It’s almost here! And in case our previous posts have left any doubt, we can barely contain ourselves. We’re talking about the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival – that veritable riot of music, colour, and highly civilised madness that has taken over a small but important part of the Thames riverbank every spring for the past three years.
Alchemy is described on the Southbank Centre’s website as their “annual festival of music, dance, literature, design and debate from India, the UK and South Asia”. This hardly does it justice. What it is, is a great big party, where the Southbank Centre is transformed into a melting pot, meeting place, vibrant oasis – and lots of other wonderful, positive things – of all that’s great about South Asian arts and culture.
We’ve got some programme highlights lined up below. But first a quick word about that great Alchemy sideshow – watching the people go by. Last year, there were elderly English gentlemen in silk sherwanis, Indian ladies in sari-clad elegance, performers mingling with audiences in the Centre’s many festival spaces, along with South Asia enthusiasts young and old, and of all shapes and sizes. So if you do have tickets for a performance, try and go a couple of hours early to catch a free event, or just soak in the atmosphere.
Okay, so, the performances. This year’s line-up is top-notch – in terms of both depth and variety. There’s something for everyone – music, dance, literature, fashion, film, politics, arts and crafts, singalongs, dance-offs, childrens’ events – you name it. There’s also a street food market.
The proceedings kick off tomorrow – April 10th – with the wildly exotic Susheela Raman. This year she’s performing with the renowned Rizwan Muazzum Qawwals, nephews of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And if it’s anything like her concert last year with the Mian Miri Qawwals of Lahore, we know it’ll be rollicking good time (see our recent post on Susheela here).
We’re also set to see the Daksha Sheth Dance Company – a dance troupe from Kerala which fuses contemporary dance, stunning circus and aerial work with traditional Indian choreography. The Guardian has called them ‘phenomenal’.
Anoushka Shankar is performing her new album Traveller on April 13th, which traces the roots of Flamenco music back to Rajasthani gypsies, and has won her a Grammy nomination in the Best World Music Album category. She’ll be accompanied by Rajasthani dancers.
We’re also booked to see Talvin Singh celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema on April 14th. Talvin needs no introduction (he’s performed with the likes of Madonna, Massive attack, Björk and Siouxsie and the Banshees – ok yeah, we just gave you an introduction – information is power yes?). He’ll be performing entirely new scores to screenings of two Bollywood classics Raja Harishchandra and Satyajit Ray’s film Goddess. We’ve noticed a growing trend in these musical voice-overs (if you will) of late, and while our experiences so far have been somewhat underwhelming, it’s Talvin Singh! Plus, the films in questions were made by legendary directors, and Raja Harishchandra was one of the first full-length Indian films to be made (and it’s in Marathi). So we go!
And then there’s the sufi folk world of Pakistan’s Arieb Azhar, collaborator extraordinaire, performing this time with guitar maestro Martin Simpson (see our recent post on that performance here). That’s on April 17th, and only a tiny number of tickets are still available, so you’ll have to be quick.
Staying with Pakistan, acclaimed singer-songwriter duo Zeb and Haniya (of Paimane Bitte fame – check it out here), will be performing on April 21st. Singing in Urdu, Dari and Pashto, they weave the traditional melodies of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India into their particular blend of jazz and the blues. They will be joined by rabab player John Baily and Veronica Doubleday, who also sings in Dari.
On April 21st, there’s also a day-long programme of events focussing on the people, politics and poetry of Afghanistan. ‘Afghanistan: What you need to know’ features writers Ahmed Rashid talking about the complexities of politics in the region with the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, and Zarghuna Kargar talking about her book Dear Zari: Hidden Stories from the Women of Afghanistan. There’s also a free screening of the short film Skateistan, which shows the work of a Kabul based Afghan NGO, which uses skateboarding to engage with young Afghans. You can also join Skateistan founder Oliver Percovich for a skate in the skate park!
Fashion, design and textiles also feature in this year’s festival. Fabindia – one of India’s largest and most popular clothing and furnishings brands – will be displaying their work, made mostly from traditional techniques and hand-based processes. Turquoise Mountain – who employ Afghanistan’s master artisans to train a new generation in the traditional woodwork, calligraphy and gem-cutting will also be there. And this year there’s the Alchemy Fashion Show which will showcase the work of designers from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. That’s on April 12th and free to see!
There’s also something special for the kids. Moon and Genie is a theatre performance geared at making children imagine, laugh, and engage. With an enchanting live score, the play features Jamal, who has to cook a meal for his grandmother and relies on the help of a live-size street-dancing monkey and the genie of the saucepan that they together summon. The play also features a singing moon and an interactive bit in the end where the children in the audience are invited on to the stage to share some fruit gathered by Jamal.
We’re also excited to finally have a chance to see the Iconic Rickshaws which have made their way back to London having travelled from Nigeria to Nepal, Cuba to Cambodia and India to Italy. The fleet of rickshaws – designed by famous brands and designers, including Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas, and luxury Pakistani design house Bareeze – aims to highlight the work that is still needed to meet the MDGs. They’ll be at the festival from April 10th-21st.
For the foodies out there, there will be pop up restaurants and food markets. Roti Chai, London’s Indian Street Kitchen are already serving up chaat, buns and masala chais. The Alchemy Food Market will see Southbank Centre Square transformed into a bustling Indian market. Featuring the full diversity of foods from the subcontinent, from food by Michelin starred chefs to authentic, regional street food, the market will run from April 12th-21st.
By now, you’re obviously tripping over yourself to book tickets, so we won’t keep you any longer. For more event information and to book tickets, see the Southbank Centre’s website here. Good luck, god speed, and see you there!