Europe’s first majority Black orchestra debuts stateside
Europe’s first majority Black orchestra debuts stateside/node/2274011/entertainment
Europe’s first majority Black orchestra debuts stateside
Principal clarinetist Anthony McGill of the New York Philharmonic and conductor Andrew Grams perform with Chineke! Orchestra during a rehearsal at David Geffen Hall in New York City on March 20, 2023. (AFP)
NEW YORK: After more than three decades in the classical music industry, British double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku began grappling with the question that had troubled her for years: Why was she consistently the only Black musician onstage?
“Why did I never ask anyone about it? Why did we never talk about it?” she describes wondering. “Was I being tolerated, or were people just completely unaware?“
“Or were people okay with the status quo?“
In 2015 Nwanoku took a leading role in creating a more diverse future for classical music, which, from musicians to conductors to repertoire, traditionally skews heavily white.
She founded Chineke!, Europe’s first majority Black and ethnically diverse professional orchestra, which this week played at the prestigious New York Philharmonic’s David Geffen Hall in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.
The performance was part of their long-awaited North American debut tour — it was among the many performances the pandemic pushed back — which included stops in New York, Ottawa, Toronto, Boston, Worcester and Ann Arbor.
The New York show featured the pioneering composer Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1, along with a rendition of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto featuring the New York Phil’s principal clarinet Anthony McGill.
The London-headquartered Chineke! echoes similar efforts in the United States, including the Detroit-based Sphinx organization that promotes representation of Black and Latino artists in classical music.
Yet the League of American Orchestras, which represents professional and amateur symphonies across the United States, found in a 2014 study on diversity that just 1.4 percent of orchestra musicians were Black — and there’s little reason to believe much has changed.
“Because the great majority of American orchestras are not individually transparent with racial and ethnic data on their artists, we do not know the percentage of Black orchestral artists in our orchestras today,” writes the Black Orchestral Network, a collective of Black musicians from more than 40 orchestras launched in 2022.
“From our vantage point, however, we have seen little meaningful progress.”
It’s mind-boggling to Nwanoku, who told AFP during a rehearsal break that “it seems to me that the only colleagues of color that I see who have a job in an orchestra in this country are those who are exceptional.”
“We have to be that much better to actually be given a job.”
Nwanoku believes that especially for young people, seeing more diverse faces onstage is “an immediate door-opener.”
“It’s the most incredibly winning thing to feel represented on a stage,” she said. “Even if when you walk through the front of house to buy a ticket, if you don’t see anyone who looks like you, that is immediately uncomfortable.”
“But when you see people that look like you in any place — in the supermarket, at the train station, at the concert hall, at the cinema — you immediately feel that is a place that I can walk into with confidence,” Nwanoku continued.
“You can be what you can see.”
Sofia Carson dazzles in Zuhair Murad at event honoring late co-star
Updated 04 June 2023
DUBAI: Actress Sofia Carson cut an elegant figure in a Zuhair Murad gown as she reunited with her “Descendants” co-stars Dove Cameron and Booboo Stewart to remember one of their own.
The “Descendants” stars gathered at the second annual Cam for a Cause event in memory of their co-star Cameron Boyce, who died at the age of 20 due to an epileptic seizure.
The actress-singer showed up in a beautiful black Zuhair Murad fall 2023 draped pleated cape gown with gold button detailing.
This is not the first time Carson has worn the Lebanese couturier. Late last year, Carson attended the Global Citizen Festival in a coordinating look from Murad’s resort 2023 collection. The outfit featured an embellished crop-top and mini-skirt set with matching thigh-high leather boots.
Meanwhile, the Cam for a Cause event, which was created by Boyce’s parents under the Cameron Boyce Foundation, was made to raise awareness and find a cure for epilepsy and SUDEP, Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, which caused the young actor’s death in July 2019.
“Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi received the Cameron Boyce Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Award for her “activism surrounding STEM awareness, women’s rights, civil rights, and her countless acts of kindness toward others.”
“I met Cameron when we were 5 years old, and even then, his talent, his fearlessness and his belief in the power of his peers was evident,” Shahidi said in a statement. “It means so much to be recognized for my advocacy, and the work I continue to do to effect change. I’m grateful to my friends and family at the Cameron Boyce Foundation for thinking of me, as I will always be inspired and activated by their incredible work in the fight to end epilepsy.”
DUBAI: American rock band Kiss is bringing its farewell tour, dubbed the End of the Road World Tour, to Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on Oct. 13.
“JUST ANNOUNCED: THE FINAL DUBAI SHOW! We are stoked to announce a one night only exclusive Middle East date at Dubai’s @cocacolaarena on Friday, October 13th! #EndOfTheRoadTour,” read an announcement on the band’s official Instagram account.
Taylor Swift, Ice Spice sparkle in Yousef Al-Jasmi catsuits
Updated 31 May 2023
DUBAI: US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and rapper Ice Spice were spotted wearing dazzling catsuits by Kuwaiti designer Yousef Al-Jasmi in the new music video for “Karma.”
While Swift is seen in an embellished white-and-silver creation, Ice Spice sparkled in a skin-toned, form-fitting piece.
Swift was also seen wearing a look by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta in the music video.
The handmade gown, part of their Between Light and Sea Couture 2023 Collection, features antique silver sequins on silk georgette, adorned with ombre, silver and gold leaves on the shoulders, long cape, skirt and cape.
The new music video had its world premiere during the second night of Swift’s “Eras Tour” show in New Jersey. Ice Spice also made a surprise appearance during the concert.
Lebanese-Canadian comedian Dave Merheje talks ‘Ramy’ and his new film with Daisy Ridley
Updated 31 May 2023
DUBAI: There was a single moment that Lebanese-Canadian comedian Dave Merheje knew that it was time to move into acting. He was in Singapore on another grueling stand-up tour, traveling across Southeast Asia with only a small, worn suitcase, forced to use the hotel laundry service because he ran out of clothes.
“I had just gotten paid, and I went to the front desk holding the envelope with all the money I’d made from the shows. I asked them if my clothes were done, and they said yes, and slid the bill across the desk. I realized it was everything I’d earned. I literally had to hand them the entire envelope,” Merheje told Arab News in Dubai, ahead of his appearance at the Dubai Comedy Festival in May.
“I said to myself, ‘I can’t be doing this anymore.’ And then, later that same night, I got a call from my agent in the United States. I had landed a role on ‘Ramy,’” he continued with a smile.
“Ramy” changed everything for Merheje. The acclaimed series, created by Egyptian-American Golden Globe winner Ramy Youssef, broke ground as the first series in the West to put Arabs and the Muslim faith front and center from their own perspective, and has since catapulted the careers of not only its titular star and Merheje, but Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (“Succession”), Egyptian-Palestinian actress May Calamawy (Marvel’s “Moon Knight”), and fellow comedian and now Peabody Award-winner Mohammed Amer (‘Mo’) as well.
“I was born and raised in Windsor, Canada to Lebanese immigrant parents, and growing up, I never felt connected to either side. I was either not Canadian enough or not Lebanese enough. It wasn’t until I was on the set of ‘Ramy’ that I got to be around people like me. I finally felt accepted,” said Merheje.
Merheje long dreamed of getting into acting before he worked up the courage to share that deram with someone. One of the first people he told was a then-19-year-old former child actor and aspiring comedian at the 2010 Arab Comedy Festival in New York: Ramy Youssef.
“He hadn’t yet started doing stand-up. He told me how much he wanted to get into comedy, and I told him that I wanted to use comedy to find my voice before moving into acting. I forgot I told him that, but I guess he never did,” said Merheje.
Before making that move, Merheje still had a lot of growing to do on stage, especially because he was doing comedy in an era when his non-white identity was perceived by those more bigoted in his profession to be a weakness, causing him to initially shy away from it.
“At one point I was doing my dad’s accent on stage when telling a story, and a white comic came up to me after and said, ‘Why did you just do that? There’s too many people doing this ethnic thing.’ So I stopped,” Merheje said.
“Then after a show one night, I was telling a story about my dad to another comedian, Jocko Alston. He said, ‘Why don’t you talk about this on stage? This is a good story. Just do that!’ That was the first time I started talking about my dad, my culture, my upbringing. I had been too in my own head about it all, but the second I tried it, people really responded to it,” Merheje continued.
Alston tragically passed away shortly after in 2010, but Merheje never forgot the gift he had been given. “It was really him who pushed me to embrace who I was. That’s how I was able to find myself on stage,” he said.
When Merheje moved to the United States in the middle of the last decade, he reconnected with Youssef, and the two stayed friends as Merheje continued his comedy tours and Youssef worked tirelessly at creating his series.
When the show got picked up and went into production, Merheje ran into Youssef again at the Arab Comedy Festival. It was there that Youssef remembered what his friend had told him all those years ago, the dreams he had of becoming an actor, and he asked Merheje to audition for a role.
“By the time auditions came around, I was in China, and so Ramy asked me to send in a self-tape of me performing all my lines as a monologue. I had no idea what I was doing. I asked the events promoter there to help me film it in my hotel room, and after I was done, I asked her, ‘Was that good?’ She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘No.’”
Merheje tried again and got it right, and looking back at that video on his phone, he can hardly fathom how much he’s grown as a performer since that moment. His character, a doctor named Ahmed, has developed into a key figure through the show’s three seasons, and Merheje is particularly proud of the standout 2022 episode “Second Opinion Doctor,” which centered around his character and was directed by Abbass.
“I learned so much, and I feel like I got better because she pushed me to go places that I either didn't know existed, couldn’t access, or had never really explored,” said Merheje. “I remember at one point I got really nervous. Hiam said, ‘What's wrong?’ I said, ‘It just feels heavy.’ She said, ‘It won’t be — we’ll work together.’ She made me feel safe, and that allowed me to get where I needed to be.”
Merheje’s growth as an actor has already paid dividends, as his work on “Ramy” landed him a starring role opposite Daisy Ridley in the 2023 Sundance hit “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” which was being shopped for global distribution at last month’s Cannes Film Festival.
“The director sent me a very beautiful letter — the nicest words someone has said to me besides my mother. She said she loved how earnest my performance on Ramy was — how sincerely he loves his friends and his faith — and she wanted me to bring that same energy to her film. And it was a deeply inspiring experience. I feel blessed to have been a part of it,” Merheje said.
At 43, Merheje is happy to be thriving both with his comedy — the Dubai festival was the first time he’d performed in the Gulf — and with his acting, with more roles on the way, and even a potential series of his own.
“I’ve been shopping it for about a year — it’s about Arabs and mental health, and the challenges in unpacking that to your family,” he said. “I’m pushing myself to continue to learn and get better — and to get to the level of the people that I’m inspired by, the people that helped me get to where I am today.”
Arab singers perform at free concert ahead of royal Jordanian wedding
Updated 30 May 2023
DUBAI: Popular singers from the Arab world took to the stage on Monday night at the Amman International Stadium in Jordan ahead of the highly anticipated royal wedding of Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II and Saudi Arabian citizen Rajwa Al-Saif, set to take place on Thursday.
Among the performers were Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama, Jordanian singers Diana Karazon and Zain Awad, Egyptian singer Ahmed Saad and Egyptian singer and actor Tamer Hosny.
Midway through his set, Hosny took his performance offstage and walked while singing towards the stands. With call and response, he encouraged the crowd to sing along. “For his excellency the beloved crown prince let’s hear a huge round of applause,” Hosny said while surrounded by a roving entourage in the stadium.
“It is an honor to open this legendary celebration with the precious people of Jordan on the occasion of the wedding of His Highness Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II, Crown Prince of Jordan and Miss Rachouh Al-Saif,” Hosny posted on Instagram after the show.
“I am happy and very proud that a day has come where I can play a part, even a small part, in placing the Egyptian flag, with love (in union), with a great nation such as Jordan, as a symbol of love between two countries for a great official occasion such as this.”
Alama also shared a post on his Instagram, dedicating a song to the young couple.
“From my heart, I dedicate this song to the honourable royal Hashemite family and to the beloved Jordanian and Saudi people,” he wrote. “And wishing the joys in your homes to continue to flourish.”
It was revealed earlier this month that the religious ceremony of the June 1 wedding will take place at Zahran Palace in Amman, while the reception, to be attended by international heads of state and the Jordanian royal family, will be held at Al-Husseiniya Palace.