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Golden Thread Champions Middle Eastern Artists Who Build Community

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Ballet Afsaneh performance at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. The company’s founding artistic director Sharlyn Sawyer appears as part of Golden Thread Productions’ annual International Women’s Day Celebration  (Raymond Van Tassel)

If you Google “what do the women say?”, you get a fever of listicles like “30 Things Women Say And What They Really Mean” and “25 Things Women Say That Men Misunderstand”.

Undeterred by such inanities, Golden Thread Productions’ annual International Women’s Day Celebration on Saturday, Mar. 12 at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley — titled What do the Women Say? — tackles the question in a much more spiritual and creative way.

Previous iterations of this one-day festival devoted, since 2011, to exploring the work of Middle Eastern women artists have focused on such themes as activism, sex and sexuality, and female solo performers. This year, the topic is Bay Area women artists who build community through their art.

The Aswat Women’s Ensemble. The group performs as part of Golden Thread’s annual International Women’s Day celebration, ‘What Do The Women Say?’
The Aswat Women’s Ensemble. The group performs as part of Golden Thread’s annual International Women’s Day celebration, ‘What Do The Women Say?’ (Photo: Courtesy of Zawaya)

“The women featured are accomplished artists renowned for the excellence of their artistry,” says Golden Thread founding artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian. “But they are also leaders, who have founded important organizations, trained and championed other artists, and worked endlessly to celebrate and preserve culture and history for Middle Eastern immigrant communities in the Bay Area. This is a community that faces growing hostility and has to battle common misconceptions of the well-intended. These artists choose to lift up their community through their art, and document our existence as an immigrant community that has voice and matters.”

At the centerpiece of the event is a concert by The Aswat Ensemble, one of the jewels the Bay Area music landscape. The group’s sweet spot is songs from the Arab world, old and new, performed on traditional musical instruments like the qanun (trapezoidal zither), ‘oud (lute), and nay (reed flute). They have terrific singers too.


For the Golden Thread event, the Aswat Women’s Ensemble brings to life classic songs from some of Arabic music’s most famous divas — Asmahan, Fairouz, Shadia, and Dalida.

Another highlight of this year’s lineup is a sneak peak at the latest play by Betty Shamieh, a prolific, San Francisco-raised dramatist of Palestinian roots with 15 plays to her name. Among other accolades, Shamieh holds the distinction of becoming, in 2004, the first Palestinian-American to premiere a play off-Broadway — Roar, a Palestinian domestic drama. Nora el Samahy, a vibrant local actress who frequently performs with Golden Thread and has appeared in plays by Shamieh in the past, performs sections from the playwright’s latest work, The Strangest.

Other artists featured at the celebration include Sharlyn Sawyer, founding artistic director of Ballet Afsaneh, a Bay Area performance company focusing on the dance, poetry, and music of the Silk Road; visual artist and curator Taraneh Hemami, who has curated exhibitions in venues like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Southern Exposure around the themes of displacement, preservation and representation; and Nabila Mango, co-founder of Zawaya, the Aswat Ensemble’s parent organization, which seeks to preserve and promote the Arab arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Experience Golden Thread Productions’ ‘What Do the Women Say?’  on Saturday, Mar. 12 at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. Information and tickets here


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