The Alchemy Festival: What not to miss
19 – 29 May 2017

Alchemy Festival 2017

It’s almost that time again – when a certain stretch of London’s Southbank erupts with ragas, tablas, chais, and a UK weather-defying saree or two. The Alchemy Festival – which for the past seven years has brought the best and most creative art and culture from across South Asia to London – will this year run from the 19th to 29th May. 

The ongoing refurbishment of the Queen Elizabeth Hall means that two of the Southbank Centre’s main sound stages aren’t available this year. It’s a more streamlined programme, with less music than usual, but plenty of theatre and art. Plus Funoon are hosting our very own music performance too!

The full programme is here, and here’s the lowdown on what else not to miss.

Dance Alchemy - Alchemy Festival 2017

There are few things more beautiful, exhilarating and joyous to do and behold than Indian dance, especially as far as this writer is concerned, if there’s some Bollywood concerned. Sign up for a 6-week Dance into Alchemy course in kathak, odissi and Bollywood dance, or a two week kathak course.

Wednesday 17 –  Monday 22 May 2017, 7pm. Violet Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £24 (+ £1.75 booking fee). Book here.

Biryani - Alchemy Festival 2017

If you don’t hold an ostentatiously one-sided but nonetheless keenly felt view about the best (and/ or worst) kind of biryani, then you are a most suspicious individual. Here’s hoping the short film Biryani! can make sense of it all, and make peace prevail.

Showing throughout the Festival at the Riverside Terrace Cafe. Level 2, Royal Festival Hall, FREE. More information is here.

All India Bakchod - Alchemy Festival 2017

All India Bakchod have done a video for Alchemy, on India to Pakistan no less! AIB are a brilliant satirical comedy group from India, and if you haven’t seen their video with Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt, please drop everything.

Showing throughout the Festival at the Riverside Terrace Cafe. Level 2, Royal Festival Hall, FREE. More information is here.

Sukanya - Alchemy Festival 2017

The Alchemy Festival hosts the London premiere of a most special opera – Ravi Shankar’s Sukanya, left unfinished at the time of his death, and completed by his daughter Anoushka Shankar and long-time collaborator David Murphy. We’ve written about it in more detail here.

Friday 19 May 2017, 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall. £15 – £50 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

KLF - Alchemy Festival 2017

The (sold out) Karachi Literature Festival will be a day of talks, perspectives and ideas from Pakistan. If you follow us on social media we flagged this when tickets were still available. They’ve been long gone since unfortunately, and we have only the returns queue to suggest 🙁

Saturday 20 May 2017, 10am onwards. Various venues at the Southbank Centre. £20. More information is here.

KLF kids - Alchemy Festival 2017

There is a parallel KLF for Kids, for which tickets are still available. This features the immersive play Jungly Jadoogar, with its assorted characters of Dadi 007, Princess Gulfaam, and Fifi the fire-breathing dragon. We’ve written more about it here.

Saturday 20 May 2017, 11.45am. Blue Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £10 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Khumariyaan Alchemy Festival

Our own presentation at the Festival, Peshawari folk rock band Khumariyaan will be performing a FREE concert. They have a huge following in Pakistan, and we’ve been hearing from fans who are planning to fly in from Paris, Amsterdam and Oslo for it. Find out more about Khumariyaan and their beautiful music in our post here.

Saturday 20 May 2017, 7.15pm, Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. FREE. More information is here.

Kerb - Alchemy Festival 2017Lunch/ tea/ drinks/ snacks at KERB – the Alchemy Festival food market – and its 30 or so Pakistani, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Indian food stalls goes without saying. I ate manto at the Afghan stall pretty much ten days running last year. Ditto for kothu kothu from the Sri Lankan stall the year before that – which we also wrote about here. So recommend those!

Thursday 18 – Monday 29 May 2017. Southbank Centre Square – Hayward Side. More information is here.

Desi Girl Creatives - Alchemy Festival 2017

Five women spoken word poets tell their stories in What’ll People Say: Desi Girl Creatives. Expect to find and see yourself too in their powerful, lyrical words. Features the brilliant Jaspreet Kaur, also known as Behind the Netra.

Sunday 21 May 2017, 6pm. Weston Roof Pavilion, Level 6, Green side, Royal Festival Hall. £10 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

No Dogs No Indians - Alchemy Festival 2017

The real-life stories beneath the global politics of British colonialism in India are remarkably under-told. No Dogs No Indians, a play by poet and playwright Siddhartha Bose weaves together accounts true and fictional to tell the tale of the Indian resistance. The play is centred on the little-known story of Pritilata Waddedar, who in 1932 led an attack on the Pahartali European Club, an all-whites club in Chittagong which carried the sign board Dogs and Indians not allowed.

Sunday 21 May 2017, 2pm & 5.30pm. Blue Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £12 (+ £1.75 booking fee) More information is here.

Diary of a Hounslow Girl - Alchemy Festival 2017

“I read somewhere that your memory is there to tie your past up with your present and provide a framework for your future, and it’s our memories that make us who we are, and I just don’t think I’ve got enough of the ones I want, to make me the person I wanna be”. Diary of a Hounslow Girl is a brilliant, piercing piece of writing presenting the struggles of the British Asian community’s favourite stereotype in a one-woman show.

Tuesday 23 & Wednesday 24 May 2017, 7.15pm. Blue Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £15 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Amnesty Art and Activism - Alchemy Festival 2017

Our very own Nadia, who’s also the Pakistan Campaigner at Amnesty International, has been instrumental in bringing together this panel, presented by AI, on the role of Art and Activism in South Asia. Chaired by writer and human rights activist Salil Tripathi, the discussion will bring together an artist from Sri Lanka, a documentary filmmaker and musician from Pakistan, a poet from Nepal, and a Bangladeshi musician – all of whom use the arts as a means of protest. There will be live music to end.

Wednesday 24 May 2017, 8.15pm. Level 5 Function Room, Green side, Royal Festival Hall. £10 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Paradiso - Alchemy Festival 2017

Fusing the cosmology of Hindu mythology with Dante’s menacing but beautifully poetic spiritual journey, Paradiso looks dynamic, intelligent and thought provoking. It’s Alchemy in essence – fusing and melding geographically separate philosophies into choreographically unified movements of thoughts.

Wednesday 24 May 2017, 7pm. Royal Festival Hall Roof. £15 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Labels - Alchemy Festival 2017

It’s had rave reviews, and either won or been shortlisted for multiple awards. Labels, a theatre, poetry and comedy performance by Joe Sellman-Leava, is the playwright’s own story of growing up in Devon as part of an immigrant family, and his experiences of racism, identity and home in multicultural Britain. Here’s a teaser below.

Saturday 27 May 2017, 6pm & 8pm (BSL Interpreted Performance). Blue Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £15 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Vishal and Shekhar - Alchemy Festival 2017

The Alchemy Festival wouldn’t be complete without a Bollywood music extravaganza by one or other of the industry’s leadlng lights. This year its music directors and singers Vishal and Shekhar. You’ll know them from the superb likes of Bang Bang!, Vele, Bahara, and the lovely Ishq Bulaava from the 2014 Hasee To Phasee.

Saturday 27 May 2017, 7.15pm. Royal Festival Hall. £10 – £125 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Avaes Nuqta - Alchemy Festival 2017

Avaes Mohammad is a spoken word poet whose performance Reflections of a Dot aims to celebrate the timelessness of South Asia’s Sufi poetry. We talked to Avaes in the run-up to the premiere of the show at the Rich Mix earlier this year, and wrote a longer piece about our chat here. The performance itself was profound, tender, magical. Don’t miss it.

Sunday 28 May 2017, 5pm. Central Bar Foyer, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. FREE. More information is here.

Bilal Khan - Alchemy Festival 2017

Bilal Khan was one of the star attractions at our inaugural Funoon Salon last year. A brilliant live singer and guitarist, we and many, many swooning guests from our event can vouch for his truly dulcet tones. He’s doing two sets at Alchemy – a warm up for the Abida Parveen performance (see below), and then a post-show party. Don’t miss his take on modern Pakistani music, including his smash hit Bachana.

Sunday 28 May 2017, 6pm & 9pm. The Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. FREE. More information is here and here.

Shaukat Dholiya - Alchemy Festival 2017

The dhol is inextricably linked to spiritual life in South Asia. This is music with an aesthetic as well as functional purpose – to elevate the sense and consciousness of seekers, from Muharram processions to Sufi shrines. I’m recently back from a memorable visit to Sehwan Sharif and the dargah of the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and can testify to the awe-inspiring capacity of the dhol dhamaal. The Clore Ballroom is no Sufi dargah, but come and hear Shaukat Dholiya, the drummer at the Darbar of Shah Baba Jamal in Lahore, to see how far the music transcends.

Sunday 28 May 2017, 6.30pm, The Clore Ballroom, Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. FREE. More information is here.

Abida Parveen - Alchemy Festival 2017

The legend Abida Parveen returns to the UK with her unique brand of Sufi soul. Tickets are eye-wateringly expensive so if you can afford it, see our post here for why it’ll probably be a good night.

28 May 2017, 7.30pm, £10 – £120. Royal Festival Hall. More information is here.

Akademi choreography - Alchemy Festival 2017

An invitation to view and contribute your viewpoints on new and upcoming dance works by five choreographers in Akademi Choreography Commissions. It’s between the raw, uncompromising process of the rehearsal room and commercial success, that we often get to see real gems of performance. It’s like eating a fruit fresh from the tree, uncommodified and packaged. True to itself and open to response and reaction.

Monday 29 May 2017, 7pm. Blue Room, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. £8 (+ £1.75 booking fee). More information is here.

Tez Ilyas - Alchemy Festival 2017

Premiering at the Soho Theatre in March this year, comedian Tez Ilyas’ latest show Made in Britain had great reviews (see the Guardian’s take on it here). Focussing on that elusive concept of ‘Britishness’, and the way in which even a Blackburn-born Muslim of Pakistani heritage can be stickler for queuing, this gentle but ‘ticklish’ commentary about the state we’re in is our final top pick.

Monday 29 May 2017, 7pm. Level 5 Function Room, Green side, Royal Festival Hall. £15. More information is here.  


By Seema Khan with contributions from Sakeena Adamjee.


Posted on 10 May 2017

Photos courtesy of the Southbank Centre

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