Celebrating Jerusalem
Proving that music knows no boundaries, the Palestine Youth Orchestra draws together 55 talented musicians aged between 14 and 25 from across the region with the aim of putting its eponymous homeland on the musical map. Under the wing of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, the orchestra takes the current restrictions placed on Palestine and turns a hurdle into an opportunity, touring the world to raise awareness of the country’s talent.

Collaborations with the orchestra in the past have included pianists Salim Abboud Ashkar and Karim Said, cellist Alexander Suleiman, rising soprano star Dima Bawab and German violinist Peter Clemente. Bahrain’s performance will see a vibrant mixture of music from the Gayane ballet by Aram Khachaturian, Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and songs dedicated to celebrating Jerusalem, which is the 2009 Arab Capital of Culture.
Arad Fort, Friday March 6, 8.30pm.

A high-energy, non-verbal affair, the Nanta Theatre’s Cookin’ integrates traditional Korean music with sight gags, slapstick and the odd dramatic twist. The Buster Keaton meets Gordon Ramsay plot – which revolves around a kitchen staff and their preparation for a wedding feast – is not exactly Shakespeare, but that’s not really the point. This is Stomp set in the kitchen, with the rhythmic cast transforming the most mundane of cooking tasks into a beat-filled, high-kicking, pan-juggling celebration of strategic madness.

From its South Korean roots to its award-winning international debut at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival and subsequent world tour, Cookin’ has proved to be one of the most popular shows in the history of the Korean stage. Having got the daunting venues of Broadway and Disneyland chalked off its ‘been there, done that’ list, this will be Nanta’s first performance in the Middle East and one you won’t want to miss. Just watch out for the flying dumplings…
Arad Fort, Friday March 27, 7pm.

Omara Portuondo
Famed for her starring role on the iconic Buena Vista Social Club album and film, Cuban diva Omara Portuondo brings her sweeping collection of boleros, guajiros, mambos and cha-cha-chas to Bahrain. With over 60 years of performing under her belt, 79-year-old Havana-born Portuondo has acted, danced, but mostly sung her way into Cuban hearts. Her flamboyant career started with her dancing in the famous Tropicana cabaret in 1945, before stints in the bands Loquibambia Swing with her sister, Haydee, and Cuarteto D’Aida.

She embarked on a solo career in 1967 and nestled herself into Cuba’s affections before the Buena Vista Social Club spread word of her talent to the world. Never a woman afraid to sing about the troubles of the day, Portuondo has sung the praise of the people of Chile following Pinochet’s military coup, eulogised Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and tackled issues of sexuality, oppression and heartbreak in her songs. But no matter the subject, Portuondo’s performance fills the hardest of hearts with hope. Make no mistake; you’ll soon have a legend on your doorstep – miss this one at your peril.
Arad Fort, Wednesday April 1, 8.30pm.

Ghalia Benali
Ghalia Benali’s 2001 debut album Wild Harissa announced the arrival of a new star of Arabian music. Cutting through the more predictable elements of the genre like a hot knife through cheese, Benali’s tartil-inspired tunes brought one of the oldest forms of music bang up to date.

The secret lies in her lips and hips: her silken tones are smoother than marble, while her modern take on bellydancing has hypnotised audiences from East to West. The two combined to bag her a gong at the 2008 World of Music awards. For the uninitiated, her music is a heady mix of French chansons, Egyptian musicals and Indian rhythms. This exotic stew may not to be to everyone’s taste, but for those interested in seeing Middle East traditions with a twist, it’s a must.
Arad Fort, Wednesday March 18, 8.30pm.

Adam Henein
It’s not often a contemporary sculptor gets the call to perform reconstructive surgery on one of the seven wonders of the world, but Adam Henein is no ordinary stone-chipper. Having started his artistic career in paint, the Egyptian swapped brush for chisel in the ’80s, and by the end of the decade was involved in the restoration of the Giza Sphinx.

Today he’s happy working in either form – his sculptures are created in harmony with their surroundings, while his paintings combine elements of his sculptural style with natural colours on papyrus bound with Arabic gum. The display of updated ancient fertility statues that he brings to Bahrain evoke a pared-down Picasso or Auguste Rodin let off the leash, while never forgetting the artist’s Egyptian heritage.
Bin Mattar House, from Sunday March 22.

Angelique Kidjo
The Grammy-winning Afro-pop star set to rock Arad Fort shares the influences that have defined her as a singer.
• My mother told me that I have always sung, even before speaking.

• Traditional music from Benin is important for me, but also the music I listened to as a child, like soul, rock and reggae. • Studying jazz and classical music in France allowed me to extend my range.

• I don’t have a personal language. I just make up words like ‘batonga’ or ‘wombo lombo’ that sound good.

• I try to offer a glimpse of my country’s rich culture in a way that makes people want to dance and feel a lot of emotion.

• I hope my music creates a bond between people. The media is always telling us how different we are; I would like to prove them wrong.
Arad Fort, Friday March 13, 8.30pm.

Army of Mariam
Young Bahraini-born artist Mariam Haji studied art in Dundee, Scotland, and in Melbourne, Australia, and now works as a full-time artist internationally. She talks to us about the inspiration behind her army of papier maché women, which has marched into this year’s Spring of Culture.

What inspired this army of women?
It’s simple… I am a woman. Actually, there is so much theory and research attached to my work that I can’t really go into the details. However, I do read a lot about psychoanalysis, abjection, mutants, membranes, the history of women in Abrahamic society, lightning balls, electricity… they may not relate to one another, but they come together in my sculptures.

What is their message?
Every member of my army has a name… Their message can be anything the individual army member wants it to be. Overall they produce light in darkness.

How did you create them?
My sculptures are made from paper, lots of paper, and electric wire. The paper is as delicate as skin, and I’ve destroyed some in the process – and electrocuted myself a couple of times.

How did you develop your sculptural approach?

It started with a series called ‘Membrane’, where I made paper casts of my body and then performed plastic surgery on them. It’s been a process of evolution ever since.

What do you think of the local art scene?
It’s growing and it’s exciting; I’ve already picked my favourite male and female artists for 2009: Arthur D’Souza and Waheeda Malallah. It’s great to come back to find so many inspired and inspiring people.

Although you’ve studied and worked outside Bahrain, do you regard your art as Middle Eastern?
I’m a Middle Eastern Woman creating art, and my DNA is part of what I create. So yes, the art is Middle Eastern, no matter where it’s made.

What is the perception of Middle Eastern art abroad?
It depends on the artist. Generally, there’s no perception; just curiosity.

What does taking part in this year’s Spring of Culture mean to you?
It means a lot. I am ecstatic that after travelling and creating around the world, my army is carrying me into my first solo show back home.
Albareh Café, from Sunday March 15, 8pm.

Dan Zanes & Friends
Drawing on everything from folk to early rock ’n’ roll, Zanes’ music is hugely popular in the US, and he looks set to perform the same trick here. With a Grammy under his belt and pals like Nick Cave, Sheryl Crow, Lou Reed and Natalie Merchant, he’s the credible face of tot rock. Best of all, his toe-tapping tunes are easy on adult ears too. It sure beats The Wiggles.

From the Del Fuegos to children’s music; why did you make the change?
After playing rock ’n’ roll with the Del Fuegos for 10 years, I took a couple years off, listened to a lot of gospel and Jamaican music, and decided I wanted to write material that was connected to a community. When my daughter was born, I started playing for families and friends around my neighbourhood [in Brooklyn, New York], and it felt like the early days of the Del Fuegos – a big social event. Things progressed from there; the grown-ups never left, we just put kids into the mix.

What issues are you trying to convey to children through your music?
I don’t think of this as children’s music, but family music. It really is for people of all ages. What we’re trying to say is, ‘You can do this too! Don’t leave it to the professionals.’ Anybody can make music, and it’s a joyous experience that gives us a sense of life’s possibilities.

What do you feel is the importance of music as an influence in children’s lives?
These days a lot of the music in children’s lives comes from TV and the computer, which is great, it’s good that it’s there, but I think the highest experience we can have is listening to music played live and making music ourselves, even if it’s just singing in the kitchen while cooking. We don’t even know the full effect that music has, but it’s fundamental to our lives as human beings.

Your latest Dan Zanes & Friends album, ¡Nueva York!, is in Spanish. How do non-Spanish speakers relate to the music?
One of the things I’ve learned is that there’s an emotional level to music that gets completely outside of language. We all listen to music that’s not in our first language, but kids, especially, are able to jump right in and get into the spirit of the song, whether or not they understand it. It’s a reminder that music really does work on several different levels. Music is also a fantastic way of connecting to one another, and we need it more than ever right now. These are mean-spirited times, and I believe in the infinite possibilities of music as a healing force in the world.

Who are your ‘Friends’?
This is by far the most spirited, creative band I have ever been a part of. Colin Brooks plays the drums, Sonia de los Santos sings and plays guitar and mandolin, Elena Moon Park plays fiddle and trumpet, John Foti plays saxophone, accordion and pennywhistle, and Saskia Sunshine Lane sings and plays the upright bass.

What can the Bahraini audience look forward to?
We’ll be singing our lungs out, jumping in the air, dancing around. It’ll be a wild party, and we’ll work up a good appetite for some Bahraini food afterwards. People can get up and dance or sing along at the top of their lungs. What we really try and spread wherever we go is our enthusiasm for music-making, and I’d love it if everybody walks away thinking, ‘Wow that looks like a good time, I want to make music at home.’
Arad Fort, March 19-20, 5pm.

The Sound of Music
Salzburg Marionette Theatre
From the stage to the silver screen and now to strings; the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein creation, The Sound of Music, is recreated through the incredibly life-like movements of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s puppets. From the opening sequence of a marionette-Maria (voiced by Christiane Noll) frolicking through fabric hills singing the title song, to an animated version of ‘Do-Re-Mi’ via a touching Edelweiss rendition by Martin Vidnovic, the charming performance is feel good theatre at its best.

It’s not just the familiar tunes that bring about mass delight, the skill of the puppet masters is mesmerising, as are the intricately crafted sets these stringed people perform upon with eerily life-like precision. Definitely one of our favourite things.
Culture Hall, Thursday April 2, Friday 3 & Saturday 4, 5pm.

The Spring of Culture has something for everyone, and a lot of it is free. Our list below details the major events. If booking is required, head to the temporary box office at Bahrain City Centre. For prices, visit www.springofculture.org or call 39 900 630.
Sunday 1 & Tuesday 3
Long Was the Night at the Embassy’s Gate
Nidal Al Achkar’s play draws attention to the plight of Lebanese youth trying to escape the country’s political upheaval.
Culture Hall, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Tuesday 3-Thursday 12
The End of the Dot

Celebrated Bahraini artist Ebrahim BuSaad exhibits 15 new oil works, exploring the concept of the dot that begins but never ends.
Albareh Art Gallery, open from 7pm.

Thursday 5
Musical Maqamat, Mystical Stations

Moroccan artiste Aisha Ridwan performs cultural symphonies and Sufi poetry with her ensemble, Al Adwar.
Shaikh Ebrahim Centre, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Friday 6
Celebrating Jerusalem

See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 8.30pm. Booking essential.

Friday 6 & Saturday 7
Bahrain in the Eyes of Children

Artist and founding member of the Jordan National Gallery Samia Zaru oversees children’s mural painting.
Iqra Library, Muharraq, 9am-noon, 2pm-5pm. Free.

Sunday 8-Tuesday 31
The Ultimate Experience

Combining film and art, this engaging group exhibition curated by William Wells of Townhouse Cairo explores consumerism and its effects on our identity.
Al Riwaq Gallery, Al A’ali Shopping Complex, open from 7pm.

Monday 9
Venus Khoury

Resident in France since 1972, Lebanese-born Venus Khoury draws on French and Arabic influences to create poetry that speaks to hearts and minds universally.
House of Poetry, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Wednesday 11
L’Orchestre National de Barbes

The ONB recently hit the Paris music scene in a big way with its joyous world sound.
Culture Hall, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Friday 13
Angelique Kidjo

See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 8.30pm. Booking essential.

Saturday 14

Eight Pakistani musicians perform a form of Sufi music rich in history that unites symbols from India and Pakistan and sends a message of peace.
La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, 8pm. Booking essential.

Sunday 15
Army of Mariam

See Top Picks.
Albareh Gallery Café, opening 7pm.

Monday 16
Golden Age of Music

Blending Eastern and Western vocal techniques, Fadia Tomb El-Hage interprets traditional Lebanese song and folklore.
Shaikh Ebrahim Centre, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Tuesday 17
My Orients

Tying in with her exhibition of photographic collages, Sorbonne University professor Eliane Chiron talks about her work and influences.
House of Poetry, 8pm. Free.

Wednesday 18
Ghalia Benali

See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 8.30pm. Booking essential.

Thursday 19 & Friday 20
Dan Zanes & Friends

See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 5pm. Booking essential.

Friday 20-Sunday 22
Children’s Cheering Carpet

Dedicated to the poetics of gardens and dance, this project invites children to delight in an exciting interplay of colours and shapes in a beautifully painted space.
Salman Culture Centre, 11am & 5pm. Free.

Friday 20
Centenary of Abu AlQassem AlShabi

Mabrouk Al Mannai, Najib Aloufi and Al Alawi Alhashmi recall 100 years of celebrated poet Abu AlQassem AlShabi.
House of Poetry, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Saturday 21
Mahmoud Darwish’s Jidariyya Cantata

By injecting the Arabic musical mould with his own modern style, Bachar Zarkan brings Darwish’s famous play into the 21st century.
Culture Hall, 8.30pm. Free. Limited seating.

Sunday 22-April 22
Adam Henein

See Top Picks.
Bin Mattar House, 8pm.

Monday 23
Ethics & Morals in Journalism

Lecture by professor of journalism and former Minister of Information for Kuwait Dr Anas Al-Rasheed.
Al Zayed House, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Tuesday 24-Tuesday 31
Nostalgic Terrace

Nabeela Al Khayer’s mixed-media works reflect women’s feelings, emotions and memories.
Albareh Art Gallery, open from 7pm.

Wednesday 25 & Thursday 26
Life is Rhythm

See Top Picks.
Culture Hall, 7pm. Free. Limited seating.

Thursday 26
China Art Scene

Artists from China Chen Xinmao and Rolf Fluenter present modern, energetic works rooted in but not bound by Asia.
La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, opening performance 7pm. Booking essential.

Friday 27 & Saturday 28

See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 7pm. Booking essential.

Monday 30
Ibn Hazem’s Popularity on the ’Net

Moroccan writer and sociologist Fatima Mernissi talks about Islam and women’s roles within the religion.
Shaikh Ebrahim Centre, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Tuesday 31
Abdul Rahman El-Bacha Piano Recital

El-Bacha’s performances rise above plain piano-playing and create an equilibrium of pathos, lyricism and virtuoso brilliance.
Culture Hall, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Wednesday 1

Omara Portuondo
See Top Picks.
Arad Fort, 8.30pm. Booking essential.

Thursday 2, Friday 3 & Saturday 4
The Sound of Music

See Top Picks.
Culture Hall, 5pm. Booking essential.

Monday 6 & Tuesday 7
El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe

This award-winning dance troupe encapsulates the spirit of Arab-Palestinian folklore and contemporary culture through stylised dance and music.
Culture Hall, 8pm. Free. Limited seating.

Tuesday 14-Friday 17
Temptations of an Angel

Fresh from Berlin, this exhibition of mixed-media works by Lobna Al-Ameed represents a dialogue between her and poet Qassim Haddad.
Albareh Gallery, open from 7pm.

Wednesday 15-25
Bilateral Relations

Four German artists express their feelings through art influenced by the Orient.
Art Hall, National Museum, opening 7.30pm.