‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise
Along with comedy, it has been his mother who has been the biggest support in his life. He paid tribute to her in his first Netflix special, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.” (Supplied)
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Updated 09 December 2021

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise
  • With his second Netflix special just released, a DC blockbuster on the way, and his own sitcom due soon, the stand-up’s years of hard graft are paying off in a big way

DUBAI: At the end of his latest Netflix special, after an hour of uproarious laughter, Palestinian comedian Mo Amer walked back on to the stage and decided to tell a very personal story.

“The crowd was going bananas, and I looked around at the design of the stage. On one side was the Banksy art of the Palestinian girl holding a balloon, on the other was the West Bank’s wall, and I thought I’d tell my first experience of going to Palestine — the first time I ever went to go visit my grandparent’s house,” Amer tells Arab News.

The trip occurred in 2009, before Amer’s star had ascended to the heights it has reached today, when he is not only a headline comedian across the world, but also a co-star in the Golden Globe-winning series “Ramy,” the star of the upcoming DC blockbuster film “Black Adam” opposite Dwayne ‘The Rock Johnson, and the co-creator, along with “Ramy” star Ramy Youssef, of his own upcoming scripted Netflix series, loosely based on his own experiences.




“Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” streaming now on Netflix. (Supplied)

Amer, 40, moved to the US from Kuwait when he was 12 years old. His father died when he was 14, which sent him spiraling downwards, a hole he was only able to rise out of when he discovered comedy. Along with comedy, it has been his mother who has been the biggest support in his life. He paid tribute to her in his first Netflix special, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.”

On that trip to Burin and Nablus — the villages of his ancestors — after a delicious meal with his extended family, he looked out the window and saw a mosque that his cousin told him was hundreds of years old. Amer was intent on praying in it and set out from the house only to find a group of men who insisted that he perform the call to prayer for the village that evening.

After some hesitation, Amer accepted the men’s request. After he finished, a man came into the mosque to find out whose voice he had just heard bellowing out across the town. He knew everyone in the village, he said but he didn’t know Amer, and ask who his father was. When Amer told him, the man looked stunned.




Amer, 40, moved to the US from Kuwait when he was 12 years old. (Supplied)

“Do you know who installed the sound system in this mosque? Your father did,” the man told Amer.

“It was just by coincidence that the special became about my father,” Amer says. “It was never scripted, and was not intended to go in that direction. I just knew then that this story would lend itself well to what I was talking about as an overall connective tissue.”

When Amer got home from shooting what would become “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” streaming now on Netflix, he remembered that he had the footage of that trip somewhere, and through “a miracle,” he managed to track it down on a friend’s old hard drive two days before they had to submit the final film to Netflix.




Sharing the experience of his parents, and of the Palestinian people, has always been a huge part of Amer’s comedy, and his own identity. (Supplied)

When they finished editing the special, the first person that he showed it to was his mother. On the screen, Amer recounted the story to the audience with tears in his eyes. When he looked up to see her reaction, Amer’s mother was sobbing, too.

“When she saw that, an encore memorializing my father, and then saw the special was dedicated to him, it was a really cool moment. She just lost it,” Amer says.

Sharing the experience of his parents, and of the Palestinian people, has always been a huge part of Amer’s comedy, and his own identity.




Amer is now at a point in his career where he’s able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before. (Supplied)

“It’s just who I am. Once you see the experience through your parents’ eyes, and what they’ve gone through, it’s hard to shake that,” he says.

Amer is now at a point in his career where he’s able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before. He’s also doing it through an artistic medium that, when it’s done right, is perhaps the most empathetic and soul-baring, allowing viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an incredibly intimate way.

“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money. I could care less about money,” he says. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”

Amer has never forgotten the mission he set for himself when he first adjusted the microphone to his tall frame — the days in his early teens when he first began sharing his comedy, and found that no one was telling stories about his experience, or the experience of Arabs of any descent.

“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap — a massive, gaping hole,” he says. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, “OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”

Decades later, while Amer is still intent on sharing the stories of both his family and his people, part of the real joy of this part of his career is that he no longer needs to introduce himself to every audience. With “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” the crowd knows both him and his work well, allowing Amer to spend the bulk of the time telling jokes about things far outside the realm of his identity.

“I’ve already told my story. Now I can just be a stand-up comedian, talking about whatever comes to mind. That’s something that I’ve always been waiting for. I’m not just explaining where I come from, and to me that’s really fulfilling,” Amer says. “I can just be me, and then at the end showcase a small village with 2,000 people in it where my family comes from, a bit of seasoning that I can pinch on at the end. And honestly, I’m still pinching myself that I’m there. I’m speechless.

“My first special ended up being about my mother, and the second one, completely unplanned, was about my father. It feels like I’ve done the biggest things I wanted to do,” he continues. “I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Everything else is just gravy.”


Saudi pavilion launches Coffee Week at Dubai’s Expo 2020

Saudi pavilion launches Coffee Week at Dubai’s Expo 2020
Updated 26 January 2022

Saudi pavilion launches Coffee Week at Dubai’s Expo 2020

Saudi pavilion launches Coffee Week at Dubai’s Expo 2020

DUBAI: The Saudi pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday launched Saudi Coffee Week, a five-day event to celebrate the country’s coffee culture.

Running until Jan. 29 from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m., the series features daily activities to inspire and educate visitors on the Kingdom’s coffee traditions that form an essential part of its culture. 

The event will also host two workshops at Sard Café to help guests learn the art of making Saudi coffee. (Supplied)

This includes showing casing a variety of coffee-making and brewing techniques, as well as tasting experiences.

The event will also host two workshops at Sard Café to help guests learn the art of making Saudi coffee.

The pavilion also features booths from Ethiopia, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, and Australia at the Open Square to familiarize visitors with traditions of other countries. 


Curator Maya Allison sheds light on the UAE’s color-filled pavilion at 2022 Venice Biennale

Curator Maya Allison sheds light on the UAE’s color-filled pavilion at 2022 Venice Biennale
Updated 26 January 2022

Curator Maya Allison sheds light on the UAE’s color-filled pavilion at 2022 Venice Biennale

Curator Maya Allison sheds light on the UAE’s color-filled pavilion at 2022 Venice Biennale

DUBAI: Nine years after the UAE gained its independence in 1971, the Emirates Fine Art Society was formed by the first generation of contemporary artists to pioneer cultural activities in the country. One of its experimental members is Emirati land artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, born in 1962, who will be the sole exhibiting artist at the Venice Biennale’s UAE pavilion in spring 2022.

“Between Sunrise and Sunset” is the title of the upcoming exhibition, which will reunite Ibrahim and Abu Dhabi-based curator Maya Allison in a fifth artistic collaboration. “He’s doing something that I really haven’t seen any other artist do,” Allison told Arab News. “He’s extremely rigorous in his practice as an artist. What looks like a very intuitive, childlike process has underneath it many years of reading and research and thinking about what the nature of art is.”

The exhibition is curator Maya Allison in a fifth artistic collaboration. Supplied

Opening April 23, the exhibition’s installation will take pavilion viewers through a visual journey of the artist’s human-sized and organic sculptural forms, made of paper mache and cardboard, transitioning from black and white to bright colors and vice-versa. It is inspired by Ibrahim’s personal experience of growing up in the Emirati port town of Khor Fakkan, where he encountered time and again a particular notion of light and color in the area’s rocky nature.

“He was born and raised in Khor Fakkan, which has Al-Hajar Mountains behind it,” explained Allison. “Those mountains block the sunset, so that when the sun rises over Khor Fakkan, it’s very colorful and bright. In the middle of the afternoon, the sun goes behind the mountains and there’s just a giant shadow cast across the town. You just move into shadow and the world starts to feel more black and white. That movement is what he’s kind of referring to what you’ll see in the exhibition: the movement from morning till afternoon is very dramatic.”

The installation will take pavilion viewers through a visual journey of the artist’s human-sized and organic sculptural forms. Supplied

Ibrahim is also known for his symbol-filled paintings, draped in vivid color. In his sculptural work, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to his use of colored material. “As a child, he would try to imagine what the sunset looked like from the other side of these mountains. Of course the sunset is very colorful, but he is not able to see it,” said Allison.

“This fascination with bright colors that you see in some of his work is in part related to this sense of depravation from the colors of sunset. I think it’s a very nice outcome — he made the colors that he was missing in that part of the day.”

This year’s iteration of the Venice Biennale is being held under the theme “The Milk of Dreams,” derived from a book by 20th century surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. “One of the core elements of the theme is metamorphosis and the human-landscape relationship. Those two elements are very crucial to his work,” said Allison. “His work is right in that intersection where I think of the moment where nature becomes culture.”


Lyna Khoudri lauds new film ‘Gagarine’ after awards sweep

Lyna Khoudri lauds new film ‘Gagarine’ after awards sweep
Lyna Khoudri gained international recognition for her role in ‘The French Dispatch.' File/AFP
Updated 26 January 2022

Lyna Khoudri lauds new film ‘Gagarine’ after awards sweep

Lyna Khoudri lauds new film ‘Gagarine’ after awards sweep

DUBAI: French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri took to social media to celebrate her latest film, which has been dominating awards ceremonies on the international film festival circuit as of late.

 “Gagarine,” starring Khoudri, most recently took home the Lumière prize for Best Debut Film at France’s Lumière Awards and the actress took to Instagram to celebrate on Tuesday.  

“Lumière for the best first film for @gagarinefilm,” wrote the actress on Instagram. “Thank you, my forever friends, for this perfect night,” she added, alongside a picture of herself and “Gagarine” co-star Alséni Bathily at the awards ceremony.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by lynakhoudri (@lynakhoudri)

Khoudri and Bathily accepted the prize on behalf of the film’s directors, Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh, who were unable to be present at the Jan. 18 event.

The film also won awards at the Athens International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival and Mons International Film Festival.

The movie is a bittersweet French story of a housing complex on the outskirts of Paris. Inaugurated and named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the complex is found to be in a state of disrepair and faces demolition.

The movie is a bittersweet French story of a housing complex on the outskirts of Paris. Supplied

 But 16-year-old Yuri (played by Bathily) refuses to leave. He has nowhere to go after his mother abandoned him. Yuri is a good handyman and with two friends, Houssam (Jamil McCraven) and Diana (Khoudri), tries to carry out repairs with second hand materials before the inspection. He fails, but is inspired to recreate a spaceship in the building’s basement.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 27th edition of the Lumiere Awards took place in the presence of a limited audience, which included Khoudri, who for the occasion donned a design from her go-to label.

The actress was a vision wearing a sheer slip dress from Parisian maison Chanel, for whom she serves as a muse.

She paired the logo-covered slip dress with a pair of eye-catching sparkling MaryJane pumps.

The actress also sat down with French television channel Canal+ to answer a series of questions.

She stated that she was “very happy and proud” that “Gagarine” won the Best Debut Film award because it is an “excellent film” and she finds it “well deserved.”

When asked what advice she would give to young, aspiring actors, Khoudri said to “believe in your dreams” and “work hard.”

“Gagarine” first screened at the Cannes Market on a virtual platform in June 2020.


Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows
Updated 26 January 2022

Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for COVID-19, postpones Dallas shows
  • "I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," said John
  • The concerts, part of John's "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26

NEW YOTK: Pop megastar Elton John on Tuesday postponed two concerts in Dallas — part of what is expected to be a lengthy farewell tour — after testing positive for Covid-19.
“It’s always a massive disappointment to move shows and I’m so sorry to anyone who’s been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe,” said the British musician, 74, in a statement on social media.
“Fortunately, I’m fully vaccinated and boosted and my symptoms are mild.”
The concerts, part of John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26. Both John and the American Airlines Center, where the shows were to take place, said they will be rescheduled and fans should keep their tickets.
John said he expected to be healthy enough to play his show on January 29 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The tour, which is anticipated to be Sir Elton’s last, has run into pandemic-era cancelations and postponements, like many other performing arts events.
The pop legend also recently had a hip operation that forced him to push back several dates.
Last year, John released an album entitled “The Lockdown Sessions,” which was recorded entirely under Covid-19 restrictions.


Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
Updated 25 January 2022

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
  • Afghanistan's rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year
  • "Right now we don't have music in Afghanistan," says Homayoun Sakhi

LONDON: Homayoun Sakhi closes his eyes and runs his fingers along the long neck of his wooden instrument encrusted with mother-of-pearl.
“I feel like I have my Afghanistan in my hand,” says Sakhi, one of the world’s most renowned performers on the country’s national instrument, the rubab.
He is jet-lagged after flying in from California to perform at London’s Barbican concert hall to raise funds for emergency medicine and education in his homeland.
Along with the growing humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan’s rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year.
Widely shared videos have shown them smashing and burning instruments. Musicians have fled the country.
“Right now we don’t have music in Afghanistan,” says Sakhi.
“It’s really difficult because there are no concerts, there’s no music, and (for musicians) it’s very difficult to be without any money and without a job.
“That’s why they’re trying to go somewhere to play.”
The Taliban clampdown is a repeat of the hard-liners’ previous time in power between 1996 and 2001, when they banned music as sinful, under a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The rubab dates back thousands of years and has enjoyed a revival thanks to Sakhi, who is known as a musical innovator and has developed a more modern playing style.
BBC Music Magazine called him “one of the greatest performers” on the instrument.
Born in Kabul, he left Afghanistan with his family in 1992, in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, moving to Pakistan.
He later settled in Fremont, California, which is known for its large Afghan community, and has launched an academy teaching the rubab.
“Each time I’m playing, I’m home, I feel like I’m in Afghanistan,” he says.
Music including pop was allowed a free rein during the past two decades in Afghanistan, with local television even showing a “Pop Idol” talent contest equivalent.
But following the Taliban’s return to power, traditional Afghan music now relies on devotees overseas.
The “Songs of Hope” concert at the Barbican last Saturday was organized by Afghanistan International TV.
The London-based channel was set up by Volant media company, which also runs a Persian-language channel for Iranians.
It will screen a documentary about the concert in March.
In the first half, Sakhi plays classical Afghan pieces, followed by folk music that gets the audience clapping along.
He performs with UK-based virtuoso Shahbaz Hussain on tabla and Iranian musician Adib Rostami on the kamancheh, a bowed string instrument.
“I had the idea to do the concert — that was the only thing I can do as a musician,” said Rostami, one of the event’s organizers.
“As we know, now the music is banned in Afghanistan — they cannot ban this from the people around the world.”
“We have to try as musicians, as music lovers, to find a way to keep this cultural heritage for the future.”
The current situation for musicians under the Taliban is “back in the 1990s,” he says.
“Again, you cannot be a musician in Afghanistan.
“As far as I know, most of the musicians... are trying to get out of the country.”
A group of students and teachers from a national music school in Kabul arrived as refugees in Portugal in December, after the Taliban’s takeover earlier last year.
Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, Zohra, set up in 2016 and named after a Persian goddess of music, has moved to Qatar.