Young Jordanians showcase ‘talent from home’ for hit contest

Taleen Hindeleh, 20-year-old daughter of a Jordanian singer, plays the piano at home in Amman. (AFP)
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Updated 05 May 2020

Young Jordanians showcase ‘talent from home’ for hit contest

  • ‘My talent from my home’ attracted more than 67,000 participants and 18 million views on social networks

AMMAN: An online talent contest created to keep young Jordanians busy as they sit out their country’s coronavirus lockdown has proved a hit, with thousands participating and millions watching.

Mahmoud Azzazi, 22, lives in a working-class neighborhood of the capital Amman and is studying culinary arts, but has been turning his mind to music during the lockdown.
He was among the prize winners for his rendition of the song “Sway,” made famous by the likes of Dean Martin.
Jordan’s Culture Ministry launched the “My talent from my home” contest in late March, and says it has since attracted more than 67,000 participants and 18 million views on social networks.
With children under 16 prohibited from leaving their homes except in case of emergency, and with schools and universities still closed, the contest has provided a creative outlet for many young people.
Azzazi said the win had encouraged him to work on his voice. “I hope to become a professional singer in the future,” he said.
Jordanian authorities imposed a strict round-the-clock curfew on March 21, with hundreds arrested in the following days for breaches.
Daytime movement restrictions have since been eased, but the curfew remains in force at night.
“I want to fly, nobody can clip my wings,” Taleen Hindeleh belted out from her bedroom in Amman, in a prize-winning rendition of a song by Lebanese artist Hiba Tawaji.
Contestants are divided into two groups — those aged 10 to 14 and 15 to 25. Categories include music, poetry, drawing and storytelling.
Participants must post a short video on social media with the Arabic hashtag “my talent from my home,” which is picked up by the culture ministry’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.
Five artists judge the videos — the number of views and likes on social media are considered — and Jordanian television broadcasts a selection of award-winning entries each week.
Hindeleh said being in lockdown at home in Amman with her father, a professional singer, had its advantages.
“He guides me and coaches me,” said the 20-year-old student, who also plays piano.

FASTFACT

• With children under 16 prohibited from leaving their homes except in case of emergency, and with schools and universities still closed, the contest has provided a creative outlet for many young people.

• Participants must post a videos online with the Arabic hashtag ‘my talent from my home,’ which is picked up by Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Jordan has officially declared 465 cases of novel coronavirus, including nine deaths.
A hundred prizes are awarded weekly, with the winners announced on television and on the ministry’s website.




Ebaa Akroush, 24, plays the flute on his balcony in Fuheis, Jordan. (AFP)

Prizes range from 100 to 1,000 dinars ($140-$1,400) — not bad in a country where the monthly wage is around $600.
Ebaa Akroush, a 24-year-old music graduate, was one of the first-prize winners in the contest’s opening week for his performance on the flute.
“I didn’t expect to win because the video was poor quality,” he said.
Akroush said he had initially made a short video to share with his friends, but added the hashtag after hearing about the competition.
“Now people are contacting me with questions about the flute,” he said from his balcony in Al-Fuheis, near Amman.
Locked down in Ajloun, north of the capital, 25-year-old Nabil Al-Rabadhi won a prize for his performance of “Enta omri” (“You are my life”), by legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum, played on the qanun — a stringed instrument similar to a zither.
He said he felt it was important to showcase a traditional Middle Eastern instrument, while many other contestants were using Western ones.

“Thanks to the curfew, I’m spending more time playing each day,” Rabadhi said.
The contest is scheduled to run until Eid Al-Fitr, which falls later in May.
And while some seek the limelight, others, young and older, are happy just to be part of the audience.
Roula Al-Jmaili, a 45-year-old housewife from Amman, said the contest provided a welcome distraction from “the curfew and boredom.”
Issa Qaysar, a 24-year-old music arranger from Al-Fuhais, said he hoped the competition would continue.
“There is great artistic talent that deserves to win and be supported,” he said.


US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

Updated 12 July 2020

US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

  • According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists are facing the possibility that their visas may not be renewed
  • The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities

DUBAI: The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) might not renew visas for foreign journalists working at Voice of America (VOA).
The decision comes after Michael Pack joined USAGM as CEO last month, and fired the heads of four organizations: Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund. 
According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists working for the organization in Washington are facing the possibility that their visas, many of which expire this month, may not be renewed.
A VOA journalist, who asked not to be named, said it could lead to the departure of more than 100 staffers in the foreign language services, reported National Public Radio (NPR). 
The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities. Currently, there are 62 contractors and 14 full time employees at USAGM who are in the US on Exchange Visitor (J-1) visas. There are 15 categories under the J-1 visa, which is essentially a non-immigrant entry permit for individuals with skills who are approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. It is worth noting that the J-1 is among the visas that were banned by the administration of President Donald Trump in response to the coronavirus disease pandemic, with the administration suggesting holders take jobs away from US citizens.
A USAGM spokesperson told VOA that the agency was conducting a case-by-case assessment of J-1 renewal applications, and so far none of the journalists seeking J-1 extensions appears to have been rejected outright. The spokesperson added said the visa review is aimed at improving agency management, protecting US national security and ensuring that hiring authorities are not misused.
Media organizations have spoken out against the news. “This reported decision puts the lives of intrepid, free-thinking foreign journalists at risk. Many of these journalists have worked with VOA precisely because it offers them the opportunity to report stories that they cannot tell in their home countries without risk of severe punishment,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. 
“If these journalists are forced to return home, some of them will be greeted with jail cells or worse. It is appalling that the VOA’s new boss could be so reckless about the safety of journalists who have given their talents and insights to help the US inform the global public. These journalists deserve protection, not betrayal,”
The National Press Club, which represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide, also spoke out. “We know of no sensible reason to deny VOA’s foreign journalists renewed visas. These men and women provide an essential service to VOA by reporting from the US and telling the American story to their audiences overseas. They have the language skills and cultural background to perform this work. They are not taking jobs away from American workers,” said its president, Michael Freedman.
At the time of publication USAGM had not responded to Arab News’ request for comment.