After eight years of attending the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival, and promoting its riot of music, theatre, food, and arts and colour from South Asia, we’re delighted to be returning to this year’s festival in May. But this time, to present an event of our own.
On the evening of May 20th, the Royal Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom will come alive with the sounds of Peshawar. We’re bringing over Khumariyaan – “the intoxicators” – a brilliant band from Peshawar, Pakistan, whose instrumental music is built around the fusion of the rubab and the guitar, and celebrates the spirit and soul of Pashtun music.
Their songs Bela and Tamasha embody their signature sound – music, at once vibrant and romantic, which builds, in pace and ornamentation, to electrifying, danceable heights.
It’s music that aims to celebrate, revive and resist.
Traditional Pashtun music, for example, is considered by too ‘low brow’ by some middle class families. Farhan Bogra, the band’s rubab player remembers how a friend’s father made his son return a rubab that Farhan had given him as a birthday present, suggesting he take up the guitar instead. That incident marked the beginning of Farhan’s mission to revive the forgotten beauty and relevance of traditional Pashtun music and instruments.
By celebrating the beautiful affinity between the guitar and rubab, Khumariyaan also hope to nurture a sense of Pashtun culture that is less insular and more receptive to, and enriched by, influences from other regions in Pakistan, and globally. Their recent cover of the Game of Thrones theme tune – a stunning departure from their focus on original music – is a lovely effort in that direction.
There are further, serious, heartbreaking, life-and-death issues. Peshawar and Pakistan’s north-west region is an area riven by violence, its people, society and culture continually devastated by suicide attacks by militant groups, military actions against those groups, and ever-encroaching religious conservatism.
During such times, says guitarist Sparlay Rawail, music is essential. The band have often found themselves playing a concert the day after yet another militant attack. “It’s difficult, but people come out in droves after an attack, especially in Peshawar. It’s a way of reclaiming their city I guess, and of course we have to play our part. Merely playing music – and it doesn’t have to be protest music – and just existing with it, is a form of resistance here.”
And play they do – touring all over Pakistan to crowds of loyal fans. Their song Tamasha was voted 2015 Song of the Year by The Express Tribune – one of Pakistan’s leading national newspapers. Ahmer Naqvi of Patari, Pakistan’s leading music portal has called their music: “An articulation of grief and a revolt against repression; both a call to arms, and a final prayer”.
In 2015, Khumariyaan went international – performing at the South by Southwest Festival in the US. In a powerful example of how music can forge connections between the global and the local, a percentage of their festival fee, as with all their concert fees, went to local traditional Pashtun musicians in Pakistan. Sparlay explains: “They can run rings round us as far as music is concerned. We have more opportunities than them simply because we speak English. Music should transcend class and geography, and so it’s our responsibility to do what we can”.
When: Saturday 20th May 2017, 7.15pm
Where: Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Tickets: FREE – no need to book. But if you’re on Facebook, you can sign up here.
More info: Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival
By Nadia Rahman
Posted on 2 April 2017
Photos courtesy of Khumariyaan.
Poster designed by Tania Naima Khan.