Muslim comedians tour UK to help people get over the pandemic

British-born Fatiha El-Ghorri, originally from Morocco, is known for pushing the boundaries with her comedy. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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British-born Fatiha El-Ghorri, originally from Morocco, is known for pushing the boundaries with her comedy. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Updated 29 October 2021

Muslim comedians tour UK to help people get over the pandemic

Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
  • Starting in London, the Super Muslim Comedy Tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow
  • This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic

LONDON: After almost two years of lockdowns, restrictions, isolation, and highly contagious variants, could laughter be the best medicine?
The UK Super Muslim Comedy Tour hopes to prove just that, while celebrating the powers of Muslim comedy in aid of charity.
“We weren’t able to do the tour last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it was difficult for a lot of people because they couldn’t get their entertainment fix that they would normally get — their therapy,” the show’s host, British-Pakistani actor and comedian Abdullah Afzal told Arab News on the sidelines of the tour in Wembley.
“Also for us comedians, because we’re so used to being on stage and performing and suddenly, that was taken away from us, so all the energy that we missed out on last year, we’re bringing it forward into this year, so double the amount of energy, and hopefully we can entertain the crowd double the amount as well.”
Afzal, who is 32 and from Manchester, has hosted the show, which is in its sixth year, but it was canceled in 2020, much like everything else, due to the pandemic. 




(L-R) Comedians Salman Malik, Prince Abdi, Abdullah Afzal, and Fatiha El-Ghorri performed for crowds in east and west London. (Supplied)

Starting in London, the tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow — with all tickets sold out.
“We really hope people come out and really celebrate the diversity in our routine, in our stand up, and the people that come on the stage as well,” said Afzal, who features heavy audience participation in his sets and uses his origin to blend jokes about conventional marriage and modern romance.
This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic.
British-born Fatiha El-Ghorri, originally from Morocco, was back for the second time. Her career has taken off since 2019. She has performed on the Jonathan Ross show “Comedy Club” and on Comedy Central at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then, when the pandemic hit, she took on Zoom.
“The pandemic has been really difficult, but during that time, I was doing a lot of Zoom and online gigs,” she said. “It’s a completely different format, the stage is different, the audience is not in front of you, so it’s really odd when you first do it.”
Relieved and excited to be back to performing physical shows, the 40 year-old from east London is known for pushing the boundaries with her comedy and jokes about her experiences and observations of marriage, relationships, dating, and wearing the hijab.

“I do like to challenge people in my comedy and I like to break stereotypes, but obviously they’re halal jokes because it’s a Muslim tour,” she said, adding that she decided she was not going to use coronavirus as a basis for her jokes during the tour “because it was quite a difficult time for everybody, so I couldn’t see any humor in anything that was happening and I’m just glad it’s starting to get better.”
However, she admitted it was really nerve-wracking because they had not been performing live for a long time.
“You’ll always have nerves because we care about what we do so I’m always nervous on stage, but now I feel like we are all quite nervous being back on stage, but it’s nice to see that it’s packed out, lots of people are here, people have come to laugh.” 
Salman Malik, from south London, was relieved that Zoom shows were now reverting back to live ones, and he was happy to see audiences come out in “great numbers.”
In his first time participating in the tour, the 35 year-old Bahraini-Pakistani, who moved to the UK in 2004, uses his Arab-Asian background as a base for most of his material, along with his immigration experience, interracial marriage, and fathering three children.
“I perform comedy in four languages. I do Urdu, English, Punjabi, Hindi and it’s really nice to see that the opportunities are endless and working on my craft, (so) my comedy is basically about my journey coming into the UK, legally.” 




This is the first time that Bahraini-Pakistani comedian Salman Malik, from south London, joined the Super Muslim Comedy Tour. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
 

Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign, which helps to provide safe and clean drinking water for deprived communities around the world.
Comedian Prince Abdi, 32, who is known for working with some of the biggest names in the game including Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah and Chris Rock, wowed the crowd with his impressions and anecdotes of his pranks and antics.
“I’m Somali-British, so I talk about growing up in the ghetto of south London, which is not really a ghetto because I’m from Somalia, you know,” he said.
Abdi came into comedy as part of a bet with friends and, after several failed attempts at the same brutal comedy club, he finally got his first laugh and then “never looked back.”
He has toured Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and has also performed in the UAE, and said he would love to go all around the Middle East and tell some Arab jokes one day.
“Nothing is easy in life, you have got to work for it, and even now, comedy is still hard and you’re only as good as your last show,” he said.
Abdi joked about his experience of being bored during the pandemic and playing pranks on people to test their racial and cultural curiosity, including walking around town with a picture of himself and asking white people if “they had seen this man?”




Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“Everyone’s coming together, which is good because laughter is the best medicine. We all need to laugh, especially with all that’s going on around the world.”
Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 to see if his comedy would “transcend” from the US to Britain, and he has been a growing success ever since.
The fast-talking father-of-seven had the audience in stitches with his family-orientated jokes and audience interactions — and those “who could not keep up (it) was their own fault as they should have gone to university.”
Muhammad, 48, converted to Islam at the age of 17 and, nine years, later embarked on his comedic career. 
In 2004, he became one of the founding members of the very first Muslim comedy tour in the world called “Allah Made Me Funny,” which also featured Preacher Bryant Moss and Azhar Usman.
He said that, throughout the years with the tour, he had developed nuances to better translate to the UK’s predominantly Muslim audiences about what it’s like to be a Muslim from the US.
“And then to realize that no matter where we are from, the things that I talk about, which are marriage, divorce, children, jobs, health, the Sunnah (traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad), those particular things are relatable, they’re universal, and so what normally would separate us now brings us that much closer together.”




Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

Keyaan Hussain, who is 13 and from London, said he found the show really enjoyable, very funny, and quite entertaining, adding his favorite was Muhammad “because of how he interacted more with the audience.”
Ifrah Quraishi, also from London, said it was the first comedy show she had ever been to and was already inquiring about next year’s tour.
“I thought it was amazing, genuinely, my cheeks are hurting (because) I couldn’t stop laughing,” Quraishi, 26, said. “For sure I am definitely up for going to more comedy events like this (and) definitely hoping to come to the next one.”


Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 
Updated 08 December 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s site-responsive contemporary art display Desert X AlUla is returning for its second edition in 2022. 

The event, which launched in 2020, will take place from Feb. 11 to March 30, in the Al Mutadil valley, across the Elephant Rock sculpture in AlUla. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. (livingmuseum.com)

Desert X AlUla, which is part of AlUla Arts, will present works by Saudi and international artists. Under the theme of “Sarab,” the exhibition will explore the ideas of a mirage and the desert oasis. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. 

In the 2020 edition, some of the artists that took part in the project were involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California, and they created artworks based on AlUla’s ancient civilizations and sand and rock formations.


Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet
Updated 08 December 2021

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

DUBAI: Helmed by Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi, New York-based label Monot is proving once again that it is one of the hottest fashion brands on the scene at the moment, with a number of international celebrities hitting the Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet in sleek Monot looks. 

Models took to the red carpet — and an afterparty — in Jeddah this week wearing a variety of designs by Mizrahi, including French actress Tina Kunakey, part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik, Russian beauty Irina Shayk and South African model Candice Swanepoel.

Swanepoel brought her A-game to the red carpet on the festival’s opening night wearing an all-white look by Monot. The figure-hugging gown featured a dramatic asymmetrical train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by irinashayk (@irinashayk)

Meanwhile, Saudi-Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian star Shaik showed off a striking black number by Monot, complete with sheer draped material and glittering black sequins running across the length of the column gown. 

Shayk also opted for an all-black, figure-hugging look which was backless — adding to the sartorial drama of the dress. 

For her part, Kunakey donned a skin-tight black gown by the label — with a peek-a-boo cut out at the back — for a post-red carpet party.

Mizrahi is no stranger to star power and made headlines in 2020 when he enlisted the likes of British supermodel Kate Moss, Italian star Mariacarla Boscono, British model Jourdan Dunn, US celebrity Amber Valletta and China’s Xiao Wen to star in a Monot campaign shot in Saudi Arabia.

The models wore black and white flowy dresses as they walked and danced against the Kingdom’s cultural and heritage site of AlUla in the campaign. 

Mizrahi launched his brand in 2019 and debuted with “Collection Zero” in September in Paris that year. 

In March 2020, the entrepreneur-turned-designer presented his Fall/Winter 2020 pieces – from his first full collection for Monot – at Paris Fashion Week. The designer’s timeless creations were inspired by artist Lucio Fontana and architect Eero Saarinen.

The label has quickly gone on to garner a legion of celebrity fans, with US Olympian Simone Biles, model Kendall Jenner, Brazilian influencer Camila Coelho and US model Emily Ratajkowski donning Monot looks this year. 


Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself
Updated 08 December 2021

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself
  • Tense drama, set in occupied Palestine, screens at the Red Sea International Film Festival

LONDON: If a story makes Hany Abu-Assad wake up in the middle of the night, it’s fair to say it’s probably one worth telling. The Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated director recalls waking up at 4 a.m. and spending the next four hours writing out the idea for what would become “Huda’s Salon” — a tense, spy drama that will open the Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 6 — after a conversation with his wife and long-time producing partner, Amira Diab.

“I had this story about a salon that was recruiting Palestinian girls to work for the occupation’s secret service by putting them in a shameful situation and blackmailing them,” Abu-Assad told Arab News.

“Huda’s Salon” is the taut, character-driven story of Reem, a young mother who visits a Bethlehem business for a haircut and winds up trapped by the salon’s owner, Huda, unless she agrees to spy for the occupation. (Supplied)

“It was in the newspapers, and I was struck by it. It stayed in my mind. Two years ago, my wife wanted to explore something about women in Palestine, and I told her about this idea,” he recalled. “She asked me what the story was, and I didn’t know. So, we slept on it. Then I woke up at 4 a.m. and started to write. During the night, my head must have been working on it.”

“Huda’s Salon” is the taut, character-driven story of Reem, a young mother who visits a Bethlehem business for a haircut and winds up trapped by the salon’s owner, Huda, unless she agrees to spy for the occupation. At the same time, Abu-Assad’s film focuses on Huda’s interrogation by Hasan, who begins to comprehend the gravity of the impossible situation faced by a woman equally trapped by the shame of her past actions.

Abu-Assad is a director equally at home with documentary, biographical and fiction moviemaking, but “Huda’s Salon,” he explained, could only have been made as a story. 

Abu-Assad is a director equally at home with documentary, biographical and fiction moviemaking, but “Huda’s Salon,” he explained, could only have been made as a story. (Supplied) 

“A documentary would have been impossible. I don’t think victims would want to talk to me because of the troubles they would still face if they did so. And, for sure, the secret service isn’t going to talk about it,” he explained. “In fact, one of the only victims who came forward, 15 or 20 years ago, wrote a letter and then committed suicide. So, a fictional story was the only way.

“But the way I shot the film was like a documentary,” he continued. “Most of the scenes are in one shot, where the audience feels like they are trapped in the same time and place as the characters. We walk with the characters, we sit with them. When there are no edits, you are living at the same time as them, second by second. You are almost a mirror for them. And it’s shot with a handheld, too, which adds to that impression.”

In order to pull off such a feat, Abu-Assad needed actors he could trust to control the scenes, who were capable of driving the story for the audience to follow. To that end, the director wrote the parts for actors he had worked with before: Maisa Abd Elhadi (Reem), Manal Awad (Huda) and Ali Suliman (Hasan).

“Huda’s Salon” was suitably new, challenging and scary for Abu-Assad. (Supplied)

“I called them all after I had the story but before I started the script,” he explained. “I told them the idea and that I wouldn’t write it unless they participated — especially Maisa, because she needed to be vulnerable, not only physically but emotionally. You need brave actors to do that.”

The close-up, often claustrophobic nature of the movie is a world away from Abu-Assad’s previous film, 2017’s “The Mountain Between Us” starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. But it is in line with his commitment to selecting projects that challenge — and scare — him.

“This is why I love it. Without challenge, I can’t do this job. It’s hard, but I’ve always challenged myself to go to extremes and discover new things. I don’t want to do another version of previous films ‘Paradise Now’ or ‘Omar.’ I have to come up with something new, and I might fail, but at least I will learn.”

“Huda’s Salon” was suitably new, challenging and scary for Abu-Assad.

Caption

“To do an entire movie in two locations, with three characters, almost always in one shot, with a handheld — which I’d never done before — was certainly a learning process. You have no idea if it’s going to work, if a shot will work in favor of the story or of the characters,” he said. “But otherwise, you work on automatic pilot. You know what’s going to happen because you’ve done it before, and you know what mistakes you’ve made, so you don’t make them again. It becomes boring.”

Up next for Abu-Assad — and part of the reason for his involvement in the Red Sea International Film Festival — is a desire to continue challenging himself and learning.

“For the last eight years, I have been working with my wife, and we’re excited to explore working in the Arab World, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to widen our borders beyond Palestine. We have several ideas, and we want to explore them with producers from the Arab World. I can’t wait.”


VOX Cinemas bringing Saudi stories to film

A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus,  at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 08 December 2021

VOX Cinemas bringing Saudi stories to film

A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus,  at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
  • Majid Al Futtaim backing new wave of talent, KSA chief says

JEDDAH: With more than 130 films set to be screened at the Red Sea International Film Festival, VOX Cinemas are on a mission to support and promote local films the best way they can.

The Red Sea International Film Festival kicked off its festivities at Jeddah’s UNESCO World Heritage Site old town, Al-Balad, on Dec. 6. It will run until Dec. 15, in partnership with VOX Cinemas and others.

VOX Cinemas will screen 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages. The content was produced by established and emerging talent, with fans, film enthusiasts, filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films.

A slate of new Saudi films — 27 from an exciting wave of Saudi filmmakers — will be shown alongside the best of contemporary international cinema.

“We’re very proud to be partners of this festival, especially since this has been the first international Red Sea Film Festival taking place in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Toni El Massih, managing director of VOX Cinemas, told Arab News.

RSIFF is a significant breakthrough for the whole industry, exhibitors, distributors and producers, he said. “This platform will help future filmmakers and storytellers know that this country is so full and rich in culture and storytelling. This is the exact platform that is needed for the talent to come across and present their project,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

VOX Cinemas will screen 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages. The content was produced by established and emerging talent, with fans, film enthusiasts, filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films.

On tour to the main VOX Cinema sites in Al-Balad that have been constructed to screen RSIFF films, Arab News spoke to Mohamed Al-Hashemi, KSA chief of Majid Al Futtaim. He said: “The Red Sea Film Festival is a statement for the Kingdom. There were no cinemas prior to April 2018, however, customers enjoyed the set of experiences as soon as they opened.

“With life coming back to normal after the COVID-19 period, the Red Sea Film Festival is a statement from the Kingdom to the world that Saudi Arabia will be a major player when it comes to local content production, demand for international content, and most importantly, demand for exhibitions as well, when it comes to the best of the best that can be offered to consumers.”

With movie theaters in more than six cities across the Kingdom in over 15 locations, VOX Cinemas operates 154 screens in Saudi Arabia. “We are considered to be the largest cinema exhibitors in the Kingdom in terms of site numbers and screen counts,” Al-Hashemi said.

Why is the screen count so important?

“The screen basically is the only platform where people can showcase local content producers on the big screen. With more big screens, more local content will be produced for the local market and the regional market, and hopefully Saudi as well to the international market,” Al-Hashemi said.

“The RSIFF is where the Kingdom can act as a local content producer and where we can bring out the folded and untold stories of this beautiful company, to the customers within Saudi,” he added.

On Dec. 6. during the inaugural red-carpet event, VOX Cinemas announced an ambitious initiative that aims to foster homegrown talent and showcase untold stories on the big screen.

A plan was made to boost regional film production and develop 25 Arabic films in the next five years.

El Massih said that many of these films would be from Saudi Arabia, with Saudi talent working as directors, producers and actors. There will also be films coming out of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Speaking on the genres of the future films, he said: “The genre that we are focusing on and that has proven to work best is the comedy-drama. This is the sort of film that we’ll be working toward.”

As part of the initiative, VOX Cinemas will continue to support the next generation of homegrown content developers and provide resources for emerging filmmakers to bring their scripts to screen.

“This platform will search and scout for talent. It’ll be the same case later in the UAE and in other festivals that are taking place across the region.

“Accordingly, we’ll start putting a team together, building screening and writing rooms, getting stories from each of the different regions together, and then we’ll take that forward and then do the necessary films that we’ll see on the big screen,” El Massih said.

“Majid Al Futtaim has been very active in the region since 1999, starting off with exhibition, and then elevating our activities into film distribution, and recently in film production.”

Being a main contributor and partner of RSIFF is “huge,” he added, saying that such an opportunity will support emerging talent.

El Massih said: “This is the perfect platform for us to be participating and searching for the emerging talent and filmmakers that we can bring on board.”


Women in the spotlight at first-ever Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah

Women in the spotlight at first-ever Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah
Updated 08 December 2021

Women in the spotlight at first-ever Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah

Women in the spotlight at first-ever Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah
  • Awards for Catherine Deneuve, Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour and Egyptian actress Laila Eloui

JEDDAH: The star-studded red carpet on the opening night of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah featured a who’s who of local and international talent.

Among those honored during the opening ceremony on Monday for their contributions to cinema were three women: Veteran French actress Catherine Deneuve, Saudi film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, and Egyptian actress Laila Eloui.

Among those honored during the opening ceremony on Monday for their contributions to cinema was Egyptian actress Laila Eloui. (AFP)

“I am very happy and proud to be here this evening, to have been invited to the first edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival,” said 78-year-old Deneuve upon receiving her award. The multi-award-winning actor made her film debut in 1957 with a small role in Andre Hunebelle’s “Les Collegiennes” and found international acclaim in the decades that followed with starring roles in films such as “Repulsion,” “Belle de Jour,” “8 Women,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Indochine.”

Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first Saudi female director, won a number of international awards for her feature debut, ‘Wadjda,’ in 2012.

“It is always an honor to have your work recognized by the film industry,” she added. “I am particularly grateful for this honor and the opportunity to be part of this larger celebration of the contribution of women to cinema.

The Red Sea International Film Festival honored the Veteran French actress Catherine Deneuve. (AFP)

“I hope my work can help inspire young women to chart their own careers in this industry and I hope this recognition of the contribution of women in cinema in general will continue to underline the importance of having a strong female presence both in front of and behind the camera.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The festival is celebrating in particular the role women in the film industry, and awards were also presented to two exceptional regional talents for their extraordinary contributions to cinema.

• The Red Sea International Film Festival continues until Dec. 15. It will screen 138 films from 67 countries in 34 languages.

The festival is celebrating in particular the role women in the film industry, and awards were also presented to two exceptional regional talents for their extraordinary contributions to cinema. Al-Mansour, the first Saudi female director, won a number of international awards for her feature debut, “Wadjda,” in 2012, while 59-year-old Egyptian actor Eloui has appeared in more than 70 films.

Laila Eloui was awarded on the openeing night of the festival. (Photo: Red Sea International Film Festival)

Also honored during the opening ceremony was Jack Lang, president of the Arab World Institute and long-time supporter of the arts and culture.

“I am personally impressed by this beautiful young Saudi cinema and its inspiring directors,” Lang, a former minister of culture in France, told the festival audience, adding: “Long live the Red Sea International Film Festival, which will become one of the best film festivals in the world.

Jack Lang is a former minister of culture in France. (Photo: Red Sea International Film Festival)

“Dear Saudi friends, we admire your work, we admire your commitment to culture and art. We love you.”
In a recent interview with Arab News en Francais, Lang, a major supporter of cultural exchange through the arts it all its forms, said: “People around the world have absolutely no idea how far a real cultural revolution is taking place in Saudi Arabia in all fields, such as art, cinema, theater, literature, painting, sculpture, music.”


He also expressed his “immense admiration” for the work being done in the Kingdom by Saudi authorities in general and Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan in particular.
The Red Sea International Film Festival continues until Dec. 15. It will screen 138 films from 67 countries in 34 languages.