Up and coming young Edinburgh band, Jen and the Gents, formed in 2010, and have constantly been gigging around the city since, their big break may finally be on the horizon with a performance at the opening of the Fringe at the BBC Potterrow venue. The concert is due to be televised at the end of the month.
The band comprises of Jennifer Ewan who sings and plays guitar, her partner Stuart Crout, otherwise known as Pockets, who plays the drums and sings harmony, Martin Beer, who plays bass guitar and double bass, and Lewis Diamond who also plays guitar.
The concert at the Spiegeltent earlier on the 19th of August, found Jen with her strong voice in excellent form, which she said was the result of a lot of practice. Beer was playing double bass, as the venue had wanted an acoustic set. Jen, a petite brunette with long wavy hair was centre stage, with the toes of her shiny red heels peeping out from under her trousers. Pockets’ long blonde hair stood out as he sat behind the drums, occasionally looking towards the audience. Diamond in his top hat preferred to stand back and focus on his guitar. The venue was packed out, with all sorts of people enjoying a drink while watching the band.
The upbeat and melodically mesmerising songs, sung with a convincing aplomb and described as indie pop, are insightful on varied topics such as life events, relationships, and places, for instance Portobello and its beach, and Suzie’s diner. Otherwise they may be reflections on the way conventional life is lived, such as in relation to owning a new car or Sky TV. from the point of view of an unconventional lifestyle. Jen has a varied taste in music, but folk influences can also be detected. This led to a recent interview with Celtic Music Radio.
The Edinburgh reporter caught up with them after the gig, as they divided their spoils from album sales, before heading off to lunch in a Sushi bar. Happy with the way the gig had gone, they talked about their distinctly un-rock and roll lifestyle, with the preferred drink of choice being tea. They also discussed their aims and ambitions for the future.
This looks promising, as Jen, who also manages the band, said she received an email from the BBC with an invitation to play at their Fringe venue. The BBC had been scouting for local talent and discovered their website.
Although the band harbours modest aims for success, Jen said: – “I don’t want to be famous”. Their ideal gig would be busking at Glastonbury, and they are aspiring to tour some of “nice” Scottish festivals. They have previously performed at Kelburn, and loved its pretty grounds, which were she said: – “a change from other festivals”.
They have played various venues in Edinburgh, with The Bowery being their favourite, and also the Forest Cafe. Their favourite Festival venue is the Meercat Stage on the Royal Mile, due to the crowds and atmosphere. They most enjoy performing on the street, in the open air.
Her lyrics she said are based on life experiences and an outlet to express her emotions, such as happiness or otherwise. She said: -“It’s like looking back in a diary”. Within each song, though written in the past, she often finds new meaning as she sings, these are she said: “relevant to my life in new ways”. It seems like a cathartic process. Jen is currently working on a couple of new songs, for which the melodies have been written. She said: -”I need to write the lyrics, which I am looking forward to”.
Due to Jen’s role as manager it is difficult to find the time to write, because she said: -“I’ve been busy booking the gigs…I need new songs”. She has been she said: – “doing a lot of media promotion and making contacts with industry people about gigs…It would be lovely to have a manager who did it all for us”. For the band making enough money from it to be able to afford to tour and make a living from would be ideal.
During the writing process, Jen usually writes the music first, which can often just come to her. She then works on the lyrics, after which she takes it to the band, who through jamming sessions find their own parts and vocal harmonies. This part of the process is the most enjoyable for all, and when the song comes together.
Jen and the Gents formed in 2010 out of a band called The Tuberians, a Cajun outfit, which she joined in 2008, and played in together with Pockets. They met and played at the now defunct Suzie’s Diner. This had been a venue for local bands, and where they were also fed and watered for free. Originally from Ayrshire, Jen began her performance career in youth theatre, before finding her voice.
The band has a performers’ pass for the festival, paying a license fee of £30. This enables them to attend talks and workshops. So far Pockets, also a music producer, has briefly attended only one event, a talk on circus acts. He said he had the idea of playing the Ukulele and juggling at the same time. Let’s hope the hard work pays off, and they acheive their ambitions
For more information on upcoming gigs, visit their website at
or their Facebook page
Bitterly disappointed serial twitterer shares his angst and rails at the celebrities who won’t return his unsuitably provocative messages, exposing the meaninglessness of celebrity culture and the followers who are obsessed with them. It all comes to a head as the wannabe celebrity realises the extent of his obsession, which amounts to 14,000 tweets, including 3,000 desperate messages to one presenter, asking if he has a friendly face.
Kearns does indeed have a friendly face, as he bounces on stage despite having a cold. Although there are only 15 people in the audience they generate a lot of laughs, one which was so hard that it lead to a strange snorting noise. The performance was very well-researched, with ridiculous posts by himself and the celebrities.
Evans began to uncover the meaninglessness of celebrities who write about odd socks, as a tweet on this topic by Stephen Fry popped up on the screen behind him. Even mundane cups of coffee (Gok Wan) are given a new lease of life through retweets, as the culture is perpetuated by the followers whose self – esteem issues lead them to feel as though these people could add glamour to their lives.
Kearns commented that Twitter is “bulls*** and also expressed the view that anyone who feels the need for this kind of validation from a famous person needs to do some soul searching to realise their own self-esteem issues.
In this hilarious performance, celebrity tweets are shown to be what they really are, and how they acquire a certain symbolism of god- like proportions. The effect of this hero-worship was evidenced in a picture of Evans’ flat, which had deteriorated into slum – like grottiness through neglect.
Some of his tongue in cheek tweets were on display to the audience and were controversial enough to get some replies, and his following increased, if only by the count of one. Thus taking the total up to 51.
What Kearns fails to mention is that much of what these famous poeple put on-line might be PR, doctored for public consumption in order to portray a certain image, or brand.
Kearns said that after posting his own versions of their “fine racialist art” to the Ku Klux Klan, they messaged him back telling him to “Stop it”. He took a step back and, after examining his 14,000 messages to celebrities, admits it’s not how real life should be lived.
Despite all this, has he really taken the advice of the Ku Klux Klan and has he learned his lesson? He feels the need to validate himself as a celebrity and also the audience with his blue tick of validation. However, do people really need this, and be known as one of the rubbish celebrities he has just exposed? We are left feeling sorry for him.
A balding middle – aged man in a tweed jacket and brown trousers appeared on stage and proceeded to unleash himself. He started with his appearance, the clothes he described as being the height of good Edinburgh tailoring, which every “native” should wear. He felt that his innocuous glasses scared people. In fact, what was more interesting was the bright red cord attached to these and which indicated his propensity to misplace them.
He got a lot of laughs, guaranteed, but used cheap gags to generate them, although uncomfortably so, to a full house of 150. These insular jokes on mundane objects like his dad’s old secateurs or indeed his mongrel dog, were in pretty bad taste.
He took a dig at the current trend of the middle classes growing vegetables in their own allotments with a punchline so gross we cannot really repeat it here.
He continued on this theme with the trend of people taking piles of their muddy vegetables to dinner parties instead of a bottle of wine, (which he said he would prefer). Notwithstanding the comedy, we believe that organic vegetables are a more thoughtful gift than a bottle of off the shelf plonk.
UPDATE-Other gags were self-obsessed- rascist rants which he complained to the editor about when we mentioned this in the review, resulting in the editor Phylis Stevens attacking us and taking down the review, and then refusing to publish the next two or three we had lined up with the ER, unfair treatemnt when another staff member at the Edinburgh Reporter got a compliant on the same day -she jumped on the male white staff member’s defence, (as is usual, showing to her colleagues her discimination tactics to get herself accepted with them) then after many sories for the E R at work all summer and without pay and good reviews of our work, she neglected to invite us to the E R end of festival event- a reward for all our hard work, denied to us but not to her white male ‘staff’ even those with fewer credits and even complaints from the public audience- it is also unfair that mat white rascists are more interested and seem to get off on in the effects of their own rascist tactics on non-whites – rather than any serious art – Phlis stevens seems to be one of those types-such people are not usually very happy nor successful therefore attack others-perceiving them as superior and threats to their own low self-worth and esteem and pursuing usually for money rather than anything worthwhile in the arts – therefore ms Stevens says she has no funds and refuses to pay us, then writing downright lies from police and NHS about myself and husband, she told me she was friends with te police-bewarned of Ms Stevens- she had been a lawyer previosly to setting up the ER site-not a very good one
and others related to his own and his family’s personal life and finances. For instance the trip to Disneyland; a trip which even failed to impress his four year-old son.
The piece de resistance of the show was a long tirade about a mad pet dog he’d been forced to buy, which seems to have tied him down, or leashed him. Under pressure from his family, especially his precocious five year-old daughter Matilda, who apparently did a mass of internet research, read reports and books and even wrote short stories on the subject.
Evans eventually did his own research, and managed to bring home a totally unsuitable dog, after his wife gave him an ultimatum. She said:-“You had better come back with a puppy or not at all.” Evans said he considered these options, and made a decision.
The dog was not placid as he’d thought, but discovered that the characteristics of the breed; the wire haired Hungarian Wiesler – meant it couldn’t be left alone for any length of time, not even a minute, as it got anxious. It also wanted to be part of everything.
This ridiculous state of affairs made for a funny second-half of the performance, enhanced by a cute picture of the said dog, Talisker, named after a whisky.
Title: Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour
Company: Compagnie Les Labyrinths (France)
Category: Theatre (14+) Institut français d’Ecosse
Dates: Aug. 3-11, 13-18, 20-26
Duration: 1 Hour
An intellectual and entertaining journey through the life and works of Adam Smith, explaining how his ideas on economics are incorporated into modern society, but in a distorted manner. The show is presented in multimedia form with two actors who interact with the big screen. The background film includes vox pops, which show how the founding father of economics and liberalism is unknown or misunderstood.
Senior economics lecturer and actor Vanessa Oltra plays Marie, a petite brunette,whose position as a senior economics lecturer and with PhD in the subject lends authenticity to the message of the play. Actor Frederic Kneip plays Fred with a rough charm as the couple journey through Scotland. The hushed audience of varying ages sit in the darkness silently, looking very serious. They number around 50, with the theatre two-thirds full.
The show begins with cinema sized film spread across the whole stage beginning with a sombre cab ride to Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Smith is buried here, and the actors are seen carrying a bouquet of white roses.
The actors appear centre stage dressed in camouflage from head to toe, as if ready to take on a battle. They are set against the film backdrop of a jungle.
Their aim is to educate the audience about what Adam Smith’s work actually meant, with citations and references to it. They contrast this to the way it is interpreted by the capitalist system and government to justify their actions in terms of economics.
Beginning the performance, Marie talking as if to Smith, and says: – “Do you know you are the founding father of economics, your invisible hand has crossed many continents…I want you to wake up now and tell us what you think of this. I warn you, economics is not to do with morals and philosophy any more…or human beings”.
Fred also discusses this same idea, attired as Smith. He talks about Smith’s attitude towards pleasure, passion and sympathy for others. He says melancholy comes from deprivation of a loved one, through death, which is a terrible situation and injustice for mankind. As a result “we sympathise for the feelings of others” and feel love. “We feel much for others and little for ourselves…mutual love and respect”.
Smith’s legacy is illustrated in the interview with the president of the Adam Smith Institute, which is a UK policy institute supporting the free market economy. The president is shown on film, the screen in two parts on each side of Marie at centre stage. He is facing away from her and sits passively. She speaks to him about the difficulties in establishing any link with Smith, and suggests his ideas were not just as simple as we may think.
The screen goes blank briefly and white noise appears as the signal is lost. She then asks the director if she can submit a citation from Smith, book 5, for the website, but the president shakes his head, even when she offers a substantial donation.
At the end, symbolising the real Adam Smith and his work, the play comes full circle as Marie and Fred, are seen at the cemetery, in order to pay homage and lay the white roses at his grand tombstone. They aim to obtain entrance through its iron gates, access to which proves to be restricted
The play is tightly directed by Gerard David, in a successful attempt to fit in important aspects of Smith and his legacy into one hour. It therefore moves at a fast pace. What could be perceived as dry and serious material is transformed into an entertaining, appealing and comedic hour incorporating the film footage.
Smith and his philosophies are therefore successfully and vividly brought to life.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – The Hard Man – a preview
July 6, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre
Genres contemporary, event
Group In Your Face Theatre
Venue The Wee Red Bar
Duration 2 hours
This dramatically dark play about the 1960s criminal Glaswegian underworld takes us on an emotional rollercoaster right into the heart of the Gorbals. Here, we witness intimately the convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle’s life and the gangsters who will do whatever it takes, including murder.
A preview of the upcoming Fringe show was put on last week by In Your face Theatre and directed by Craig Boyle, who took the place of the original director Christopher Rybank, at the last minute, with Rybank taking the lead role of Johnny Byrne. The venue The Wee Red Bar perfectly suits its rough charm.
Based on the life story of notorious criminal Jimmy Boyle, it was co-written by Boyle alongside playwright Tom McGrath and performed at the Traverse in 1977, while he was serving time in Barlinnie Prison following a conviction for murder. The prison’s rehabilitation program helped him find his creativity and turn his life around. Boyle has become a successful novelist and artist since his release. The play raises wider issues concerning atonement, reform of prisoners, their rehabilitation and redemption, and of justice. These are considered to be important themes because rehabilitation programs remain controversial.
The intimate atmosphere comes from the set at The Wee Red Bar, whose artfully dingy decor with red painted walls with theatre flyers pasted all over them, and the industrial, exposed ceiling, enables you to relate to a grotty and seedy Glasgow.
The lack of a raised stage and low lighting emphasises informality and intimacy, with the closeness of the audience to the young performers whose energy and heat envelope you, and which it seems, you can reach out to touch. Their passionate performances in the centre of the floor, with the audience of about 60 gathered around its edges, and the use of the audience’s entrances and exits to the room create a believable two hours, where you feel yourself a part of the performance. Here you are present with them in the Gorbals, feeling what they feel and getting inside their minds. This intimacy lends to a sympathy for their actions, as their circumstances and motivations unfold.
The strong Glasgow accents and costumes of the young cast, clearly pointed to the rough lower-class of the characters, and the clothes placed them in the recent past. Johny’s girlfriend Carole (Jessica Innes) in a white top, a high blonde ponytail and pastel pink lipstick was contrasted by the dowdy whitish Mac worn by Didi, the local gossip.
The play begins with Johnny living with his mother (Heather Hardcastle) in Glasgow’s rough Gorbals. We see him from the age of 14 as, over the next few years he gets involved in criminal activities escalating in their seriousness. We learn that this started at the age of 5 when he stole chocolate and broke into bubblegum machines.
Johnny and his gang get involved with Big Danny (Gavin McQueen) and his gang into selling masses of stolen goods, and also get involved in violence, when Didi (Christie Brown) enters with news of a murdered Spanish man. Johnny barks at her:- ‘You saw nothing, we’re in this together.’ When he asks his mother for money for the cinema, she tells him she doesn’t want the police at the door in the morning. She ends with typical motherly affection:- ‘He’s a good boy, it’s the company he keeps.’
The extent of the violence is shown throughout the play, as all sorts of props which were used in these violent acts, batons, a screwdriver, beer bottles, a huge machete are brought forth.
The second act consists of Johnny in prison, locked in a wooden cage, as he tries to get at his captors. He is suffering, and is being beaten and bullied by the police, with Paisley (Sam Lennox) as the ringleader. Johnny ends up with his face covered in red blood and is restrained by a straightjacket for days; a ghastly sight. Paisley spits into his food. This scene of injustice makes Johnny even more determined that he will not break, despite what they try to do to him.
Compared to the second act, the first was overwhelming, with its strong characters, flashing lights and extreme behaviour, but not claustrophobically so. It was essential to concentrate fully so as not to lose the thread, as the scenes changed fast and in the low lights the male characters were initially difficult to define, perhaps due to the lack of variety in their costumes. The second scene was the opposite of the first; this was pared down with fewer characters involved. This resulted in Johnny’s brutal treatment by the police being accentuated in the audience’s mind.
In this brutality, we see the system, and its injustices, embodied by the authority of policeman Paisley, and we realise that more than cheap thrills, we’ve come to grips with the characters in a more sensitive and human way, and we have come to understand Johnny’s fragility and powerlessness.
This points to the underlying causes of the extreme behaviour, and adds dimension to his character. There is also some indication of his struggle to survive outside the law, which was just not on his side. This led to him becoming the Hard man, to the dead-end of murder, and of prison.
Writer Jimmy Boyle was given another chance with the help of the renowned Barlinnie rehabilitation programme and his dead end cast aside as he began to live in a new way.
This all provides a very positive message for today’s society which often demonises prisoners as causes and scapegoats for its ills.
May 9, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre for Edinburgh Reporter
Tradfest, the festival of traditional arts which finished at the weekend, put on a day of musical events based on campaigning and social justice as part of its programme which incorporated ‘Songs of Peace and Protest’, a singing workshop. They also staged a concert entitled ‘Hope’s Beautiful Daughters’ which celebrated music relating tales of struggle and peace.
Donald Smith, organiser of Tradfest, spoke to The Edinburgh Reporter about the festival’s sucess and its significance. We met him at Teviot Row House, part of Edinburgh University, in the imposing wood -panelled debating chamber.
Penny Stone, a singing tutor, ran the workshop. The two and a half hour long evening concert consisted of 6 sets of performers: Karine Polwart, Isla Ratcliffe, Katarina Juvancic with guitarist Dejan Lapanga, Brian Miller and Charlie Sloane and Star Band. The show was curated by Karine Polwart and Arthur Johnstone.
The singing workshop Songs of Peace and Protest was intimate and informal. Seven of us gathered round in a circle with Penny, who had picked the huge high-ceilinged chamber as the venue due to its excellent acoustics, and soon it was filled with beautiful music. After the introductions, Penny started off with some stretching exercises to loosen the muscles, followed by much humming. She then got the group to warm up their vocals by joining in with a song, the different parts singing responses to her part. This she said represented a call and answer. The type of song was excellent during protests because you can get an answer out of people without them even knowing the lyrics. She then proceeded to teach the well-known song ‘We Shall Overcome.’ The anthem for the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, she explained, is still used today by different protest groups. Penny taught the technique of harmonising through this piece, with different sections of the group taking the melody and the harmony. The group harmonising began with singing the harmony in one note, and then changing to another note.
Hope’s Beautiful Daughters included songs of social and political intent. An audience of around 35 attended the event in the Debating Hall at Teviot Row. Polwart explained that the intention was to make it feel like someone’s front room. Her beautiful voice with a strong Scots lilt took over the chamber with the first song ‘It’s Not What You’re Born With’.
This song expressed on the idea of making a difference to society through one’s talents. Her next song called ‘Better Things’ was written for a CND event, and discusses how the money that went to the Trident nuclear base could have been used for better things.
Most of the audience would not be described as young. Polwart explained that young people tend not to be actively political as the current generation is not as politicised as people once were.
However, the next musician on stage was 16- year old Isla Ratcliffe from Edinburgh Music School with her song ‘Death Row’. Isla, who wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words Troy Davis, has just won a national Amnesty International competition with the song. It is a moving account of death row inmate Troy Davis, who vehemently protested his innocence until the very last. The piece represents miscarriages within the justice system.
Third under the stage lights was Katarina Juvancic, a young alternative and folk artiste from Slovenia. With pixie-like looks, and a long black and white figure-hugging dress, she made an impact with her strong voice and powerful themes to her songs. These drew on various aspects of herself as well as on anthropology and collecting people’s stories.
She discussed the protest movement she is a part of in Slovenia, and how the artistic community rose to meet the challenge of the problems caused by economic crisis and injustices which resulted from it. Juvancic performed five songs, some in Slovenian and others in English. Many of these were based on strong women’s voices.
She said: – “They are not heard enough and I want to empower these women, as well as myself, and I want the world to see them as empowered, because they’re struggling with hardships. Society sees them as victims but they’re not, they are survivors and I want to pay tribute to their courage.” She feels the role of activists is to ‘transform the pain of society into something beautiful’.
The festival was organised by Donald Smith who is also a director of the Storytelling Centre. When asked about the success of the festival, he said: – “I think it’s a good time because the weather is beginning to improve, and the old idea of Mayday and Beltane fits in with the performances in the open air. It’s not just a music festival. The idea was to involve all the arts inspired by tradition. The timing and variety of arts were the crucial difference from the festival’s predecessors, the Edinburgh Folk Festival and Ceilidhculture. People really like the variety and mix of things.”
On the festival’s significance, he said:- ”This is marvellous. It is all about the artistic values of being a community and supporting each other, and we need that now more than ever, the way the world is now. In traditional culture people celebrate community, humanity, and the wisdom in that. It is also politically important and we stand up as a community for the most victimised people.”
Smith concluded:- “Traditional arts aspire so that people are more fulfilled when they work together in a community, despite class divisions. They make everybody feel a part, and traditional culture celebrates song/society, and that is shared. There is a great sense of joy in the traditional arts, a celebration of life, the world and nature, compassion and friendliness. And we’re celebrating the beginning of spring.”
March 27, 2013 by Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre for the Edinburgh Reporter·
Iraqi writer Hassan Blassim read from his second book The Iraqi Christ, which was followed by a lively discussion, at Summerhall last night. Blassim is known as ‘The Iraqi Kafka’ in his adopted country Finland, and has been called the ‘Best writer of Iraqi fiction’ by the Guardian.
The venue at the former Royal (Dick) Veterinary College was full to capacity, and Middle Eastern food was provided at the free event. Blassim himself spent some time outside for fresh air, and chatted about his taste for bright colours and painting his shoes bright green in a moment of boredom. At the end of the evening he signed copies of his book, which is also available on the Internet.
Blassim read from the title story of his short story collection of fiction, reading in Arabic, with an English translation on screen for the audience. He then answered questions in an English which was advanced, considering he has only been learning it for the past two years. A translator was present but rarely used.
The controversial story about a suicide bomber in Iraq known as Christ, ties together his aim of storytelling as expressing the human angle with his experiences of violence. He said: – “I am interested in what happened to people, and how the war affects people.”
The story was a dark and troubling expression of humanity through the interplay between a bomber, the tenderness of a son towards his mother and the universal identification which makes the unimaginable real.
His writing he said is inspired by the war, as well as literature, film and music. He has been influenced by Tarantino and the violence which he witnessed in his homeland. South American literature and its “similar problems with dictators” is also important to him.
He explained:- ”The writing is important because the war affected people in a way which is not portrayed by the media. The Iraqi people want to know. We don’t know anything, only from Western media, no music or literature. I believe culture is a way for people to understand what happened, and to understand Iraq’s problems. Violence is one of them, but also religion mixed in with money and oil and corruption.”
Blassim said that people were not happy with Saddam’s regime, nor the invasion, and that the people themselves were powerless ”to change things because of power from outside”. At the moment, he said: – “All the TV are controlled by the militia and the political parties make people think they are free, but many people die every day. They say it’s al Qaeda, they use it to blame all the problems on.”
It has been a long journey for Blassim, to be able to express himself creatively since he walked from Iraq into Eastern Europe. Blassim had to flee Iraq due to controversial views in his work, and is currently living in Finland. He said he has been advised by friends not to return to Iraq. He said:- “I left Iraq for safety reasons. Returning to my homeland would be a real threat as my friend Hadiel Mahdi, a radio presenter, whose views were seen as controversial was shot at his house by Iraqi security forces. Hadiel had wanted discussion for our country, he talked about government corruption, he asked normal questions about Iraqi people, like where does the oil money go? To the militia and mafia.”
Blassim has won numerous awards in Iraq for his films, and his current book has so far been translated into five languages. However he is modest about his achievements, and doesn’t feel the praise. He said: – “When you write you feel scared, it’s like the first time and you learn everything again. As a result of the positive reviews, I am able to access funding in Finland to continue my work. I want to continue making films for now.”
Blassim concluded by saying: – “The Iraq War destroyed many things, but culture never dies because you can’t kill hope. We have wonderful culture in Iraq, we never have a chance to show this beautiful face, but we people think it is great. We want to share our thoughts, our humanity.”
The event was part of the Iraqi Reel Festival which took place in Edinburgh between 16 and 25 March and across Britain. For more information visit the website.
March 15, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre in the Edinburgh Reporter
Set up to to enhance bonds of connection and harmony between Iraq and the rest of the world through culture, the Reel Iraq Festival is due to take place in Edinburgh to mark the tenth anniversary of its invasion. It will take place between the 16-24 March 2013 at various venues in the city, as well as at different parts of the country.
The festival aims to showcase the cultural heritage of Iraq, it is a means of building bridges, raising awareness and showing Britons the ancient culture which was at the forefront of civilisation. It is also a means to empower Iraqis, and for people to learn from and connect through their arts, according to organiser Lauren Pynott. A variety of events are listed, targeted at different audiences, from a serious panel discussion to a reading by the renowned writer Hassan Blassim’s who reads from his book The Iraqi Christ, and Bressm and Lord Erregal, who on the opening night play a mixture of emo, punk, and metal. There is also an oud workshop, a traditional Iraqi instrument.
Pynott said:- ”The idea is to shed some light behind the headlines, we would like to mark the anniversary, and for people to understand a bit more of the culture and go behind the invasion.”
Portraying this culture, and the loss of it due to the war is Parine Jaddo, one of the featured artists, with her documentary, Broken Record. She said the film was made as a tribute to her mother who died in 2008, and who had been a teacher as one of the first generation of women to work in Iraq. She had been a daring woman, recording songs with her brothers in the 1960s. During the film, Parine goes in search of this recording, travelling around Iraq and in Kirkurk, at her home city of Turkmen. She explained :-”The rich heritage of music and culture was ‘burnt and lost, the beautiful cities destroyed. It was very painful.” She said that some paintings and museum artefacts are being returned, but nothing is being done about music. She described this loss as a ”Broken Record”, hence the title of her film.
Of the changes which took place in the country, Jaddo said:- ”It does not make sense because I don’t recognise the Iraq I know. Although Iraq is rich in oil, there are many problems such as lack of infrastructure that was fully functioning before, things like electricity, roads that are full of pot holes, and a dysfunctional medical care system, to list a few.”
“However there is hope, there seems to be a cultural resistance taking place in the country, there are a whole bunch of young musicians and all the old instruments are still alive.” Parine sees herself as part of that resistance, by creating awareness of the cultural loss, through a personal film which also relates to the universal, for the cultural loss concerns the ”human family” of which everyone is a part. She explained:-”Funds are needed to enable increased awareness of the culture and its loss, and ultimately I keep a positive attitude and hope to make as many films as I can.”
Parine’s film emphasises a global shared understanding through the vehicle of the universal language of music, through which people can relate to culture as well as the pain of loss. Although a personal film, she hopes that it emphasises what is most important to human beings, and that is their uniqueness and the ability to express themselves as individuals and as part of a community, and it also highlights the importance of connections between communities.
The Festival is organised by Reel Festivals, which run annually. It started with Reel Afghanistan in 2008. The organisers comprise of a team of 8 volunteers, It is funded by various NGOs including the British Council and Firefly International. The first leg of this year’s festival took place in Iraq, said Pynott, with a combination of British and Iraqi poets who translated each others’ work in the context of the ‘ugliness and violence’ of the war expressed terms of a culture and a shared empathy.
For more information, visit http://www.reelfestivals.org/