Still from Hiya Live Sessions video
Photo: Studio Safar

The Multicity Festival Spotlighting Female Voices from the SWANA Region

Hiya Live Sessions connects underground sonic movements from South West Asian/North African artists with listeners around the world.
By Michelle Erdenesanaa
May 20, 2022
3 minute read

Live music performances, with their visceral, multisensorial energy, can be a form of sonic regeneration and discovery. Hiya Live Sessions, a multicity program of concerts and club nights, draws on this reality by focusing on experimental works by female artists, D.J.s, and poets from the SWANA region—a decolonial word for the South West Asian and North African areas that centers on geography rather than terms, such as “Middle Eastern” or “Islamic World,” that carry a history of European colonialism and imperialism. The 2022 series, which kicked off this month in London, is now making its way to other cities, using its inventive use of sound to connect underground movements from diaspora communities with listeners around the world.

This year’s iteration, titled Ghazal: Neo-Mystics, follows Hiya Live Sessions’s debut presentation in 2021, which, due to the pandemic, took place in the form of a two-day virtual music marathon. The project’s co-founders, D.J.s Shirine Saad and Natalie Shooter, organized it around the theme of the ghazal, a lyrical ode or set of verses, typically set to music and centered on subjects of love, loss, and longing, that originated in Arabic poetry around the 8th century and later traveled to South Asia and Iran. Like the composition, the artists in Hiya Live Sessions’s program use music to reflect on a range of emotions, creating a space for healing, community, empowerment, and freedom.

All of the program’s featured artists take listeners on a sublime sonic journey. They include Palestinian sound researcher, musician, and performer Bint Mbareh and Sudanese rapper Nadine El Roubi, who were part of the program’s debut offering in London. (Additional locations and show dates will be announced on Hiya Live Sessons’s Instagram and Facebook page as they’re confirmed.) Throughout the summer, performances will continue in New York at Brooklyn’s Public Records. Artists include Iranian composers Niloufar Nourbakhsh and Bahar Royaee, and D.J. Haram (June 16); mridanga artist, composer, and scholar Rajna Swaminathan, Tamil Nadu–raised vocalist Ganavya, and Sri Lanka–born D.J. Ushka (July 21); and Syrian American rock experimentalist Boshra AlSaadi (August 18). Each experience aims to introduce listeners to sounds they may not have heard before—providing musical opportunities for learning, understanding, and release.