There event features 14 concerts, five of which are ticketed, so expect to hear a broad range of sounds from Khaleeji pop, classical music and gypsy folk to jazz and the tango
Sharjah World Music Festival promises to be another eclectic affair
The Sharjah World Music Festival returns on Saturday with another solid line-up of concerts and special performances. Back for a fifth time, the annual event has outgrown its initial venue at Al Qasba into multiple stages. Highlights include the centrepiece concert at the lakeside Al Majaz Amphitheatre and a series of shows at the picturesque Flag Island Amphitheatre. Free shows will also bring in local groups, to the family venue Al Majaz Waterfront.
On the talent front, once again the festival has regional stars sharing the bill with an intriguing list of international artists hailing from Europe and South America. There are 14 concerts, five of which are ticketed, so expect to hear eclectic sounds from Khaleeji pop, classical music and gypsy folk to jazz and the tango.
Additionally, a tribute will be paid to an Arab music icon, with a special performance.
The big gig
What was supposed to the big festival opener has, instead, become the grand closer. Emirati-Yemeni pop star Balqees leads a double bill at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre on January 19, featuring veteran Kuwaiti crooner Abdallah Al Rowaished, after the show was postponed for a week due to Balqees losing a family member.
The Emirati star rang in the new year with a free concert at Al Maryah Island on December 31 and recently performed at Dar Al Zain Festival in Al Ain and at a National Day concert in Ras Al Khaimah. Behind the latest run of shows is her latest album
Arahemkom, which brings another dose of Balqees’s winning brand of energetic Khaleeji pop and elegant balladry. In Sharjah, she will be joined by one of her musical influences, Al Rowaished; the veteran Kuwaiti singer is a live drawcard across the Gulf with a hefty catalogue of regional hits including tunes from his latest album Tesalam Aleik.
“The festival’s growing popularity and reputation was one of the major motivations for my appearance at Al Majaz Amphitheatre,” Al Rowaished says. “I look forward to bringing something completely new and exciting to the SWMF audiences – something none of my past concerts have seen.”
A flamenco flourish
Saturday brings an Andalusian flavour to Flag Island Amphitheatre, when Spanish guitarist Vicente Amigo opens the first of the major performances. Amigo, of Seville, will showcase his flamenco work from a career covering three decades.
Currently living in Cordoba, Amigo cut his teeth performing with the esteemed guitarist Manolo Sanlucar before launching a solo career in 1988.
In addition to recording 10 albums, including the 2001 Grammy Award-winning Ciudad de las Ideas and last year’s Memoria de los Sentidos, Amigo has played on recordings for Algerian rai star Cheb Khaled and the British pop star Sting.
A tribute to a legend
To mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Abdel Halim Hafez last year, the festival will pay homage to the legendary Egyptian crooner, with a concert organised by the Cairo Opera House. An orchestra will take to the Flag Island Amphitheatre stage on Sunday to perform classic tracks from the singer, composer and actor dubbed the nightingale.
A trio of young Egyptian vocalists, Ahmad Effat, May Hassan and Mohamed Metwaly, will lead the orchestra through Hafez’s much loved material.
It is a tribute true to the singer’s ethos: over a 25-year career, Hafez rarely released studio albums and instead earned his acclaim through relentless gigging. Many of his best loved songs such as Ahwak (I adore you), Nebtedi Minen el Hekaya (Where should we start the story), and Fatet Ganbina (She passed by us) continue to be played on Arabic radio.
The Sharjah World Music Festival Orchestra will make its premiere on January 18 at the Flag Island Amphitheatre.
The musicians will support the multi-talented Hungarian virtuoso Katica Illényi, who will make her Sharjah debut with a programme of classical music and folk tunes. Her appearance is also part of a hallmark year career-wise as it marks the 15th anniversary of her life as a soloist.
Born to an artistic family, Illényi first made her name as the singer and violinist of the Budapest Klezmer Band before launching into a solo career split between classical music performance, gypsy folk and jazz gigs, which has her both singing and tap dancing. The 49-year-old will bring both worlds together in what should be an entertaining and freewheeling affair.
The orchestra returns the following night to the amphitheatre in what could be one of the festival’s best engagements. Syria’s Rasha Rizk and Lebanon’s Ghada Shbeir team up to showcase their songwriting approaches.
We can perhaps expect some nostalgia from the crowd when Rizk takes the stage. Generation Xers will find her crystalline voice familiar, as she sang the theme songs for Arabic-dubbed children’s TV series such as Digimon, Remi and Nobody’s Girl. Since 2003 she has appeaed in operatic works as well as fronting Syrian jazz band Sham’eh. Her debut album last year, Malak, was critically acclaimed. Meanwhile, Shbeir’s debut 2016 album Al Muwashahat nabbed her a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award. Her performance will be an evocative trip into the past, with folk songs in Arabic and the ancient language of Syriac, with Maronite chants thrown in for good measure.