A ‘Sahra’ is a traditional Arabic evening in which family and friends gather to celebrate and enjoy the best of their culture. On Sunday 7 December 2014 the Arabic Language and Culture Association of South Australia (ALCASA) held their inaugural Sahra event to celebrate the rich diversity of the Middle East and showcase the quality and depth of the Arabic language and culture in South Australia. We would formally like to acknowledge Multicultural SA, ARGO on the Parade and O. & Y. Shahin for their generous support and contribution to the success of the evening.

Hosted at the Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre, ALCASA was able to assemble an outstanding evening of art, film, music, dance and delicious Arabic food. The Sahra was sold out two weeks prior to the event and the organising committee were very excited about the opportunity to bring together over 100 people from diverse backgrounds within the Arabic speaking community and many other guests from broader ethnic backgrounds. The Multicultural Arts Centre was given the feel of a traditional Middle-Eastern soiree thanks to the welcoming scent of mint tea, kindly donated by Le Souk and the engaging artwork of YADURA design Studio which displayed an amazing compilation of mixed media that reflects the complexity of identity and belonging surrounding the integration of cultures.

The audience was then treated to a lively performance of traditional Arabic music by Charlie on the oud, Rabih on the keyboard and an impromptu appearance by Rania on vocals. The music was amazing, but outdone by the harmonies of a dozen Arabic women in the third row who sang along reminiscently to every word. Zaffit SA is a traditional Middle Eastern dancing group that features incredible dancers, amazing Dabke drummers and swords; although there were no swords this evening, the team staged an amazing performance that was full of passion and energy and had the floor up dancing and clapping along.

One of ALCASA’s missions is to challenge the perceptions of the Middle East, its people, traditions and culture through celebration and education. This goal is endorsed by the Lebanese Film Festival of NSW and we were lucky enough to have the co-founders and directors, Camille Latouff and Jessica Khoury, at our Sahra to introduce their selection of the best films of their third festival. The audience were entertained by the warm and humorous short film Mahmoud and Bahiyya followed later in the evening by Asfouri, a more complex narrative exploring the social and political changes in Beirut over a period of 40 years.

Next on the program was Nayima Hassan; an icon of South Australia and highly regarded as one of Australia’s best dancers and teachers. Nayima has been finely crafting her art for over 30 years and her Belly Dance Academy has been established in Adelaide for over 20 years . Nayima is a most humble and gracious person with a generous big heart; she has been supporting ALCASA for two years at the Sahra she performed an enthralling routine that engaged the entire audience.

Complementing this amazing display of South Australian talent was an amazing spread of traditional Arabic cuisine. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Walkley’s Pizza Bar, Café on Henley, Abdul’s Kitchen, Adelaide Lebanese Bakery and Le Souk we were able to provide our guests authentic hospitality and a feast of humus, babaganoush, mana’eesh, fatayer, falafel, mint tea and an opportunity to try some jallab, a traditional drink made of grape molasses. By all reports, empty dishes and clean plates, the food was outstanding and topped off an amazing evening. (Check here to see the full list of the 2014 Sahra’s sponsors.)

ALCASA would like to thank all the volunteers for their kind generosity in making the evening possible to run so smoothly and efficiently and thank all the audience for their enthusiasm and enjoyment of the event. Thank you also to our major sponsors and partners.

We look forward to hosting another event and continuing to celebrate the best of multiculturalism in South Australia.

Hassan Mekawy