Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cafe Arabia: bridging East and West

Last night we attended a musical event at a new coffee shop in Abu Dhabi called Cafe Arabia. Actually, it has been open at least six months already but has only now appeared on our radar, likely due to it being ensconced in a villa along 15th Street. It's likely one of those places that will thrive on word of mouth alone, and fortunately we have nothing but praise for the establishment.

The two-story cafe feels much like an Arabian home, warmly decorated, and full of light and life. Colorful artwork and stylish handmade wares are displayed for sale throughout, and the walls are studded with portraits of important regional personalities, providing instant conversation starters. Ample seating in spacious quarters, including plush sofas and family-style dining tables, is configured to accommodate a quiet chat between old friends just as well a lively discussion among new ones. The scene is cozy yet stimulating, especially when accompanied by a slice of spiced cake (ask for "my mom's cake") and mug of sweet Chai Bil Hail.

Cafe Arabia is the brainchild of proprietor Aida Mansour, who has intentionally created an environment conducive to intercultural exploration by way of the arts and, of course, through food and drink. Menu items are inspired by Middle Eastern and European family recipes, and the cafe plays host to numerous community events, such as poetry readings, lectures, and music recitals, encouraging patrons to linger in conversation over mezze and mint lemonade. 

Which brings me back to last night, when British guitarist, Jason Carter, and Emirati oud performer, Faisal Al Saari, allowed their musical traditions to intertwine, playing pieces representing both East and West in perfect harmony, and riffing off each other to demonstrate their individual talents, all before a captivated audience of about 50 gathered around on chairs and floor cushions (aka "poofs") in the cafe's upper room. The evening was also meant to publicize a project headed by Carter, called Jisr al Wadi (literally "bridge over the river," or more loosely "bridging the gap"), which is an attempt to build community between disparate cultures through music, a language which requires no translation. 

Cafe Arabia is currently an anomaly in Abu Dhabi, but will hopefully inspire similar ventures. From the number enthusiastically in attendance last night, most of whom only first heard about the event that morning when it was announced at Saint Andrews, it is obvious that the culture-cafe concept fills a void.

Located at Villa #224/1 between 2nd and 24th - Map thanks to American Women's Network

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