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Jazz and Blues on a full moon lit night

So there IS potential in Bahrain for enjoying oneself! That’s the biggest revelation to me over the last couple of nights where we both enjoyed and soaked in cultural experiences which will last with those present for a long time to come.

The moon was full, the Arad Fort setting was beautiful, the weather tolerable, though cold, the selection of events gorgeous and even – for the most part – the audience was appreciative, especially on the Jazz night.

Two nights; the first a fusion of Cuban and Arab sounds, whilst the second was Jazz and Blues which without a doubt was the best live event I have ever attended! The Pitt Jazz All-Stars was an experience that will never be forgotten, and has re-kick-started my appreciation for jazz and blues, even the children enjoyed the two evenings, the latter much more than the former to them.

It is impossible for me to put into words my feelings of the event last night, but let me tell you this: I enjoyed every single jam session, and every single solo for every single musician that was on stage last night, especially the electric and eclectic performance by the base guitar god: Abraham Laboriel, who again defies description, however put into your mind the coolness of Baloo the bear and Tigger after a couple of espressos, now put both characters together and you will share the mental image I have of Abraham! Truly electrifying performance.

Pitt Jazz All-Stars

The only disappointment I had was I couldn’t buy their CDs on the way out because they disappeared in no time at all!

Thank you very much indeed EDB for bringing these events to us, I hope that this will not be an isolated incident but will over time become the rule.

Let me leave you with how the EDB described this particular event and provide you with links to the musicians:

The final performance on Thursday March 12th during the FORMULA ONE period will feature the “PITT JAZZ ALL STARS” for a memorable experience with some of the best world-renowned Jazz musicians will be featured during the Bahrain premiere of the Pitt Jazz All-Stars: Queen Nethree Bey (vocals), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Nathan Davis (tenor & soprano saxophones and musical director), Amina Figarova (piano), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Weinard Harper (drums), Eric Johnson (guitar), Abraham Laboriel (bass), Claus Reichstaller (trumpet).


Got the tickets!


tickets originally uploaded by malyousif

For a price of ONE Formula 1 grandstand ticket, I bought TEN tickets this afternoon for the family and I to soak in art and culture over the next couple of nights at the Arad Fort where I am sure we will enjoy both the Hanine Y Son Cubano and the Pitt Jazz All-stars festival.

I was so sorry I missed the excellent recitation by the eminent poet Mahmood Darwish, and by all accounts it was a thrilling experience; however, we had our own event in another cultural experience at Al-Bareh Art Gallery where we made new friends, enjoyed excellent food, and were transported on an artistic journey in Arabic caligraphy when we visited the “Contemporary Huroof” exhibit at the gallery.

I fell completely and utterly in love with these two paintings, which the Lebanese artist interpreted a couple of verses of one of Mahmood Darwish’s poem in painting. Alas, I can’t afford to buy them just yet.. But the pleasure of seeing them, and other paintings at the exhibition will stay with me for life.


International bloggers meet

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We were fortunate enough to meet fellow bloggers last night at Dar Al-Bareh Cafe where we had a simply scrumptious dinner AND had quite a nice discussion going about blogging experiences as well as had the wonderful opportunity to attend the opening of “Contemporary Huroof” Arabic caligraphy exhibition.

Contemporary Huroof exhibition at Dar Al-Bareh Art Gallery, Bahrain

Notes were compared between Bahraini and Belgian bloggers where we found that we do have more common ground than we anticipated, even though most Belgian bloggers present belonged on a single “ShockLog” as they termed it, and we cannot and should not base this experience to generalise as to what the Belgian blogging scene is like.

The wonderful thing about the evening is that we did exchange points of view, the Belgians were genuinely interested in our culture and were trying to find common-ground as well as trying to decipher differences between our Muslim culture and theirs. The only regret is that we didn’t have enough time in the real world to explore all of the points and questions raised.

This was also the first bloggers’ meeting where we actually had a semblance of formal structure where every person present was invited to share his or her thoughts on the basic questions bloggers always get asked: why did you start? when did you start? and what’s keeping you going? The answers received were as varied as those present. The “glue” between all of these answers however was invariably curiosity to explore, and exposition to invite exploration.

The impressive thing to me about the meeting was the points shared than those contended. The Belgian blogosphere is far more advanced that we have in Bahrain, or the Gulf for that matter. Two of those present have gotten married because of blogging! More power to them, even though the husband, due to “real life” had to give up blogging to take care of business, the wife continues to participate in the Belgian blogosphere and continues to create waves. She is not alone there, at she is joined by some 40,000 unique visitors a day discussing various topics of mutual interest. Those distill to about 16 TERABYTES of transfers per MONTH! Thank goodness that the main blog is owned by Cain Ransbottyn (yes, that’s his real name!) and he is joined by 25 moderators to keep the main site ticking.

Technically, Cain told us what to expect if and when we reach his particular blogging stratosphere: he uses 42 (yes, forty-two) servers to serve his site, fronted by 4 other servers for distribution of load balancing, and backed up by several 40,000 Euro-priced database servers! Sure the equipment costs quite a lot, but Cain says that they are actually turning a profit due to the advertising (whom one person on this site had taken offense by) which is not always porn related.

War stories were exchanged of course. But those are not interesting. The interesting part of the evening; however, was to seeming convincing (finally) of Tariq Khonji to start his own blog! He hasn’t decided completely yet, so please encourage him to do so. It would be nice to have another accredited journalist blogging!

After a fantastic dinner, we adjourned to Fredrick’s house for a few hours where he proved that Arabs do not have the exclusivity on hospitality.

Fred the Belgian!

I really hope that we repeat these events more. What is blogging but exposing your thoughts and interacting with people? These gatherings are a perfect venue for doing so and I will work diligently now to involve other blogging groups in the Gulf with us in Bahrain.

This is our 17th or 18th bloggers’ meeting so far, we have tried a lot of formats and a lot of venues in order to get together. We have tried coffee shops, bars, and a restaurant in order to find a venue were we can sit and talk without loud music or inhospitable waiters. I really think that we have finally found the place and the format for our forthcoming meetings last night: Dar Al-Bareh Cafe incorporates everything we were looking for: a cultural place where we can breath and experience art, simply excellent food (the lemon hamour and couscous was to die for* and every single person at the table last night was lauding the cook!) and the place was quiet enough for us to actually hear each other talking!

Therefore, I propose that we adopt Dar Al-Bareh Cafe for our next meetings: it is central, it is unique, it is accessible, it is quiet, it is flexible (as far as seating is concerned), it is very reasonably priced and most important of all, the food is quite scrumptious!

Finally, thank you Fred for organising the Belgian bloggers visit to our fair Isles, and I hope that we will continue to meet and make new friends and pollinate our minds with new and wonderful ideas.

Thanks to all who attended last night, and those we have missed too, because they are part and parcel of the sphere, without whom we are not complete. So here’s to the Silly girl, the Silver girl who is more like pure gold, Abu Rasool and that doctor living currently near Anchorage of all places!

Next dinner meeting is on April 6th, at 7pm, at Dar Al-Bareh Cafe in Adliya.

* Since ancient times the Bahrainis have been excellent seamen, famous for their trade up and down the Gulf and for fishing. There is a wide variety of fish in the Gulf, but none is as prized as the hamour. The hamour or ‘hamour epinephelus tauvina’ is a member of the grouper family, but unlike many other groupers it can grow to two meters long, making it an outstanding sport fish. Prized for its firm white meat there is no end to the ways Bahrainis prepare this delicious fish. The meat absorbs the traditional spices perfectly and combines to create some remarkable and very memorable dishes. Fishing is carried out on the traditional sailboats called dhows which have been made by hand on Bahrain for dozens of centuries and are still made today exactly as they always have been. – from MouthfulsOfFood


HAMSA Essay Contest

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HAMSA banner

I write to inform you about a new essay contest launched by the American Islamic Congress on civil rights in the Middle East. Anyone under the age of 26 can enter, and finalists can win up to $2,000 in cash prizes.

The “Dream Deferred Essay Contest” (see ) challenges young Americans and young Middle Easterners to express constructive ideas for individual rights in the world’s least-free region.

Judges for the essay contest include Gloria Steinem (founder of Ms. Magazine), the Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer, Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran), as well as noted Middle Eastern bloggers Ammar Abdulhamid of Syria and Mahmood Al-Yousif from Bahrain.

We are hoping to awaken young Americans to the reform efforts of indigenous Middle Eastern progressives and to engage them in this discussion. Several hundred Americans have already submitted essays, but we would like to reach out to students on campus so you can enter before our deadline, on March 31st, 2006.

We hope you consider submitting an essay, and please feel free contact me at [email protected] with any questions or concerns.

Thank you,

–Roheet Shah
[email protected]

I would highly encourage you to submit an essay to this excellent cause. So get cracking!


Cultural and Culinary Bloggers’ Meeting

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This is a reminder of our meeting tomorrow night, please make sure you attend.

Location: Dar Al-Bareh Art Gallery Cafe, Adliya
Time: 7.30pm
Date: 8 Mar ’06

Price: approximately BD 5 per head
(yes, we’re actually having dinner this time!)

The agenda is:

Fred and I have prepared a few questions and short presentations on the blogging scenes in both Belgium and Bahrain and maybe then we can talk about our individual experiences and what we see for the blogging spheres in Bahrain and Belgium going forward.

My questions (if you wish to prepare a short presentation about you and your blog it would be highly appreciated)

    1. Why did you start blogging and how did that affect your life so far?
    2. Do you see your blog effecting change in your chosen topic or the sphere you chose to blog about? Did it achieve any change so far?
    3. Do you intend to “turn professional” at any point and following on to journalism or somehow make money out of your efforts in blogging?
    4. What are your reading habits like? What are your favourite blogs/sites?
    5. Is there a specific topic that you will not blog about? Why?

You can choose to answer any or all questions posed above, the more the better. However; as we only have 90 minutes (interspersed with eating) and that we anticipate 15 – 20 people to attend, maybe I suggest that everyone limit their presentations/talks to no more than 2 – 3 minutes each? We can of course carry on discussing these topics at Fred’s after dinner if you are attending.

9.45+ Fred’s residence to sample some Belgian hospitality and more discussion and intermingling.

address and map after the break


Spring of Culture

This is the first time that I remember something like this is to happen in Bahrain; a month packed with cultural events: music, poetry, dance, art exhibits and theatre all happening back-to-back in breath-taking venues all around Bahrain.

I will do my best to attend as many as I could, especially the Jazz, Tango Flamenco, Hanin Y Son Cubano and the Huroof exhibit at Dar Al-Bareh Art Gallery. I know that Frances and the children would like to join me for some of the activities and it would be a pleasure to have their company.

These events, to me at least, are actually much more important than the Formula One! So it won’t be too hard to choose which event to actually go to… I’ll make sure that I record the F1 though to watch it at a later stage!


A childish and ridiculous parliament

Bahrain’s parliament last night demanded an apology from Denmark over newspaper cartoons insulting Prophet Mohammed and Islam.

They also called for mass protests all over the country, after Friday prayers.

MPs broke off from holiday to meet in an emergency session, during which they also demanded action against Denmark by the Bahrain government, including possibly halting oil exports. They also passed a resolution urging Bahrain’s business community to boycott all products from Denmark and Norway, where a magazine re-published some of the cartoons earlier this month.

An apology from the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the 12 cartoons last September, was too little, too late, said MPs. They said the apology should come from head of state Queen Margrethe and from the Danish government.


Here are a few tricks that this impotent parliament is perfecting:

    1. Ask for an apology; however, when you get it, reject it saying that it’s not enough.
    2. Destroy businesses by “encouraging” businesses to do something that they themselves do not support, ie, boycotting, be that products or elections. What’s the difference? Ah, the difference my friends is that it’s not out of their own pockets now is it? Maybe they’ll stomp their feet and demand that their term be extended for another 2 years because they want to pad their nests a bit more, citing the need to keep a watchful eye on those sneaky Danes and their cheese products. All in the name of protecting us from ourselves and thinking for us because we are incapable of making our own decisions of course.
    3. Go out and protest, while they are legislating and have legislated against gatherings and public demonstrations.

Do you see any contradictions here?

What else did they do? They didn’t look at any possible knock on effects emanating from their stupid actions: by demanding that people and businesses boycott Danish products, traders are cashing in big time because they have increased competitive or replacement products’ prices!

So who suffers because of their actions? The poor! They have to dig deeper now to buy things like cheese and the like, and of course businesses who have been here for tens of years like the Danish Dairy and others.

All for what? A bunch of cartoons that cannot – under ANY circumstance – denigrate the great Prophet, peace be upon him. He is MUCH bigger than those cartoons and depictions and WE, Muslims, know that and nothing will change our image of the great man.

No, they’re just throwing a wobbly for the heck of it, or worse, because they want to prove to us that they are more Muslims than Islam itself. The stupid pricks.


The Challenge

We’ve just come back from the opening ceremony of my father’s exhibition at Dar Al-Barih Art Gallery in Adliya with a renewed sense of awe.

Although we have lived with his art throughout our lives, and have come to take his paintings as something rather normal, seeing 36 of his recent block-prints hung in the art gallery atmosphere tonight and the excellent turnout of people who have come to view and appreciate them, make you look at them in a fresh light. An appreciative light.

These are works of art dependent on pure memory of a man who is enamoured in the love of his country, his people and his environment. These are engraved memories, literally, of a man who has lost his vision, but most certainly not his sight.

These are memories of bygone eras, of peace and tranquility, of good neighbours, of a much simpler life that has nurtured the imagination and soul.

These memories might be over 50 years old, but are anything but forgotten.

My father, Nasser Al-Yousif, might have lost his vision over 12 years ago, but he most certainly has not lost his inner sight.

I love you my father. Thank you for sharing your sight. May you live for ever.