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Jordanian Youth Revitalize Culture in Salt with The Corridor Jo

12 July, 2017
BY Victoria Silva Sánchez

Salt is a city located to the west of Amman, on the way to the Jordan Valley. Well known for its famous yellow houses, it has an important place in Jordan’s history and was the ancient capital of this province during the Ottoman Empire’s ruling of the region. 

However, since the 1980s, the city has witnessed part of its cultural life dissipate. The loss of Salt's connection with its culture found its symbol in the closure of the city's cinema house, which first opened its doors in the early 1950s. Against this backdrop, around five or six years ago a group of local youth mobilised to bring cultural life back to their city. Under the name of As-Salt Theatre and Cinema, they started with a series of activities, including film screenings, plays, performances and musical concerts. Then, they realized that they should institutionalize their concept. This is how Rawaq Al-Ordun for Culture and Arts (“The Corridor Jo” in English) was born.

Bilal Al Hiary, a Jordanian social activist, is the founder of the initiative, which is currently based in Salt but hopes to expand its work to cover all of Jordan.

“One of the first and biggest projects that the association was focusing on was Al-Balqa Orchestra and Choir, on which we started to work in 2015,” said Mourad Khawaja, the head of programs at The Corridor Jo.

Starting with 15 members and funding from the King Abdallah II Fund for Development, the project soon got bigger. “We extended the choir to have also a string orchestra, with violins and cellos, and an oriental branch with instruments such as the oud,” explained Khawaja. By the end of 2016, Al-Balqa Orchestra and Choir was ready for its first concert, which took place in Salt in October of that year. “This was the first musical event like that for a while to take place in Salt,” specified Khawaja.

As of 2017, and with the support and funding of the Abd Al Hameed Shoman Foundation and Wings of Hope Society, they have managed to expand the orchestra, incorporating a woodwind and brass instrument branch. The initiative has also expanded its focus, and is now working in other governorates, such as Karak. 

In Karak, they have joined forces with the Zika initiative and have established the People’s Orchestra of Jordan. “Currently we have 89 members in Salt for both the orchestra and the choir, and more than 40 members in Karak, [with musicians] aged between 10 and 36,” explained the head of programs.

“We are open for everybody. If you are a Jordanian, Palestinian or Syrian, you can come and join,” Khawaja continued, while specifying that most of the members come from the city itself, but they also have participants from Ajloun, Irbid and Amman.

But The Corridor Jo is not only about music. Their aim is to bring back a wide and all-encompassing cultural scene to Jordan’s cities. “Our aim is, by the end of 2019, to become a fully independent organization, both financially and organizationally,” affirmed Khawaja. This is why they have launched some profit-making projects that would allow them to obtain financial independence.

“We have an old houses compound with six buildings and two shops in the old part of the city. Each of the buildings are separated for the different projects we are working on,” explained Khawaja.

The Corridor Jo also recently opened a café that is connected to a library. “You can grab your coffee from downstairs and go up and read a book or socialize with your friends. It is a nice atmosphere.”

Other plans are even more ambitious. “We are working on the preparations for opening an art residency place, where artists and musicians would be able to come to Salt and work here on projects with Jordanian musicians and artists,” explained Khawaja. “We are also trying to start a touristic project in Salt and  Al-Balqa governorate more broadly.”

But the core work of the whole program remains the education of Jordan’s citizens. “We are trying to incorporate citizenship [and social] education throughout the whole program, either the musical component, the play and theatre component or the drawing and painting one,” stated Khawaja.

The biggest impact the initiative has been able to create is a reconciliation between people and their city, allowing for Jordanians to become closer with their environment. “We have renovated the traditional houses that are over 150 years old and we are trying to open an outdoor theatre,” explained Khawaja. “The most important effect is that the people of the neighborhood have started to feel the property of the place. They started to take care of the abandoned houses, and keep the neighbourhood clean.”  

The Corridor Jo, by enhancing cultural life and providing a place for people to share their experiences and talent, is also having a positive impact on social life, leading to the hope that Salt can reclaim its stature as an important touristic and cultural place in Jordan.

Photos courtesy of The Corridor Jo and Victoria Silva Sánchez

Tags Jordan SALT culture music organization The Corridor Jo