Sounds of the summer: the best festivals to visit this season

Sziget festival. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019

Sounds of the summer: the best festivals to visit this season

DUBAI: From electronica in Morocco to rock in the Japanese mountains, here are six music festivals worth seeing this summer. 

Beiteddine Art Festival

WHEN: July 18-Aug 10

WHERE: Beiteddine, Lebanon

DETAILS: Few festivals have a better location than this Lebanese music, art and culture fest set among the Chouf Mountains in Beiteddine Palace, built over 200 years ago. Tens of thousands of people attend every year to witness an enthralling mix of classic and contemporary music, theater productions and art exhibitions, staggered over three weeks.

HIGHLIGHTS: Iraqi singer and composer Kadim Al-Sahir; French actor and singer Gerard Depardieu interpreting the songs of legendary singer Barbara; Omar Rahbany, from the renowned Lebanese musical dynasty, with his Passport Chamber Ensemble; Moroccan star Abdou Cherif sings some of Abdel Halim Hafez’s best-known songs.

Fuji Rock Festival

WHEN: July 26-28

WHERE: Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, Japan

DETAILS: Japan’s Fuji Rock hosts 16 different stages and a wildly varied mix of homegrown and international artists playing just about every genre you can think of. Now on its 23rd edition, the organizers overcame a disastrous first year at the base of Mount Fuji to establish the festival (in its ‘new’ location) as one of Asia’s most popular summer gatherings, regularly attracting 150,000 people.

HIGHLIGHTS: The Green Stage and White Stage host the biggest international names, including The Chemical Brothers, The Cure, Sia (pictured), Death Cab For Cutie, James Blake and Thom Yorke, alongside Japanese stars such as Ellegarden, Superfly, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation.

Sziget Festival

WHEN: Aug 7-13

WHERE: Budapest, Hungary

DETAILS: Huge music and culture festival in an idyllic setting on an island in the Danube that makes it easy to lose yourself in its self-contained unreal world. The weeklong festival has expanded from an underground student gathering in the early Nineties to become one of Europe’s most acclaimed festivals, reportedly attracting almost half-a-million visitors and staging over 1,000 performances annually.

HIGHLIGHTS: There’s such an overwhelming amount of music available that anyone attending is bound to find something they like. The biggest names this year include Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Post Malone, Florence & The Machine, The National, and Martin Garrix, but there’s plenty of less-mainstream fare on offer too.

Woodstock 50

WHEN: Aug 16-18

WHERE: Watkins Glen, New York

DETAILS: The much-imitated, never-replicated OG of rock festivals marks its 50th anniversary this year, still billing itself as “3 days of Peace & Music,” just as it did when more than 400,000 people gathered in White Lake back in 1969. The original was a defining moment in Western popular culture, and although this year’s event is unlikely to have the same impact, it’s still one that music lovers from around the world are eagerly anticipating for its legacy as much as its lineup.

HIGHLIGHTS: The organizers have kept things pretty basic — no multiple stages here, just a long lineup of mainstage performers on each of the three nights, with classic-rock/folk acts such as Santana, David Crosby, Robert Plant and Canned Heat mingling with Miley Cyrus, Chance The Rapper, The Killers, Earl Sweatshirt and Jay-Z (pictured).

Oasis Festival

WHEN: Sept 13-15

WHERE: Marrakech, Morocco

DETAILS: Billing itself as an “intimate destination festival featuring today’s top underground electronic talent,” with the strapline “Dance Somewhere Different,” Marrakech’s Oasis Festival doesn’t go for the “something-for-everyone” vibe of so many summer festivals, instead concentrating its efforts to produce an unfailingly excellent celebration of electronic music in a stunning setting — a luxury resort near the Atlas Mountains. Ideal for dance-music lovers who don’t fancy the muddy grime and portaloos of your typical summer music festival.

HIGHLIGHTS: This year’s lineup includes experimental UK musician Four Tet, classically trained Swiss DJ-producer Sonja Moonear, Berlin-based DJ-producer Jayda G, and Italian-born duo Mind Against.

Rock in Rio

WHEN: Sept 27-Oct 6

WHERE: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
DETAILS: Spread over two weekends in the Barra Olympic Park, Rock in Rio is one of the world’s largest music festivals. It’s travelled to Lisbon, Madrid and Las Vegas over the 34 years since its inception, but this year’s edition finds it back home in the Brazilian capital, and a major party is guaranteed.

HIGHLIGHTS: There are seven different ‘venues’ at this year’s festival, many of which are catering to local audiences with South American artists. ‘Palco Mundo’ is where the superstars play, and this year’s headliners include Drake, Foo Fighters (pictured), Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iron Maiden, P!nk, and Muse.


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.


Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

Updated 11 April 2021

Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

  • The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during Ramadan
  • On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst

DAMASCUS: In a busy market in Syria’s capital, 53-year-old Ishaaq Kremed serenades customers and agilely pours tamarind juice from the ornate brass jug on his back ahead of Ramadan.
The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during the Islamic holy month starting next week, during which many favor the drink to break their day-long fast at sundown.
But he says his trade of more than 40 years has also taken on new meaning since the war-torn country has been plunged into economic crisis.
“My main job is to make customers smile,” says the moustachioed father of 16, dressed in billowing trousers, a patterned waistcoat and red fez.
“What’s most important is that they leave me feeling happy — that whoever turns up stressed leaves feeling content,” adds the street vendor.
On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst, often taking pictures of him and his traditional get-up with their cellphones.
As he nimbly pours juice in long streams into plastic cups, he distracts them for a while with a song.
A surgical face mask lowered under his chin, Kremed intones lyrics for a mother and her two young daughters, before handing her a cup of the dark brown beverage.
He takes his fez off to collect his payment, then places it back on the top of his head.
Another man, dressed in a long white robe, joins Kremed in a song then gives him a peck on the cheek as he leaves.
Syria’s economic crisis has sent prices soaring and caused the national currency to plummet in value against the dollar on the black market.
In a country where a large majority of people live in poverty, Syrians have also had to contend with several lockdowns to stem the spread of coronavirus.
“For three years, Ramadan has been different because of people’s financial worries,” Kremed says.
“When people come to the market, you see them bumping into each other as if they were in a daze.”
The Damascus government blames the economic crisis on Western sanctions, but economists say the conflict, the pandemic and the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon are also major factors.
Some state institutions have temporarily been closed over the pandemic and the economic crisis, but for now, markets remain open.
Although he does his best to keep up a cheery demeanour, Kremed says he too is feeling the effects of the economic crunch.
Tamarind and sugar are becoming increasingly costly, he says, and not everyone has enough spare cash for a refreshment.
“People’s priorities have become putting food and drink on the table, before tamarind juice,” he says.


DMX, rap’s explosive, tortured star, dies at 50

Updated 10 April 2021

DMX, rap’s explosive, tortured star, dies at 50

NEW YORK: DMX, the hardcore hip-hop star whose raw, snarling raps chronicled the struggles of the American street and his own inner pain, has died. He was 50 years old.
The rapper’s longtime lawyer confirmed DMX’s death to AFP, with a statement from his family saying the artist, born Earl Simmons, died after nearly a week on life support following a heart attack.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” the statement released Friday read, saying the rapper died at White Plains Hospital north of New York City, with loved ones by his side.
“He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him,” the statement read.
The rapper — who reigned over the late 1990s and early 2000s with hits including “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” and “Party Up” — was among hip-hop’s darkest yet most endearing stars.
He laid out his inner demons for the masses in gritty, hard-driving anthems, with a distinctive poetic vulnerability that gained him commercial and critical acclaim.
Raised in the New York suburb of Yonkers, the artist endured a grim childhood, growing up in housing projects with his mother and siblings where he suffered abuse.
Simmons was burdened with a reputation as a problem child, and shuffled in and out of homes for troubled boys for much of his youth.
At 14, he began struggling with addiction and entered a cycle of incarceration, both of which would persist throughout his life.
Even after achieving international celebrity for his artistry, DMX continued to have run-ins with the penal system, with charges including drug possession, animal cruelty, reckless driving, failure to pay child support and tax evasion.
But while his criminal record made headlines, it was his blunt, confessional raps delivered in his powerful, gravely voice that would cement the artist’s legacy, leaving an indelible mark on hip-hop and gaining him legions of fans.
“DMX was a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world. His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity,” said Def Jam Recordings, the label with which DMX released some of his most iconic albums, in a statement following his death.
“DMX was nothing less than a giant.”
He began beatboxing in the mid-1980s, writing lyrics and peddling mixtapes.
The charismatic artist spent most of the 1990s making a name for himself in New York’s underground scene, especially in rap battle rings.
It was late in that decade that he grew into the blazing, urgent style of performance that would become his calling card, emanating a singular presence at once hypermasculine and sincere.
In the mid-1990s, he famously battled with Brooklyn’s up-and-coming star Jay-Z, who was then primarily an emcee, for hours in a smoky pool hall in the Bronx.
“It was dope. DMX, at the time, I had never really heard of DMX. I didn’t know who this kid was,” the producer Ski Beatz, who was in attendance, told the site HipHopDX.
“But to hear him rhyme live, I was like, ‘This dude is really ill’.”
DMX’s love of dogs was such that he integrated barks and growls into his teeth-baring brand of rap.
“Your dog will die for you,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.
“That’s how dogs get down, unconditional love. Humans are not really capable of unconditional love.”
He released his debut major-label single “Get At Me Dog” in 1998 with Def Jam, which came off his first studio album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.”
The record debuted at number one on Billboard’s top album chart and boasted another hit single, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” ushering in commercial success that would last for years.
Defying his ferocious, testosterone-addled image, DMX also charmed with his goofier side, notably in an impromptu remix of the holiday classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that went viral in 2012.
He was vocal about his commitment to Christianity, even expressing hopes of becoming a pastor.
DMX suffered from addiction to drugs including crack, which he said a mentor tricked him into trying at age 14 by lacing a blunt, exposure that led to a life of torment.
“Why would you do that to a child?” he said in an emotional interview on rapper Talib Kweli’s weekly podcast in late 2020. “I didn’t really have anybody to talk to.”
“In the hood, nobody wants to hear that... Talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, when actually it’s one of the bravest things you can do.”
Tributes poured in Friday from fans and fellow artists. T.I. called DMX a “cultural icon,” as Missy Elliott dubbed the loss “heavy for the HipHop family.”
“No one radiated more agony, pain, and atomic energy,” tweeted rapper Biz Markie. “The struggle incarnate.”
Snoop Dogg, who last year faced off with DMX as part of the Verzuz series, posted: “What they thought was a battle ended up being a family reunion. Of 2 Doggs who loved everything about each other thank. U. X for loving me back.”
“God’s poet,” wrote Nas. “I love you.”

What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

Updated 09 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

A World on the Wing is a fascinating read, full of facts, maps and statistics about migratory birds and the effect that human-caused climate change is having on their various habitats around the world.
It’s a long book, but it’s packed with information and truly globe-trotting.
“Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork, in A World on the Wing Weidensaul unveils with dazzling prose the miracle of nature taking place over our heads,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Author Scott Weidensaul “tasks himself with communicating to both the knowing birder and the layman the epic scale of what’s happening in our skies every year, the whys and hows, while offering rays of hope through the gloomy storm clouds,” said Christian Cooper in a review for The New York Times.
“The success of A World on the Wing in navigating that challenge rivals the astonishing feats of the birds he chronicles,” said Cooper.
“A World on the Wing finds some of its most moving moments early on, when he charts the development of his own interest in birds.”


What We Are Eating Today: Granny’s Crumbs in Jeddah

Updated 09 April 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Granny’s Crumbs in Jeddah

Granny’s Crumbs is a Saudi homemade pastry business based in Jeddah. It offers world-class baked goods with a touch of cozy home style, inspired by the high quality and complex authentic recipes of England and Vienna’s famous cafes.
The grandmother of the family who run the business gained extensive knowledge of baking during her travels around the world, with the recipes inspired by how she then replicated the delicious baked goods for her grandchildren.
The signature is the multi-flavored, freshly baked Scottish scones, made with cranberries, pumpkin seeds, figs, and walnuts with white glaze. It also offers apple spice crumble, ideal with tea.
Granny’s Crumbs also offers a collection of sweet and savory baked goods that are free from preservatives and artificial colors. All fillings and flavors used are homemade too, with savory flavors for scones including parmesan, dried tomato, chilli, and olive, as well as a variety of toasted loaves, cakes, and breads, and delicious finger foods such as mini brioche with different toppings including chocolate, dried blueberry, cranberry, and raisin.