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DUBAI: On May 5, the Théâtre du Gymnase in Paris will come alive with the songs of some of the Arab world’s most renowned singers and musicians. Tracks made famous by Fayrouz, Warda, Abdel Halim Hafez and Mohamed Abdel Wahab — among others — will be performed accompanied by an orchestra directed by Ahmed El-Mougy.  

“Symphonic Journey in the World of Classical Arab Song” is the latest show from Saudi producer and art patron Mona Khashoggi.  

“This artistic project is dedicated to exploring and appreciating the rich heritage of classical Arab music through the lens of the symphony orchestra,” Khashoggi tells Arab News. “It aims to bridge tradition with modernity by reinterpreting classical pieces with symphonic arrangements, while also incorporating a contemporary twist.”  

“Symphonic Journey in the World of Classical Arab Song,” which runs for one night only, highlights the rich diversity of Arab musical heritage and music’s role in building cultural bridges. 

It is through shows such as this that Khashoggi, a long-time patron of the Saudi cultural scene — particularly performance art, is helping to preserve and revive Arab culture. 

“What I’m doing is reviving the old way of musical theater, which used to exist in Arab cities such as Cairo and throughout the Middle East,” says Khashoggi. “They don’t stage musicals now that are up to international standard. Musicals are lacking now in the Arab world. I want to raise the bar high for Arab musical theater.” 

A flyer for Khashoggi’s musical ‘Sinbad The Sailor.’ (Supplied)

To do so, Khashoggi has been working with a West End team in London to revive Arab musical theater within the Arab world and internationally. 

“I want to stage Western Broadway-style shows, but with Arab subjects and Arab singing and acting,” she explains.  

She’s currently working on a new musical, “Sinbad the Sailor,” recounting the adventures of the famed hero of a series of Arab folk tales (including one from “One Thousand and One Nights”) across seven voyages. The folk tales were based on the experiences of merchants from Basra, Iraq, trading with the East Indies and China during the 8th century.  

Meanwhile, Khashoggi’s recent productions continue to travel the world. “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era,” which debuted in London’s West End in early 2019, and then opened in Dubai in 2022, showed at the Bahrain National Theater in Manama in January.  

And in November 2022, Khashoggi released “Jaffa Orange Groves,” a “romantic and historical novel” based on real events and the stories of Palestinians from the 1940s. 

Saudi actress Sara Masry and British-Egyptian actor Sherif Afifi in the musical ‘Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era.’ (Supplied)

Reflective of the Khashoggi’s desire to uphold, revive and preserve Arab culture, the book charts the story of Salma, a determined young Palestinian girl living with her extended family in the bustling cosmopolitan port city of Jaffa. She meets David, a German Jewish boy whose family had escaped the Holocaust and emigrated to Palestine. They both question the rules and traditions that define them and dream of a different reality. Then war erupts and their love is placed in jeopardy. The book is now being translated into Arabic. 

“I’d like to turn the book into a movie,” Khashoggi says, adding that she is speaking to several directors about this possibility. “During COVID, I learned how to write for the screen. 

“Because the book takes place in Palestine, the best place to film it is in Jordan,” she says. But the current events in Gaza will likely delay any filming. “We are all in such mourning,” she says. 

Khashoggi is also dedicated to developing young Saudi talent, especially in the performing arts. 

“I wish Saudi — and all countries throughout the Middle East — would introduce more theater in schools,” she says. “It’s such a crucial part of education and the enhancement of one’s creativity.” 

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