The Bethlehem Cultural Festival is a Charitably Incorporated Organisation in the UK, established in order to celebrate Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean’s rich and diverse cultural scene through music, theatre, film, cookery, dance, architectural heritage and discussion. The festival is an annual event featuring the arts and culture of Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Bethlehem Cultural Festival will run from Tuesday 29th November 2022 until Sunday 4th December with very special events in London, Glasgow, Bethlehem and across the UK.
This year’s third edition of the festival includes
29th November, Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, LONDON, E1 6LA: The Camp’s Gate powerful multi-disciplinary Dabkeh dance performance, at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green.
30th November, Noura, Eaton Square, LONDON, SW1W 0HH: a tasting session for some of the region’s warmest and appetizing delights, Arak and Kunafeh, with distiller Nader Muaddi, writer Michael Karam and food traveller Fiona Dunlop in conversation with Neriman Khamosia, co-founder of popular Ta'mini Bakery.
2nd December, The Tabernacle, LONDON, W11 2AY. The festival’s music programme includes a concert of Palestinian songs by Yacoub Shaheen, singer, multi-instrumentalist and winner of Arab Idol 2017. Yacoub, the son of a carpenter and raised in Bethlehem, became a household name across the Arab World after winning the contest, causing fans to call him the young Frank Sinatra of Palestine.
3rd December, Civic House, GLASGOW, G4 9RH: an electronic DJ night in Glasgow with a group of DJs and musicians, including ground-breaking Haifa-based duo Zenobia on 3rd Dec at Civic House.
You can find the full festival events through Bethlehem Cultural Festival website.
Melissa Scott, Founder of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, tells us more.
What inspired you to start the Bethlehem Cultural Festival?
In December 2019, while singing Christmas Carols in my daughter's West London school I wondered how many people in the hall actually know that Bethlehem is a real place with a thriving cultural scene. I decided to bring the spirit of Christmas from Manger Square, Bethlehem to the UK.
Your first festival was in November 2020 when the world locked down. Did the pandemic in some way, present an opportunity?
We started planning with partners in Bethlehem to launch our festival across the UK in 2020. Then Covid-19 hit. Bethlehem went into hard lockdown before us. Suddenly we were able to provide an opportunity for artists in the Levant to have their voices heard through our online platform. There was no limit to who could be heard - no visa restrictions, checkpoints or borders to cross.
What makes your work special?
The opportunity to showcase the extraordinary talent from the region; to be able to connect with so many wonderful artists who need more opportunities to have their work reach the world; to try and redress the media image of a region beset by war, chaos and destruction and to try and to try and forge collaborations with UK artists. We find ways to demonstrate what connects us in an age when we are increasingly being told what divides us.
What has been the most inspiring story you have seen as a result of the work you are doing?
At the core of our work is collaborations and education. We established a connection between Amwaj children’s choir in Bethlehem and Garsington Opera in 2020. The young choir performed Dalia’s Song in 2020 as part of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, working with Roxanna Panufnik and Jessica Duchen. This summer 2022, Amwaj choir was broadcast as part of the chorus in Dalia opera. These long-term collaborations and partnerships are important. Our work with Glasgow which is twinned with Bethlehem has been a source of much pride. Working with our partners at Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Cathedral to hold events there (including Glasgow cathedral and Manger Square joint lighting of Christmas trees) as well as our education programme with Strathclyde University Language School (SCILT) to provide cultural content for their Arabic language programme in their Scottish schools network.
What are your immediate funding needs?
We applied for 14 visas this year to bring artists from the region. We would like to expand the opportunities to bring over more artists from the Levant to showcase their work and find more opportunities for collaborations with UK artists and to commission more work from artists there. Expanding our education outreach is important to us- we are a team of volunteers and would like to expand, to include paid staff to help us achieve our dreams.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I wake at 5:30am and start work immediately with one or two pints of coffee! Organising a festival over 12 days across the UK - London, Glasgow, Sheffield, Derby, Manchester, Frome and Totnes - requires a lot of mental juggling. We cover everything from Dabka dance, Arak and kunafeh, book launches, panel discussions, Arab Idol, spoken word, electronic music, films and carol services. We work to try and remind people the Levant was the heart of cultural civilisation - think of the Umayyads, the Abbasids. A region of no borders, checkpoints and walls where you could drive from Bethlehem to Beirut in a day.