LONDON: Norway’s Masahat Festival celebrates Arab culture across multiple genres and provides a platform for examining complex issues around history and identity.
Attendees can listen to the mesmerizing vocals of Iraqi Egyptian Nadin Al-Khalidi, front singer of Tarraband, and participate in thought provoking seminars on topics such as “Pasts That Persist: Perspectives from Iraq and Palestine” and how to reclaim and take ownership of your own history after being written out of it for generations. Egyptian historian, Khaled Fahmy, Edward Keller Professor of North Africa and the Middle East at Tufts University, will speak on the latter subject.
Arab News spoke to Masahat’s Artistic Director Rana Issa to learn more about the aims and impact of the annual festival which she co-founded in 2015.
Issa arrived in Norway from Lebanon in 2006. She had just completed her masters and proceeded to do her PhD at the University of Oslo. Today, she moves between Norway and Lebanon where she is an Assistant Professor of Translation Studies at the American University of Beirut.
While her children are immersed in both Norwegian and Arab culture, for her, the experience of adapting to life in Norway has been more challenging.
‘Once you leave your country you never really feel good again in a way because you become an exile. That never really leaves you. My parents are in Lebanon – my brother is in Dubai, my sister is in New York. That has a lot to do with how I perceive my life here.
‘If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have decided to leave Lebanon in that way. There’s something about leaving your homeland in haste that is quite traumatic.
‘When I first came, I felt very lonely and this kind of loneliness I wouldn’t wish even on my enemies,’ she said.
In her work with Masahat, she is driven by a desire to help other minorities – not just Arab – to find their feet in their new homeland and to educate her fellow Norwegian citizens about Arab people.
‘There’s a lot of misconceptions. They don’t, for example, understand that people can be Christian and living in the Middle East, and what they understand by Islam is so simplified and reductive,’ she said.
Masahat is funded by the municipality of Oslo. “They pay our salaries and we get funding from other public bodies in Norway and have allies across cultural institutions and think tanks,” Issa explained.
For those attending the festival, which runs from Sept. 21-24, the draw, says Issa, is the outstanding talent.
‘The thing I love about Arab culture is how sophisticated it is. The reason why Masahat has been so successful in Norway is because the quality of our artists is really special,’ she said.