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Habibi Festival 2021 feat. AJOYO, Kinan Azmeh, Alsarah & the Nubatones, Innov Gnawa, Esraa Warda & Yacine Boulares with opening set by Haig Papazian

Habibi Festival 2021 feat. AJOYO, Kinan Azmeh, Alsarah & the Nubatones, Innov Gnawa, Esraa Warda & Yacine Boulares with opening set by Haig Papazian

November 2 - November 5, 2021

Explore the sounds of Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, and more during Habibi Festival, a four-night festival immersing New Yorkers in the music of the living rooms, radios, and dance clubs of the Middle East. This year's inaugural festival features award-winning French Tunisian saxophonist, composer, and festival co-founder Yacine Boulares and nightly special guests.

Created with the goal of giving a snapshot of contemporary and traditional musics of the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region, Habibi Festival aims to take listeners on a journey of the sounds wafting through the airwaves and living rooms of cities spanning Marrakech to Baghdad to Brooklyn. This new performing arts festival is a collaboration between the Director of Joe's Pub at the Public Theater Alex Knowlton, artist/composer/curator Yacine Boulares, and curator/producer Meera Dugal who are bonded by the goal of creating more joyful spaces for performance, conversation, and storytelling from this part of the world.

Begin the evening with a solo performance by Lebanese-Armenian violinist, founding member of the influential band Mashrou’ Leila, architect, and multi-disciplinary artist Haig Papazian followed by the Yacine Boulares’ band and special guests including contemporary Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh, Sudanese-American singer Alsarah & the Nubatones, mesmerizing Moroccan group Innov Gnawa and Moroccan and Algerian traditional dancer Esraa Warda. 

Please join the artists after the show, for a talkback with Afikra.

Habibi Festival website

Tue, Nov 2 - AJOYO featuring Kinan Azmeh with opening set by Haig Papazian

Wed, Nov 3 - Alsarah & The Nubatones with opening set by Haig Papazian

Thu, Nov 4 - Innov Gnawa with Zafer Tawil, Kyle Miles, Philippe Lemm & Yacine Boulares with opening set by Haig Papazian

Fri, Nov 5 - Esraa Warda with Zafer Tawil, Michael Valeanu, Kyle Miles, Philippe Lemm & Yacine Boulares with opening set by Haig Papazian

Praised by Radio France International as “ A Tunisian in New York, one of the most talented jazzmen of his generation”, Yacine Boulares has composed, recorded and performed across the world with the likes of Placido Domingo, Tabou Combo, Vincent Segal and Nasheet Waits. His work explores folk traditions of North and West Africa perceived through the prism of chamber music and Black American Music. Yacine is the founder of the ensemble AJOYO and of trio Abu Sadiya.  


Haig Papazian - the Lebanese-Armenian violinist, founding member of the influential band Mashrou’ Leila, architect and multi-disciplinary artist - will premiere selections from the first phase of his new solo work, Space Time Tuning Machine (STTM), a cross-disciplinary musical narrative exploring the multifaceted meanings of home. 

Hailed as “intensely soulful” and a “virtuoso” by The New York Times and “spellbinding” by The New Yorker, Winner of OpusKlassik award in 2019 clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh has gained international recognition for what the CBC has called his “incredibly rich sound” and his distinctive compositional voice across diverse musical genres. Originally from Damascus, Syria, Kinan Azmeh brings his music to all corners of the world as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include the Opera Bastille, Paris; Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Moscow; Carnegie Hall and the UN General Assembly, New York; the Royal Albert hall, London; and in his native Syria at the opening concert of the Damascus Opera House. He has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra among others, and has shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Marcel Khalife, Aynur, Daniel Barenboim, and Jivan Gasparian.

AJOYO is a mystic brew blending African tradition, Jazz and Soul. More than music, it's a joyful ceremony, a fuller experience bringing musicians and audience close together. AJOYO chants in the name of Tony Allen, Oum Khalsoum, Charlie Parker and Donnie Hathaway. AJOYO speaks the language of the talking drum with a New York accent. The project originated in these encounters and influences, as Yacine assembled a band that reconciles his North African and Western heritages. AJOYO features vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles and celebrates life, love and justice through socially conscious lyrics and music: music for the heart, the mind and the body, the kind that is soulful, sophisticated and that makes people want to dance.

Called “the new princess of Nubian pop” by The Guardian, Sudanese singer, songwriter and ethnomusicologist Alsarah is passionate about the intersection of culture, music and migration. With a spellbinding voice, she blends East African tunes with Arabic sounds and traditions for a one-of-a-kind style she describes as “East African Retro-Pop.” As NPR recently raved, Alsarah and her band The Nubatones create “a lavish, joyful, era-spanning sound full of Arabic-language reflections on identity and survival. It’s modern and nostalgic, timeless and new.”

Innov Gnawa is a New York City-based Grammy-nominated music group led by Ma’alem Hassan Ben Jaafer. The title Ma’alem, meaning master, denotes Ben Jaafer’s ancestral heritage of the musical tradition, which was passed down generationally within his family in Morocco. As the spiritual elder of the ensemble, he plays the three-stringed African bass, also known as a guembri. Ben Jaafer is accompanied by Amino Belyamani and Ahmed Jeriouda, along with a brotherhood of guest musicians, all playing the qraqeb, metal castanets whose staccato sound is said to represent the shackles and chains of slaves.

Esraa Warda
is New York's emerging dance artist and educator specializing in Algerian & Moroccan traditional dance forms. A child of the Algerian diaspora, Warda is a cultural warrior advocating for the representation & preservation of North African women-led dance traditions and the decolonization of euro-centricity, orientalism, and patriarchy in dance. Warda is a product of "popular education"; a student of inter-communal transmission of oral history and muscle memory from her family's living room in Algiers. She continues with this essence both still as a student of elders and as an educator for the upcoming generations. Her dance workshops and lectures have pioneered trails to educational institutions such as Cornell University, Wellesley College, King's College (London), and University of Ottawa. She performs with notable North African women's groups such as Bnat el Houariyat (Marrakech) and often performs internationally in New York, Paris, Belgium, Casablanca, and London.


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Image of AJOYO


Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Image of Alsarah & The Nubatones

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Photo Credit: Atong Atem 

Image of Esraa Warda

Esraa Warda

Photo credit: Courtesy the artist


Image of Haig Papazian

Haig Papazian

Photo Credit: Charbel Abou Zeidan

Image of Innov Gnawa

Innov Gnawa

Photo credit: Courtesy the artist

Image of Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh

Photo credit: Liudmilla Jeremies

Image of Yacine Boulares

Yacine Boulares

Photo Credit: Cyrille Matter