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Little Amal in Britain: giant puppet of Syrian girl reaches her journey’s end

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Little Amal

Little Amal in Britain: giant puppet of Syrian girl reaches her journey’s end

The transcontinental odyssey of Little Amal will begin its final stage this week when the giant puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl reaches the shores of the UK after walking thousands of miles across Europe.

Bells will chime and choirs will sing as Little Amal appears on the beach on Tuesday in Folkestone, Kent, after making the same cross-Channel journey that has been taken so far this year by more than 17,000 people seeking refuge from conflict, hunger and persecution.

On the last leg of her journey, Little Amal will visit Canterbury, London, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and Barnsley before the extraordinary and complex 14-week travelling street theatre ends in Manchester on 3 November.

“It’s been challenging, it’s been difficult at times, but it’s also been amazing and incredible,” said David Lan, one of the producers of The Walk, who has been “on this journey right from the beginning three years ago, and on every step of the way” since Little Amal left Gaziantep near the Turkish-Syrian border at the end of July.

The idea of Little Amal’s journey in search of her missing mother evolved from The Jungle, a highly acclaimed play about young refugees in a camp near Calais that opened at the Young Vic in London in 2017. The play’s producers, the Good Chance theatre company plus Lan, Stephen Daldry and Tracey Seaward, came up with the idea of taking its message of displacement, loss, dignity and hope to villages, towns and cities across Europe.

Little Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic, was created by Handspring, the company that made the equine puppets in War Horse. She stands 3.5 metres (11ft 5in) tall and is operated by a team of eight puppeteers working shifts to control her legs, arms and facial features. “They create the emotional life of the puppet,” said Lan.

Since leaving Gaziantep, Little Amal and her entourage of about 25 people have navigated Covid border requirements to cross from Turkey to Greece and then through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to the UK.

Along the way, they have taken part in concerts, parties and workshops. In Rome, Little Amal was blessed by Pope Francis. In many places, thousands of local people have walked with her through their town or village.

But the most powerful connections had been with refugees, said Lan. “People who are marginalised, shoved to the side, see a representative of themselves or their children centre-stage and being celebrated. That’s very moving.”

Only in one place has the welcome been less than warm. In Kalambaka, a village in northern Greece, which is home to ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries built into rocks, the village council decided not to receive a “Muslim doll from Syria”, as the mayor described Amal. “It’s distressing, but it’s how the world is,” said Lan.

In London, Little Amal will celebrate her 10th birthday on Sunday 24 October at a party at the V&A. Children from all over the capital have been invited to join in musical performances and workshops. Yotam Ottolenghi is coordinating a team of chefs to create a giant birthday cake consisting of several hundred cupcakes in a rainbow of colours and flavours.

Ottolenghi said: “Telling the stories of refugees in general and that particular journey that Amal is taking is such a positive thing in a very bleak situation. She’s going to meet lots of London kids who are going to celebrate her birthday and get a glimpse into her journey. And what better way to do it than with a patchwork of little cakes that have been baked by different chefs?”

Lan, who described Little Amal’s journey as a theatrical show on an 8,000km stage, said there had been no major technical problems so far, but there had been many logistical challenges in travelling, rehearsing and performing across eight countries.

“It’s a travelling circus, a big touring show. So many people have wanted to be part of it. There has been tremendous goodwill directed towards us.

“We’re not politicians, we’re saying to people: remember refugees are people. We hope that the memory of this odd, beautiful child walking through a village or city or over the mountains helps change the weather a little bit.”

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Grammys add new categories, including songwriter of the year

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Grammys add new categories, including songwriter of the year

The Grammys are adding a special song for social change award and five new categories including songwriter of the year, giving the Recording Academy an avenue to honor music’s best composer.

The academy announced Thursday that the new non-classical songwriter category will recognize one individual who was the “most prolific” non-performing and non-producing songwriter for a body of new work during an eligibility year. The category is taking a different approach than song of the year, which awards the songwriter or songwriters who wrote the lyrics or melodies to one song.

“This new category is truly for an expert person at the songwriting craft,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr told The Associated Press. Songwriters must have written a minimum of five songs in which they are credited “solely” as a songwriter or co-writer.

“Somebody who writes their own music and records it would not be eligible,” he said. “They would have to be doing songs for others. We want to highlight the craft of writing songs professionally for artists.”

“Songwriters are at the heart of our business and industry,” he said. “Nothing happens without songwriters. For us, this was a no brainer. It’s in alignment with all the changes. We thought, ‘How can we do more? Showcase more people and be more inclusive to different genres?’”

The new category is another huge step for songwriters. Last year, a rule update allowed that any songwriter, producer, engineer or featured artist on an album nominated for album of the year could ultimately earn a nomination.

The four other categories include best spoken word poetry album, alternative music performance, Americana music performance and score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media.

The academy created a special merit award that determines best song for social change. The award will be based on lyrical content that addresses a timely social issue and promotes “understanding, peacebuilding and empathy.”

“It’s always the right time to recognize music that’s changing the world,” he said. “I think it deserves a special recognition. These songs are important and impactful. We want to make sure we’re honoring and celebrating that artform. This is a great way to do that.”

Mason said it was yearlong process of accepting proposals to make changes, additions and updates from music creators and professionals that make up the membership body.

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee kicks off with pomp

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee kicks off with pomp

Four days of celebrations honoring Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne got underway Thursday with a display of British military traditions stretching from the days of horse and cannon to the jet age.

Formal celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee began with Trooping the Color, an annual military review that has marked the sovereign’s official birthday since 1760. The queen is expected to join the working members of her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the event, when 70 aircraft are set to roar overhead.

The jubilee is being commemorated with a four-day holiday weekend. The celebration of Elizabeth’s reign includes a service of thanksgiving Friday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a concert at Buckingham Palace on Saturday and a pageant staged by thousands of performers drawn from schools and community groups around the country on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the weekend, neighborhood organizations and individuals are expected to hold thousands of street parties around the country, repeating a tradition that began with the queen’s coronation in 1953.

The 96-year-old queen is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the first to reach the milestone of seven decades on the throne. The jubilee is giving many people — even those often indifferent to the monarchy — a chance to reflect on the state of the nation and the huge changes that have taken place during her reign.

Former Prime Minister John Major — one of the 14 prime ministers of the queen’s reign — said the monarch’s stoic presence had helped steer the country over the decades,

“The queen has represented our better selves for over 70 years,” he told the BBC.

In a written jubilee message, the queen thanked people in Britain and across the Commonwealth involved in organizing the celebrations. For many, the occasion is the first opportunity for a big bash since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago.

“I know that many happy memories will be created at these festive occasions,” Elizabeth said.

“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me, and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm,” she said.

Congratulations arrived from world leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron called Elizabeth “the golden thread that binds our two countries” and one of “very few constants” on the international stage.

“You are our friend, such a close ally, our example of service to others,” Macron told the queen in an English-language video message.

The name of the long weekend’s first event, Trooping the Color, refers to a regimental flag, or “color,” that is trooped through the ranks. Britain’s annual tradition for the queen’s birthday is a ceremonial reenactment of the way battle flags were once shown to soldiers to make sure they would recognize a crucial rallying point if they became disoriented in combat.

The troops taking part come from the army’s Household Division, composed of the seven regiments that perform ceremonial duties for the queen. Their members are fully trained soldiers and often deployed overseas when not on ceremonial duty.

Each year a different unit has the honor of trooping its color. The 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards will have the spotlight during the Platinum Jubilee.

Thousands of people, some of whom camped overnight, lined the parade route — many of them sporting Union Jack flags, party hats or plastic tiaras.

Carly Martin, who caught a late-night bus from south London with her daughter, said she had come “to make memories.”

“You’re never going to see this again in your lifetime,” she said. “At least not in mine, maybe not in my daughter’s. … Seventy years — it is all I have ever known.”

Several protesters were arrested after getting past barriers and onto the parade route. The group Animal Rebellion claimed responsibility, saying the protesters were “demanding that royal land is reclaimed.”

Cheers and the clop of hooves rang out as horse-drawn carriages carried members of the royal family, including Prince William’s wife, Kate, and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, a ceremonial parade ground about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

The queen is expected to appear twice on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, but Prince Charles is playing play a key role during the event. Mounted on horseback, he will take the salute from ranks of scarlet-clad Guards on his mother’s behalf, along with his sister, Princess Anne, and his son Prince William.

Elizabeth has had trouble getting around of late, and her courtiers have been careful to keep make things as simple for her as possible.

Senior royals including Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, traveled in carriages to watch the ceremony from a building overlooking the parade ground.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will join other royals to watch the spectacle. Harry and Meghan have traveled from their home in California to take part in the celebrations.

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Buhari congratulates Bishop Okpaleke on appointment as Pope’s Cardinal

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Buhari congratulates Bishop Okpaleke on appointment as Pope’s Cardinal

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Wednesday expressed happiness over the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke of Ekwulobia Diocese, Anambra State, as a Cardinal in the Catholic Church by Pope Francis.

In a statement signed late Wednesday by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari commended the Pope for finding a capable Nigerian in the person of Bishop Okpaleke to be one of the two nominees from the African continent.

The statement is titled ‘President Buhari welcomes appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as 4th cardinal from Nigeria.’

According to Shehu, President Buhari also “congratulated the Nigerian Christian Community on this choice, describing the Cardinal-designate as ably qualified, and that having him in that position will benefit the country.”

The statement partly read, “The President also commended the commitment of the Catholic Church to the unity, peace, and progress of the Nigerian state. He also highlighted the effort of the Church in combating the COVID-19 pandemic as well as its support and commitment in favour of the poor and most vulnerable members of the society.”

Bishop Okpaleke becomes the fourth Cardinal from Nigeria. Others before him are Francis Arinze, Anthony Okogie and John Onaiyekan. He is among the 21 new Cardinals Pope Francis announced on May 29.

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