The cities of Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand are among the oldest of Central Asia and synonymous with the Silk Road From ancient times merchants and travellers passed through these cities of domes and towers in search of gold embroidery, silk brocades, carved and aromatic woods, and intricately engraved metalwork. The desert lands, khans, and caravan routes of Uzbekistan were the gateway to the riches and raw materials of further east, and today the stories and legends of merchants and adventurers of old are celebrated every year in a festival of Silk and Spices. Uzbek dances, whether courtly or folkloric, combine intricate footwork with expressive hands and shoulders and are a well-loved and indispensible part of family gatherings and regional festivals.
San'at Mahmudova dancing at the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival in July 2014 at the start of the tour Funoon wa-Alwane.
Photos: Jo Hirons
Egyptian shaabi music has never left the streets where it was born. It celebrates the rough and ready irrepressible nature and good humour of a people always prepared to take to the streets to protest against injustice, or to party until dawn. These days, thanks to the Internet, shaabi music often borrows the traditions of other streets to become a close cousin of hard-edged rap and hip-hop, but the smile at the heart of shaabi will always tell the world that the best way to deal with problems we all face is not to shake your fists, but to shake your hips instead. After all, who can resist a street party?
Nawarra and Alex bring the house down in Liverpool, Leeds, London, Newport, Rotherham, and Salford. Nawarra's costume by Baladi Bazaar (Beverley Smith). Photos: Jo Hirons
On the Western shores of the Caspian Sea, oil-rich Azerbaijan is called the Land of Fire, but has an equal claim to being called a land of rivers, lakes and mountains, and also a land of poets and musicians. In March each year the celebration of Nowruz welcomes the arrival of Spring and the New Year. And this and other festivals are the perfect occasions to show off the fleet-footed traditional dances and gorgeous regional costumes.
San'at Mahmudova brought the playful grace of Azeri dance to the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival at the start of the Funoon tour in July 2014. Photos: Jo Hirons