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MENAFN - Jordan Times - 26/09/2012

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Art, music and literature are all part of the scene at Beit Baladna in Jabal Luweibdeh (Photo by Sanabel Abdelrahman)
(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Down a short flight of stairs in one of the narrow alleyways of Jabal Luweibdeh, amid the neighbourhood's art galleries and theatres, stands a small caf called Beit Baladna.

Kamal Khalil, who co-founded the musical group Baladna in 1977, started Beit Baladna two years ago as a place for his band to perform after many theatres, universities and other venues stopped granting them permission to hold concerts.

As its name implies, Beit Baladna was originally envisioned as a home for Baladna, Khalil said, but since its founding the caf has become a venue for a variety of performances and exhibitions of music, plays, poetry and visual art, as well as political debates.

In the longstanding tradition of coffeehouses as meeting places for the intellectual and creative - a phenomenon prevalent in the histories of both the Muslim world and the West - Beit Baladna is also what Khalil's daughter Bisan called "a hub of artists".

"People feel a rare freedom here," said Bisan, who is also an actress and a member of Baladna. "When we first opened the caf, customers used to go to the small kitchen and prepare their own coffee."

This sense of freedom, she said, attracts many customers to Beit Baladna to discuss political, social and cultural issues with like-minded people in an open atmosphere.

"They could be artists, intellectuals, thinkers or people receptive to their ideas."

Whether or not people agree with the ideas put on the table, Bisan added, the conversations and debates are always civil and sophisticated.

For artists and writers, the caf is also a place where they can display and promote their work.

Along the walls of Beit Baladna, visitors can peruse handmade embroidery, paintings, sculptures and books, and buy them at "minimal" prices, Bisan added, making it a popular destination for art collectors.

Thaer Ashqar, a regular customer, said the caf provided an uncommon opportunity for the younger and older generations to meet and discuss art, culture, politics and society.

Asked whether intellectual salons like Beit Baladna could lead to some kind of cultural awakening in Jordan, 46-year-old Tareq Khatib was pessimistic, saying that while such a change could have been possible 25 years ago, most young people now have "shallower" interests.

Meanwhile, at the adjoining table, a group of three young men in their twenties were busy placing an order for several books by the 20th-century Indian mystic and philosopher Osho.

Ashqar said juxtapositions like these were what made Beit Baladna so compelling.

The people he meets there do not have "common" points of view, he said, but rather unique ideas and opinions.

For him, the opportunity to interact with such characters is precisely what makes Beit Baladna so different from the average Amman coffee shop.


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