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Gnaoua or Never

By Alexander Jusdanis

How Morocco’s gnaoua musicians are keeping things fresh

As soon as Khalil Mounji, Khadija Sijilmassi, and I walk into the house – cramped, brightly lit, and already smelling of incense – we’re ushered over to sit with the musicians. We cross over to the wall that Maalem Soufiane Bakbou and his group are resting against, weaving around people anxiously carrying trays of food and piles of coloured cloth in preparation for the long night ahead. We all shake hands, and cell-phones are quickly pulled out for selfies. ‘We’re like VIPs’, Mounji says to me as he sets up his camera.

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The Nights of Zayandeh-Rood

By Taushif Kara 

Nearly thirty years later, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s heavily censored film is finding new audiences

A year after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989, and in the wake of the protracted and devastating Iran-Iraq War, Mohsen Makhmalbaf released a film that would not be seen. Makhmalbaf made The Nights of Zayandeh-Rood in 1990, only to have it censored and mutilated, and then suppressed entirely by the Iranian government before it could be released widely. The film traces Mohammad Alaghmand, an anthropology professor in Esfahan, through various phases of the Iranian Revolution – before, during, and after. Of the original hundred minutes, nearly a third of the film was cut out and destroyed completely by censors for its ‘counter-revolutionary’ content, which was deemed a threat to ‘national security’. Last year, Makhmalbaf himself managed to smuggle the remaining sixty-three minutes out of Tehran and into Europe, where the film was screened for the first time to audiences outside Iran at the Venice Film Festival.

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She Comes in Colours

By Lizzy Vartanian Collier 

Princess, painter, sometime chef: the colourful life of Fahrelnissa Zeid

‘I am the descendant of four civilisations. In my self-portrait, the hand is Persian, the dress is Byzantine, the face is Cretan, and the eyes Oriental, but I was not aware of this as I was painting it.’

The current retrospective of the work of Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901 – 1991) at London’s Tate Modern tells the story of one of Turkey’s most remarkable women. Born into a prominent family in Ottoman Turkey, she was educated in Istanbul and Paris, and lived the life of not only a princess, but also a diplomat’s wife and painter, in Baghdad, Berlin, Paris, London, and Amman. Until now, Zeid has largely been neglected in the West; but, in the first exhibition of its kind in Britain, with all but one of the paintings having been loaned from outside the country, the Tate Modern show is shedding light on her diverse oeuvre.

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The Idiot

By Joseph Flaherty

Iggy and Fyodor, meet your [Turkish] match

Early on in Elif Batuman’s debut novel, The Idiot, the gimlet-eyed protagonist considers how she thinks differently in different languages. The year is 1995, and Selin Karadağ is a Turkish-American student in her first year at Harvard, where she enrols in Introductory Russian, The Psychology of Language, and Linguistics 101. In her linguistics class, Selin alights on a discarded theory about how one’s language determines the way they process events. ‘I knew I thought differently in Turkish and in English – not because thought and language were the same, but because different languages forced you to think about different things’, Selin says. In Turkish, she explains, the suffix -miş is used to report anything one hasn’t witnessed personally, and has a kind of ‘I heard’ meaning: an admission of one’s own subjectivity; and, when other people direct -miş toward one, Selin says unhappily, ‘you knew that you [have] been invoked in your absence – not just you but your hypocrisy, cowardice, and lack of generosity.’

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Right Said Sait

By Alex Dawe 

Rakı days, rock and roll nights: the life and times of Sait Faik Abasıyanık

Sait Faik had a foul mouth. Or so the story goes. In a televised interview, author Orhan Kemal reminisced about his friend, a faint grin sometimes flickering under a thin, clean-combed moustache. Deadpan and a little nettled, he said:

We really liked each other, and that’s why we were always fighting. I mean, we really went at it. [Sait] always had something nasty to say when I ran into him. ‘What are you doing around here,’ he said [once], and went on [to talk] about my books and stories and said, ‘What’s the point?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but what about you? Aren’t you an ambassador yet? ‘What’s that supposed to mean,’ he said in a rage. He figured I was making fun of him. He was always a little paranoid. ‘That’s right, chief. An ambassador, you deserve so much. You’re rich and your mother takes care of you, and you studied in France.’ And then he spat out a dirty word I can’t say here. ‘Why not?’ I [asked]. ‘You twerp’, he said, ‘ I didn’t go to France to study French. I went there to eat and drink, travel, and spend money’. And then he let fly another dirty word. And we laughed.

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Made in Iran, Born in America

By Joobin Bekhrad 

The personification of our Sex, Drugs, and Gol-o-Bolbol™ ethos bares all

Ah, 1979: the year the Shah said ‘adios’ to the land of the Lion and Sun; the year Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Fgghhhance to declare the establishment of the Islamic Republic; the year my parents got married (well, they tied the knot on New Year’s Eve in 1978, but you get my drift) and managed to find a flight out of Iran back to the States; and, the year the world was given its first dose of TVAT. It’s pronounced ‘tee-vat’, to be precise – not ‘tvaht’, and certainly not ‘twat’, as she’s quick to point out. It’s what Taravat Talepasand signs as, and we wouldn’t have it any other way; and, while I may have coined the term ‘Sex, Drugs, and Gol-o-Bolbol‘ that all of we cats at REORIENT swear by, Taravat – who just enjoyed a smashing exhibition of her new series of works at San Francisco’s Guerrero Gallery – was its living, breathing, rock and rolling embodiment, long before I came around. All hail TVAT.

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A Libyan Odyssey

By Sherif Dhaimish 

Or, Down and Out in Benghazi and Burnley: the Story of Hasan ‘the Cleaver’

In 1975, Hasan Dhaimish was fresh from his mandatory military service, like most fit, young Libyan men. He managed to complete his stint under an invisible cloak, receiving little attention from generals and corporals. ‘Dhaimish, eh? Where’ve you been hiding?’ one commented whilst he was being discharged. That same cloak would come in useful over the next few decades as he worked as an artist, concealing his identity from Gaddafi’s regime and the British Home Office – but never out of fear. Instead, Hasan turned his paintbrush into the ultimate weapon of social and political dissidence.

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Telecasters and Tahdig

By Salar Rajabnik

REORIENT Editor Joobin Bekhrad opens up to rock and roller Salar Rajabnik

As an avid reader and follower of REORIENT, I was ecstatic to hear of Editor Joobin Bekhrad’s new book, Coming Down Again, and its premise, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Once I finally did, I was just as impressed and enthralled as I’d expected to be. I related to it so deeply and was so moved by it, that I wanted to take over, and for once, put Joobin in the hot seat and ask him about the process behind writing Coming Down Again.

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Blame it on Mehmet

By Ezgi Üstündağ 

From small-town boy to big-city rocker: Turkey’s Mehmet Erdem

About midway into our conversation, hours before the second show of his first-ever North American tour, Mehmet Erdem paused. Looking up from my notes, I noticed the normally fast-talking singer-songwriter looking just past my left ear, where his musicians were standing beside an American sound engineer. His eyes quickly met my own and he smiled apologetically. ‘Would it be alright if I went over there and helped with sound check?’ he asked me. ‘I’ll come back as soon as we’re done.’ I assured him it wasn’t a problem, and, after about ten minutes of scratching observations about the Washington, D.C. venue in my legal pad, I lifted my head to see Erdem positioned above the stage in the sound booth. A few minutes later, he descended to the dance floor (the space is normally used as a salsa club) and huddled with his manager and musicians, his brow furrowed.

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From Tashkent to Tbilisi

By Valeriya Nakshun

Brigands, burqas, and bushy eyebrows: Central Asia and the Caucasus in Soviet cinema

My ability to speak Russian like a native constantly brings about assumptions about my ethnic heritage, from jokes about vodka and imitations of Russian accents to comments about how I should be used to cold weather, whenever I so much as shiver. I, along with many Russian-speaking Central Asians and Caucasians (i.e. from the Caucasus) from countries belonging to the former Soviet Union, are caught in an identity limbo. How, for example, do I explain why it is that I’m more fluent in Russian than my native Juhuri, a Jewish variety of the Iranian Tati language closely related to Persian? Today, I force myself to wrap my tongue around the few Tati phrases I know, in a desperate effort to preserve what is left of my identity – an identity that is falling like sand through the spaces between my fingers. In the past two generations, my family’s heritage was subdued under Russian dominance; and now, as immigrants, we’ve had to adopt new American identities.

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REORIENT Radio – Myrna Ayad

By Joobin Bekhrad

Why Art Dubai’s new Director is excited – and nervous – about the fair’s eleventh edition

Art Dubai‘s come a long way, baby – as has Myrna Ayad. A former journalist, Myrna watched the fair grow from its humble beginnings in 2007 to the extravaganza it is today. In the process, she also headed the prominent local arts publication Canvas, until a phone call changed everything. ‘Do it for your country’, she was told. Or something like that.

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Crosstown Traffic

By Lizzy Vartanian Collier

Around the world with Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili

Many know what the world is supposed to look like. Children grow up learning about global geography through atlases and globes they can turn on their axes in hundreds of different directions to discover distant countries many thousands of miles away from them. Historically, global cartography has changed repeatedly over time, and while some would think of maps as silent and unmovable objects, Bouchra Khalili’s video art gives voices to maps to reveal journeys many would struggle to find in any book, whether historical or contemporary.

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The Unity of Time and Place

By Noora Ismail 

Why does Iranian artist Mahmoud Bakhshi panic in cinemas?

On a hot summer’s evening, six months before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an affluent middle-class crowd settled into cinema seats in Abadan’s Cinema Rex. Gavaznha (The Deers), a new wave film by Masoud Kimiai touching on social issues, was screening. At 8:21 pm, as viewers’ eyes were transfixed by the illuminated images piercing through the darkness of the pitch-black room, four men barred the exits and imprisoned the people from outside. Dousing the cinema with petrol, they set the place alight, burning everyone within alive. According to various reports, the fire department – only 100 metres away – failed to respond in time.

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Oh! You Pretty Things

By Iain Akerman 

Wonder woman Yasmine Hamdan takes a breather to give the lowdown on her new album

‘I just got my French passport’, says Yasmine Hamdan with a small burst of excitement, the night before her appearance at The Music Room in Dubai presented by Vibe Series. ‘I’m attached to Paris, actually, but I do not want to belong’, she remarks as we discuss the concepts of belonging and inclusion. ‘I would rather live on the margin – and I feel more comfortable living there, not belonging to a place’. I ask her why. ‘Because,’ she responds, ‘I cannot pretend that I know how to do that. I’m not sure I know what it’s like to belong to one place.’

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