Once a year every fall between October and November, Nour Festival illuminates The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This festival is a mixture of contemporary art, film, literature, music and performance from the Middle East and North Africa. As soon as I’ve known about this festival happening nearby, I’ve quickly selected some events from the long program and booked my tickets. Most of the events are free including the one I’ve been to, Dardasha. It is the first event I attend from the festival, it was a very good first impression and looking forward to the rest of the events including Natasha Atlas concert, Arab calligraphy workshop,…etc.
Dardasha is a presentation of a short movie followed by a quick talk in a relaxed Moroccan themed atmosphere. The movie is about women immigration from Morocco that rose sharply in the 60s, women came to work and live in England. It highlights their life since then and what they had to endure to settle down. The evening was focusing on Morocco, therefore, I was feeling at home with some mint tea, Darija (Moroccan Arabic) chat and traditional clothes worn by few women. Let me me tell you my journey back home in this lovely evening…
The event starts at 6.30pm in Leighton House Museum that I really see as a little paradise full of Oriental treasures, the house was apparently a property of a Victorian artist but I didn’t really want to know more about it as my mind and my eyes were stolen by the design and the Quran verses written on the wall. I see this house as a perfect marriage between Middle-Eastern and Western worlds as some local british furniture are in harmony with the ones coming from the Arabia.
My friend Annika who joined me on the evening adds on her blog (http://charmingfox.wordpress.com/) the following:
“There could not have been a better location for this event than Leighton House. This palace takes you on a fantastic journey through the Middle East and Northern Africa as if you were flying on a magic carpet.”
As usual, Moroccans greet and welcome their guests in the best way. At the entrance, we have been given dates and fresh cold milk. In Islam, dates have been quoted more than 20 times in the Quran so it’s an important and symbolic fruit in muslim countries and popularity of dates rise during Ramadan period as it is very recommended to consume first after sun sets. On the background, I could hear some live music… It was a Moroccan artist playing some famous hits on his Oud. I was able to recognise some songs but mainly one famous from Algerian Chaabi singer Dahmane El Harrachi ‘Ya Rayah’ (You can enjoy a nice cover of the song under the Youtube video below)
Few minutes later, we have been called to join the projection room to view the short film. This project is presented by Al-Hasaniya, a centre for Moroccan (and also arab speaking) women that immigrated to the UK. The centre is well-known amongst Moroccan community originally based in North Kensington. I actually think of volunteering every now and then with them… Anyway, the short film is composed of 4 testimonials of 4 women coming from different parts of the kingdom. They share their stories on camera very openly. The majority of Moroccan immigrants (women and men) came to Europe in the 60s in the hope to start a new life and seek for new opportunities but this has not been the case for all of them. They struggled to survive, to work and to push cultural barriers. Most of the women on the testimonials said they did not study at all but they learnt some basic english to live with, they married and settle down with their kids. Another woman stands out of the crowd when she said why not “learn a word per day” so at the end of the year it’s a whole new luggage of vocabulary. Another woman made me and the rest of the room quite emotional when she tells her unlucky past full of struggles! She states that Al-Hasaniya Centre helped her a lot through some periods of depression and hard times in London away from her family.
These 4 women are just a small sample off thousands of immigrants across Europe that left North Africa towards the other side of the Mediterranean to begin a new life that for most turned into a disaster away from their families and their home country. Thankfully, Al-Hasaniya in London works with The Moroccan Consulate and other British partners to make the Moroccan community feel at home. I would say, mission accomplished, a smell of exotic Moroccan mint tea coming from the Dining Room of the museum took me back home again… As we say in some touristy commercials, “Morocco, the country that Travels within you”.
To end up our lovely evening, we have been invited to the Dining room for tea and one of my favourite pastries ‘Briouate’ with chicken, I ate like
3 if I lie, but about 6 of those little drops of heaven! And before leaving the place, we have been given a small gift to take home, a box with some traditional pastries.
Reception, cloakroom, main entrance, I open the door to get out… it’s raining! My journey back home was over… London again!
If you are interested, here the 30 minutes short film and a link to Al Hasaniya's website http://www.al-hasaniya.org.uk/ Stay tuned, I'll soon be in a city near you!