The British-Yemeni Society

News and events


Journal articles

Book reviews

About the Society

Society officers

Annual reports

Lecture summaries


Annual appeal


Contact us

The Yemen Festival
by Anne Hunt
Yemen holds a great deal of fascination for people in the UK; it seems to be a place that, once visited, is never forgotten. The response to the events in the Yemen festival certainly reflected this.

The launch of the Festival on 17 September at the RIBA Architecture Centre was attended by over 400 invited guests as well as HE Mr Alek Mansour, Minister of Culture. Welcoming speeches by the President of RIBA, the Yemeni and British Ambassadors and the Chair of Arts Worldwide were enthusiastically received as guests enjoyed the first chance to see the centre piece of the festival - the exhibition ‘Cities on the Edge’. This multi-media exhibition covers the four cities of Jiblah, Sa'dah, Yafi and Tarim. It includes over 500 slides illustrating the unique architecture of the country.

Many Yemeni business sponsors visited the UK for the first week of the festival. Seminars and discussions at the Department of Trade and Industry were well attended, and there was encouraging discussion about strengthening trade links betwen Yemen and the UK.

The opening concert of the festival was held on 20 September at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Centre, and the lively first half included a spectacular display of dagger dancing. However, it was Ahmed Fathi, the celebrated 'oud player and singer, who stole the show. His outstanding performance was greeted with pure pleasure by the audience, clapping and requesting their favourite songs.

The second week of the festival saw the visit of poets and musicians from the Hadhramaut and Sana’a. This group performed not only in London (Purcell Room, 28th September) but also toured to Cardiff, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool. The group’s arrival in each city was greeted by invitations from the members of the local Yemeni comunity, who welcomed the artists with open arms. Performances were often sold out and celebrations lasted long into the night.

Yemeni hospitality was recreated in the October Gallery on 10 and 11 October with the final live performance element of the festival. 'Oud players Hamoud al Guneid, Abood al Hawajah and percussionist Mohamed Ahmed Qatabi performed in the theatre of the October Gallery. The audience - seated mainly on cushions - relaxed and enjoyed the music after a traditional meal. The sharing of food and music encouraged new friendships and exchanges of visits to Yemen.

The festival also offered several educational opportunities. Each talk and workshop was well attended; the Study Day on 11 October at the British Museum was very successful and full to capacity. Various exhibitions were on display in London, Cardiff and Liverpool until 1 November. The Museum of Mankind showed a series of documentaries and films on Yemeni themes and programmed a week of family workshops on pottery and other traditional Yemeni crafts. As the festival drew to a close, there were still daily requests for brochures and further information.

The Yemen Festival would not have been possible without all the help and advice the Arts Worldwide received from a variety of sources, and the organisation would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Yemeni Society for all their help and encouragement.

(Anne Hunt is Artistic Director, Arts Worldwide)

December 1997