Saudi animation series ‘Masameer County’ returns with a new tale to tell
The new six-episode season of ‘Masameer County’ follows the adventures of the county’s mischievous citizens while shedding light on the evolving social and cultural scene in the Kingdom in a light-hearted manner
JEDDAH: Netflix has released season two of the hit Saudi animation miniseries “Masameer County” following the success of its debut season in 2021.
The show is ranking No.3 in the Kingdom following its release early in March.
The six-episode season, created by Abdulaziz Almuzaini and Malik Nejer, follows the adventures of the mischievous citizens of Masameer County, while shedding light on the evolving social and cultural scene in the Kingdom in a light-hearted manner.
Almuzaini, founder and CEO of Saudi animation studio Myrkott, told Arab News that “we are no longer discussing any issues here; we are making stories.”
He said: “Netflix allowed us to broaden our content. The platform has given us more freedom. The script was bold and people loved it, and we made sure we reflect the same in the second season.”
The new season follows the escapades of Saad, Saltooh and Trad the dog, which include a daring 24-hour mission, an unexpected ride in an elevator, and a rocket launch.
Nejer directed the second season and also lent his voice to the characters in the show.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Nejer revealed that he has been developing his voice since childhood, and enjoys performing a range of characters.
The voice artist believes that necessity is the mother of invention. Initially, 140 episodes of the series were streamed on YouTube after 2011 to highlight the Kingdom’s culture.
“(When) the series was only displayed on YouTube, at first there was not enough budget to hire a voice actor and that led me to perform almost all the voices. Using my talent, it worked out. I loved it and I continued afterward, even after we became a Netflix series,” said Nejer, who has performed for many other TV shows and cartoon series.
“I continued doing that for the next 10 years because I loved it and felt that am good at it; and, most importantly, it helps us to save the budget.”
Speaking of his experience as a director, he said: “Masameer cannot be compared to any other Arabic or foreign content; it is different.”
The second season of the series is available on Netflix in 190 countries, with audio translation into Arabic, English, Portuguese and Spanish, and subtitles in over 30 languages.
In 2020, the platform streamed “Masameer: The Movie,” co-created by Faisal Al-Amer and Nejer, in more than 190 countries and 30 languages.
“We, as Saudis, tell a story, our story, and as filmmakers or creators don’t need to sugar-coat or create a flowery image of our society,” Al-Amer told Arab News in a previous interview.
“This is us; we don’t create movies for the approval of the West, we make them express ourselves.”
Season one of “Masameer County,” released in 2021, saw the Masameer team engaging in a long-standing tribal feud, media war and a health craze gone too far.
Almuzaini said that the opening season gained more views than the movie and was No.1 on Netflix’s top 10 content in the region for one month, beating international works including “Stranger Things” and “Lupin.”
The series is part of Netflix’s five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi animation studio Myrkott, signed in 2020, to bring viewers Saudi-focused shows and films.
Public Art Abu Dhabi aims to bring accessible art to UAE capital
Updated 10 sec ago
ABU DHABI: With its dozens of islands and more than 30 sophisticated cultural venues – from Louvre Abu Dhabi to Manarat Al Saadiyat and Qasr Al Hosn – the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi is emerging as a leading arts hotspot in the region, and possibly the world. Adding to its roster of cultural projects is Public Art Abu Dhabi.
Launched on March 20, it's a community-focused initiative, supported by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, aimed to enhance the quality of living by dotting the city with various forms of public art that is accessible to all.
"We've built the foundations in Abu Dhabi. We're ready," Reem Fadda, the director of Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi, said in a speech at the initiative's official launch at the Cultural Foundation. "Public art has always had a place in Abu Dhabi and we have infrastructure to build upon that even further. . . We don't want you only to come to our sites and museums, we will take art to you. You will walk in the streets of Abu Dhabi and encounter art. You will recognize your city through the lens of art."
The initiative consists of three main components, which will be spread throughout the capital and demonstrated in the coming years. Manar Abu Dhabi, meaning "lighthouse" in Arabic, will launch in November 2023 as a "year-long light art platform that activates the city and celebrates its natural beauty through light art installations," explained Fadda. The other element is direct commissions by artists from the region and abroad, whose works will embellish Abu Dhabi's corniche, parks, schools, roundabouts, tunnels, and historic sites.
There will also be Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial, taking off in November 2024, which will be co-curated by Fadda. "We are hoping to manifest a lot of public art commissions and also present artists' work across the city, and we are hoping to able to do that through community engagement," she said.
As the speeches of the launch came to an end, audience members were invited to step outside of the building to witness the unveiling of the initiative's first public artwork. Sitting atop of the building is "WAVE," a digital media work by South Korean collective, d’strict, that has implemented "an anamorphic illusion technique,” according to the press release, whereby, “the 2D installation recreates perpetually surging three-dimensional waves," It's a fitting theme, corresponding to the emirates's pristine azure waters.
US actor Eyas Younis talks Casting Arabia and stellar TV career
Updated 23 March 2023
RIYADH: From Wall Street, to pharmaceutical sales to a bona fide career in acting, US actor Eyas Younis, who is of Jordanian descent, is no stranger to reinventing himself — and with the launch of his new platform Casting Arabia, he hopes to help other performers chart their own paths to success.
The platform came to life in January, after 18 months of meticulous planning, and with more than 1,700 applicants already on the waiting list, it is clear that there was strong demand for such an initiative in the Middle East.
“Drawing on my background in business, I created a free online platform named Casting Arabia,” Younis told Arab News on the sidelines of the recent Ignite forum in Riyadh.
On the portal, any filmmaker can post the roles needed for the cast and crew of their upcoming project, and members of Casting Arabia can apply.
On the flipside, actors and other creative talents in the industry can create non-public profiles and submit themselves for the opportunities posted on the site.
“This is the system in the US on many of the platforms, like backstage, actors, and other casting networks that keep your profile private. By doing it this way, you empower the talent to pick the roles they resonate with,” Younis explained.
The website also features free learning tools, including short and snappy videos on how to take the best headshot, as well as tips for analyzing a script — and more.
It is a valuable tool for up-and-coming actors, made all the more meaningful as Younis himself was once a struggling actor.
Coming from a background in finance, armed with an MBA, Younis worked on New York’s Wall Street until the market crash of 2008, when he returned to Jordan and took up a position at a pharmaceuticals giant in Amman.
“But still, the nagging voice in my head kept searching for excitement, a break from (the) boring corporate world,” shared Younis. One day, he spotted an ad for an acting working on Facebook and, upon arriving, realized it was an open audition.
As daunting as that may sound to the rest of us, Younis gave it a shot — although he admits nerves took over and he sent his brother, who had accompanied him, home, saying “‘I am too nervous for you to sit next to me. Go home.”
He memorized the lines, sang terribly and gave a less-than-stellar performance, but by sheer luck a director named Deema Amr who had just secured her first feature film witnessed the audition and later told him “you were horrible, but there is something there, you should explore it,” according to Younis, who laughs at the memory.
She called him in to audition for a supporting role in “A 7 Hour Difference” — he landed the gig and never looked back.
“I didn’t take the decision to pursue it proficiently. It was a good beginning but it was that feeling of ‘ahhh, this is where I found myself,’” he said.
However, the producer of the film continued to call Younis, offering audition after audition, and he went on landing parts.
“Then I was approached by Basim Ghandour for a short film, on set I decided I would quit. I remember (it was) March 15, 2011. I went to take acting classes in New York, but I wasn’t in a hurry to move there. I kept thinking there was too much competition. Who wanted another Arab actor?
“I vowed never to play a terrorist and never will. But bravely, I signed up for an acting course at the (Stella Adler Studio of Acting). The intensive course program ran for several months, I attended various classes from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. daily. We covered everything from Shakespeare to acting for TV and film. It was very intense… I remember I decided after the course that there would be more opportunities for me in the US than in the Arab world. I just had that feeling that I could do it here,” he said.
“After selling my car and furniture and quitting my job, I moved to New York in May 2011. I got a manager in July and booked a play in September. I was on the prime-time TV show ‘Deception,’ playing an Albanian mafia boss… so, in less than a year, I was on TV.
“I still remember when I called my mum and said I would be on TV, and she knew I wasn’t coming home,” he added.
Cue roles in CBS’s “Unforgettable,” “Homeland” and “NCIS: LA” and it’s safe to say that Younis has found his calling.
What to watch in Ramadan: The latest slate of TV shows to hit your screens this month
Updated 23 March 2023
DUBAI: It is no secret that Ramadan TV series are among the most eagerly anticipated of the year, with fans across the Middle East — and the world — settling in to watch the latest hot new show after iftar each evening.
This year, regional production houses are offering up a slate of shows, including classic comedies, heart-felt roadtrips and even a docuseries focused on Anas Bukhash, who is famous for his YouTube talk show #ABTalks and has interviewed the likes of American Palestinian Netflix star Mo Amer, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, Gigi and Bella Hadid’s father Mohamed, and Mohammed Diab, director of Marvel’s “Moon Knight,” among others.
‘A Sitdown with Anas and Hala’
Starring: Anas Bukhash, Hala Kazim
With #ABtalks, Anas Bukhash has cemented himself as a top Arabic-language interviewer, inviting stars from across the region onto his show for a series of often-heartfelt conversations about the human experience. In “A Sitdown with Anas and Hala” he hosts a very special guest — his own mother. The six-episode docuseries will follow Anas and Hala as they discuss grief, creating boundaries, and making connections, all on a quest to find their inner selves. Airing weekly in 30-minute episodes, each installment will find the two in their home as they discuss life, the universe, and everything.
‘Gaafar El Omda’
Starring: Mohamed Ramadan, Zeina, Hala Sedki
Where: MBC Shahid
Love him or hate him, Mohamed Ramadan is the prime Arabic-language television season’s biggest star, each year turning in a role that becomes both must-watch and hotly debated, driven either by his on- or off-screen antics. Two years ago, his period piece “Moussa,” set in 1940s Egypt, was condemned by his peers after a seemingly unflattering portrayal of Egyptian comedy icon Ismail Yassine. Last year, “El Meshwar,” a series in which he plays a man in the throes of a curse, was also poorly received by many. “Gaafar El Omda” looks to be a return to form for the talented leading man, reuniting him with writer Mohammed Samy, who previously crafted the acclaimed Ramadan 2020 hit “Al Prince.” This time around, he plays a rich businessman and village elder named Gaafar, who offers a woman a loan on the condition that she become his wife for 400 days.
‘El Keteeba 101’
Starring: Asser Yassin, Amr Youssef, Khaled Elsawy
Where: MBC Shahid
After a huge hit last year with “Suits Arabia,” an Arabic-language remake of the popular American legal series, Asser Yassin is back with a gun in his hand in “El Keteeba 101,” a military drama that pairs him with acclaimed actor Amr Youssef (from 2016’s massive hit “Grand Hotel”). The series is set in the Sinai Peninsula in 2014, as the Egyptian Army’s 101st Battalion wages war against terrorist organizations, striving to overcome what appear to be impossible odds. Yassin has cemented himself as one of the best action stars in the Arab world, especially after his 2022 hit “The Eight,” and a pairing with Youssef should prove impossible to resist.
Starring: Saad Aziz, Saleh Abu Amra, Muhammad Al-Shehri
Where: MBC1 and MBC Shahid
Perhaps the greatest joy of the Ramadan television season is the surprises. In Saudi Arabia last year, that was “Road Trip” (Sikat Safar), a hilarious and heartfelt dramedy following three brothers who set off on the road after the death of their father. The second season reunites the trio of Mohammed Alshehri, Saleh Abuamrh, and Saad Aziz, this time to help their uncle run a small hotel that is threatened with demolition, all set in the gorgeous backdrop of the green southern part of the Kingdom. After Abuamrh’s widely-loved portrayal as the boss in the Saudi Arabian remake of “The Office,” expect this series to fully transition from underdog hit to Ramadan mainstay.
Starring: Ibrahem Al-Hajjaj, Fayez Bin Jurays, Khalid Al-Farraj
Where: MBC Shahid
Saudi comedian Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj is undoubtedly the most popular actor in the country at the moment, with his action-comedy “Sattar” still setting box-office records in the Kingdom, inching closer to number two on the all-time list overall, and his Netflix hit “Al Khallat+” still ranking in the country’s top five after nine weeks of release. Expect the second season of his Ramadan hit to be even bigger than the first, then. Here, Al-Hajjaj returns in a comedy following a conflict between two brothers who are attempting to run a company together but can’t seem to agree on how. Season two promises an unexpected love story, with Al-Hajjaj’s unique brand of physical comedy on full display throughout the month.
Starring: Ahmad Fahmy, Ahmed Salah El-Saadany, Shams
After two decades behind the camera making only films, Egyptian director Khaled Youssef is making his hotly anticipated TV debut with this historical drama that follows a young man in search of the secret shrine of Sultan Hamed, supposedly in a village in the Egyptian countryside. The show is set across two timelines, one present day, and one in the French-Egyptian war of 1798, with parallel characters existing across both. A strongly political filmmaker who serves in the Egyptian parliament, Youssef’s films often tackle social justice and corruption with the gritty cinema veritè style and signature use of improvisation that has made him one of the Arab world’s most distinctive voices.
‘Al Kabeer Awi’
Cast: Ahmed Mekky, Bayoumi Fouad, Mohamed Sallam, Rahma Ahmed
Where: MBC Shahid
Now in its seventh season, this long-running Egyptian hit continues to capitalize on the undeniable charisma of star Ahmed Mekky as the titular Al Kabeer, the mayor of Al-Mazareeta, a small town in the northern part of the country, as well as his twin brother, who returns to the country from the US to claim their father’s fortune. As the series has progressed, Mekky even added a third and fourth brother to the mix, while never losing audiences, even as the plots grew increasingly absurd. The latest season follows Al Kabeer after his latest marriage, and a mysterious potion transforms his grown son into a child.
‘Bab Al Hara’
Starring: Nizar Abu Hajar, Nijah Sefkouni, Fadia Khattab, Tayser Iddriss
No Ramadan TV list would be complete without the show that has become most synonymous with the season. “Bab Al Hara,” set to debut its 13th season, is still going strong, though many fans may debate in which season the show dropped from its peak. It follows the same family in Syria as the country continues its social and political transformation. In this season, set in 1945 and 1946, beloved star Nizar Abu Hajar returns as the characters grapple with an Evacuation Day that will see the final French soldiers leave the country ahead of April 17, 1946 — Syrian Independence Day. With Abu Hajar back front and center, will “Bab Al Hara” recapture its former glory? Stay tuned.
Recipes for success: Chef Shun Shiroma offers advice and a tasty roast potato recipe to try this Ramadan
Updated 57 min 43 sec ago
DUBAI: Omotenashi is a Japanese concept of hospitality historically related to hosts of the traditional tea ceremony. The term itself is divided into two parts, “omote” (public face) and “nashi” (nothing). “Together, it combines to mean service that comes from the bottom of the heart — honest, no hiding, no pretending,” according to the Michelin guide.
Omotenashi seems to be the guiding principle of Shun Shiroma, the executive chef of 3Fils, one of Dubai’s top restaurants. Overlooking Dubai Harbor, it’s a casual eatery that specializes in Asian- and Japanese-style dishes, including flavorful salmon carpaccio, Hokkaido scallops, and wagyu beef burgers. There is also a fresh offering of “Arabese” food, where the Middle East meets the Far East, such as their concoction snaa’tar, consisting of fine slices of Tai snapper covered with the deep flavors of zaatar.
3Fils is known for having its own rules, such as not serving soy sauce on the side as it might affect the freshness of the fish. But people are happy to keep coming back to what has been voted the fifth-best restaurant in the MENA region.
“There’s an ambience to it,” the restaurant’s representative Khalil Khouri told Arab News. “We want people to feel at home. You can come in shorts and flip-flops. You’re by the water and there’s that fresh air and fresh ingredients. We’ve expanded, and there’s still a queue. It’s testament to what the kitchen does.”
Shiroma was raised in Okinawa and started his career aged 16 at a sushi restaurant there. By 2009, he was in a completely different environment: Jamaica. This was followed by stints in Singapore and New York, among other places.
No matter where he has been, though, his love for the cuisine of his home country has never left him. “We have many categories and variety: Sushi, sashimi, tempura, ramen, and curry,” Shun told Arab News. “It’s healthy and simple.”
Here, Chef Shun discusses Japanese hospitality, the importance of cleanliness, and shares a recipe for korya roast potatoes.
Q: What’s your earliest food memory?
A: I think I was three or four years old. I remember my mom making some bread, butter, and jam. I was shocked by how sweet it was. That’s when my addiction to jam started. [Laughs.]
When you started out as a professional, what was the most common mistake you made?
When I was cutting something, like fish, my chopping board became dirty and it needed to be washed. But I moved on and did something else. My boss said, “Why are you not washing your chopping board?” I was giving 50 percent of myself to the work. My boss told me that nice presentation for guests is important, but it’s just as important to be clean in the kitchen.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
Just one? [Laughs.] If I give you a cucumber with nothing, you can eat it. But, if I crack it, you can eat it easily. So, this is the ingredient: My heart. This is the best ingredient for food: “Omotenashi.”
Are you a disciplinarian in the kitchen? Do you shout a lot? Or are you more laidback?
We’re busy enough here already, so I don’t need to shout at anyone. I trust our sous-chefs. I just give them small bits of advice sometimes.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
I love Japanese curry. I make it at home and my kids and wife also eat it. I’m a chef here, but at home, I’m totally not.
When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?
I don’t judge the food, but when I taste something different I’m always asking, “Why have they done that?” It interests me. I just imagine the culture, the history and the nature, then I understand why the dish tastes like that. Then I go back to my kitchen and maybe I’m inspired.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
To be hospitable and to make your own story.
Chef Shun’s Korya Roast Potatoes
3 agria potatoes, washed
30g olive oil
3 pinches black pepper powder
20g spring onion, chopped
10g crispy fried garlic
50g 3Fils Gochujang mayo
Salt to taste
1. Place the potatoes (whole) in a pan of water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 mins.
2. Cut the potatoes into wedges, transfer to a tray lined with baking paper and season with salt and black pepper powder.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 mins at 180 C.
4. Transfer to a plate, drizzle with Gochujang mayo and garnish with crispy garlic and spring onion.
Qatar’s Museum of Modern Art celebrates Beirut’s golden age with major exhibition
Updated 23 March 2023
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: Music in a gallery room in Doha’s Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art signals a celebratory scene — it is, in fact, part of “Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility,” a new exhibition of artworks, films and archival material co-curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath.
The exhibition charts the 1960s in Beirut, a decade often described as the city’s “golden age.” Featuring 230 artworks and 300 archival documents from around 40 collections worldwide, the show explores a period of creativity during the heightened political years from 1958 to 1975, an era that ended with the Lebanese civil war.
Lebanon is again facing a period of upheaval amid an economic crisis, political stalemate and the fallout from the 2020 Beirut port blast.
“Staging an exhibition about Beirut at this particular moment comes with a heightened sense of responsibility,” Bardaouil told Arab News.
“We are aware of the struggles and challenges that many people are facing on a daily basis in Lebanon, and doing an exhibition that looks at Beirut’s cultural history is, in a way, an attempt to understand the roots of a lot of the problems that are still at play today.”
On display is the work of internationally renowned Lebanese artists, including Etel Adnan, Huguette Caland, Paul Guiragossian, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Shafic Abboud, as well as celebrated artists working in the region, such as Adel Saghir, Cici Sursock, Nadia Saikali and Rafic Charaf.
The show unfolds through a series of rooms arranged by themes, beginning with “Le Port de Beyrouth: The Place,” which depicts Lebanon and its many contradictions, including those who benefitted from Beirut’s prosperity and those who watched on in destitution.
An oil painting of the city by Caland, titled “Une Ville” (1968), sits amid archival materials and exhibition posters. Another work by Adnan, titled “Le Port de Beyrouth” (1974), made with charcoal on paper, offers an almost endearing abstract sketch of the city.
Another section, “Monster and Child: The Politics,” traces the rapid escalation of political and social tensions from the late 1960s until the outbreak of war in 1975.
Regional crises, such as the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, also broke out during this time. In this section, Aref El-Rayess’ “Fifth of June (The Changing of Horses),” an oil on canvas completed in 1967, depicts a row of beheaded men and another of mourners — a reference to the events of June 5, 1967, when the Israelis occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip.
“By staging the exhibition at Mathaf you can contextualize the story of modern art in Beirut and Lebanon within a larger picture, and that is very important,” Bardaouil said.
“The contributions of these artists, their connections with artists from other countries, neighboring countries, and the common thread to common questions that each of these artists were articulating — this is a very important exercise in contextualization.”
Artworks displayed capture the same contradictions that continue to plague Lebanese society. Politically charged works are shown alongside works that show festivity, joy and desire.
The section “Lovers: The Body” features acclaimed Lebanese female artists, such as Simone Fattal, and explores how changing social values in Beirut and across the world during the 1960s inspired new artistic movements.
The notion of the past mirroring the present is underscored in a newly commissioned multimedia installation by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige about the devastation caused by the 2020 port explosion.
Staged in the final section of the exhibition, titled “Blood of the Phoenix: The War,” the installation includes footage shot from the Sursock Museum on Aug. 4 when the deadly blast occurred.
In a digital work titled “But my head is still singing,” Hadjithomas and Joreige recount the Greek myth of Orpheus and draw parallels with Lebanon’s tragedy.
After the death of his wife Eurydice, who Orpheus tried to bring back from the dead with his enchanting music, he was torn to pieces by a group of irate women. According to the myth, however, his severed head kept singing even after death.
As Hadjithomas tells Arab News: “Even after such a tragedy we are like Orpheus; we are still singing.