears the distinction of being the first Arabic novel to get an English translation from Penguin - but he's a man with many sides, and the talk's theme is, after all, quite vague. Perhaps he'll spend the entire time talking about rugs. In fact it would be well worth hearing even if he did, and not only for the intrinsic interest of the topic; as Edward Said once remarked: "The finest, leanest, most steely Arabic prose that I have either read or heard is produced by novelists (not critics) like Elias Khoury and Gamal al Ghitani, each of whose prose is a razor-sharp Aristotelian instrument, the elegance of which resembles [William] Empson's or [Cardinal] Newman's." Not to be missed.

In the first of what is hoped to become a regular event, SoundPlay Festival comes to Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre on Friday Nov 28 to showcase two Middle East ensembles. Eye are a Dubai-based band who self-define as prog, though by the sound of it their output falls more within one of metal's sluggish suburbs. Not that this is a bad a place to be, especially in view of the mainstream critical adulation that Earth, Sunn O))) have been basking in for the past few years. Glacially-paced crunching noises might not sell records, but they certainly win you friends at Pitchfork. If anything, maybe Eye should consider slowing things down a bit more.

The headline act for the night is Niyaz, an Iranian-Californian world-music trio with an ambitious new double-album out on Six Degrees, titled Nine Heavens. The band trades, by their own account, in a blend of "Sufi mysticism and trance electronica" - expect thumping great tribal drums, surprisingly fierce settings of 18th-century mystical poetry, and the lilting vocals of Azam Ali. These last you might very well have heard before, though you won't have known it: Ali moonlights as a singer on film and TV soundtracks. Her work includes the theme tune to Prison Break and incidental music in The Matrix Revolutions. She also had a hand in John Travolta's ghastly tribute to L Ron Hubbard, Battlefield Earth. Don't hold it against her.

Finally, a rather grudging golf clap to Third Line: not content with launching a fascinating Huda Lutfi exhibition (until Dec 4), a constantly refreshed - and indeed refreshing - stand at artparis, two gorgeous new photographic books (by Youssef Nabil and Lamya Gargash) and a round-table debate at its Doha branch about how new galleries affect local art practice, it has now gone and scheduled an intriguing quadruple bill of short films by Emirati directors, to be held at its Dubai space on Nov 26.

Roll up for Laila Emaratiya, a night of newish films by Mustafa Abbas, Nawaf Al-Janahi, Nayla Al Khaja and Abdul Halim Ahmed Qaed - In 100 Miles, a young schizophrenic is hired to bump off a supposed criminal; Mirrors of Silence and Arabana tackle urban ennui and child abuse respectively. The final piece on the bill is called, simply, Fear. If the film-makers happen to be there on the night, perhaps you could give them a reassuring hug.