EXCLUSIVE: Legends Due In London

Ustad Zakir Hussain
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Asian singing legend KJ Yesudas, Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain among top artistes will perform at Southbank as part of Alchemy 2016….writes Rajitha Saleem

Ustad Zakir Hussain
Ustad Zakir Hussain

Alchemy, Southbank Centre’s festival celebrating the cultural links between South Asia and the UK, returns for its seventh year. The festival would be conducted between 20th and 30th May 2016.  Alchemy is famous for exploring the region’s art, artists, politics and society as a whole.

Over the last six years, Alchemy has grown to become the largest festival of South Asian culture outside the subcontinent and presents exciting collaborations and new work from both emerging and legendary artists, across dance, music, theatre, visual art, comedy and literature. The festival with its stimulating array of workshops, book clubs, talks, debates and food have grown immensely popular within UK.

Highlights of this year’s programme include:

  • KJ Yesudas
    KJ Yesudas

    K J Yesudas, the multi-award winning, multi-lingual eminent Malayalam singer, returns to Southbank Centre 20 years after his debut to present some of his most loved film music, alongside devotional classics on 21 May.

  • Tabla master Zakir Hussain makes a welcome return to Alchemy for a residency and UK premiere of his new tabla concert Peshkar (commissioned by India’s National Centre of Performing Arts) with the BBC Concert Orchestra on 20th May.
  • The Indian musical trio Shankar-Eshaan-Loymake their Royal Festival Hall debut with a special one-off performance on 28 May.
  • Pakistan’s foremost politically-active music group Laaljoins forces for the first time with homegrown music collective Asian Dub Foundation, bringing together their fiery mix of music and social activism for a poignant peace concert on 27 May.
  • The Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards, a brand new awards event recognising exceptional achievement and contribution to the arts and culture sector from Britain’s South Asian communities will be held on 22 May.
  • Shankar Eshaan Loy
    Shankar Eshaan Loy

    The famous Jaipur Literature Festival comes to Southbank Centre for a third year on 21 May. Taking over the entire Royal Festival Hall for a day, the programme showcases South Asia’s multilingual literary heritage, oral and performing arts, books and ideas, dialogue and debate, Bollywood and politics. The line-up would feature William Dalrymple, Gavin Francis, Patrick French, Namita Gokhale, Rakhshanda Jalil, Gideon Levy, Amrit Kaur Lohia, Jim Mallinson, Ferdinand Mount,Ibukun Olatunji, Jerry Pinto, Revathi, Navtej Sarna, and K Satchidanandan;

  • Actor, comedian and YouTube sensation Mawaan Rizwan is in residence during Alchemy including a screening of his BBC3 documentary How Gay is Pakistan? On 20th May.  There will also be a night of cabaret music, drag and alternative comedy featuring some of the UK’s best South Asian performers on 20th and 21st
  • Following a smash hit run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where he was chosen by The Guardian as one of the Funniest Newcomers of 2015, Tez Ilias(BBC One, Channel 4 & E4) presents his acclaimed comedy show TEZ Talks – about life as a British Muslim in fractious times on 21st
  • Shapla Salique
    Shapla Salique

    BBC Asian Network presents the first outside broadcast of weekly panel show Shaikh Debateshosted by award-winning young BBC Asian Network and BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Mim Shaikh on 29th May.

  • The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death is celebrated with a South Asian twist. The Sonnet Exchangebrings together reinterpretations of Shakespeare sonnets by contemporary poets from the UK and India with workshops, discussion and live readings on 29th There would also be some rare opportunities to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet in
  • Nepalese on 27th and 28th May and A Winter’s Tale in Urdu on 29 May.
  • Artist Nikhil Chopra unveils a major new commission, The Black Pearl: The City from the River.Inhabiting the persona of a fictional character ‘The Black Pearl’, Chopra will be in residence throughout Alchemy and will create a large scale painting on the windows of the Royal Festival Hall;
  • Street food pioneers KERB bring their signature blend of flavour and great atmosphere to the food market at Alchemy for a second year. Visitors can eat Pakistani, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine and soak up the festival in one of the curated beer and cocktail bars from 14th to 30th May.

Some of the other significant performances include:

  • Tongue Tied & Twisted, a UK twist on traditional stories collected from Punjabi elders with live storytelling from Peter Chandand music from UK producer PKCtheFirst on 28th
  • Strictly Balti, the humorous autobiographical one-man show from actor Saikat Ahamed(East is East, Trollied) about growing up as a second generation Asian in the UK will be held on 21st  May
  • Do Not Yet Fold Your Wings, a multi-media installation exploring the ageing artist in which swirls of salt on the ground – the traces of past dances – are combined with a haunting soundtrack and video projections will be featured in South Bank Centre from 19th to 30th

Some of the Music related performances include:

  • Mumbai-based duo Filter Coffee (20 May);
  • British Bangladeshi singer-songwriter Shapla Silique (21 May);
  • Sunday evening sessions in collaboration with BBC Asian Network (22 & 29 May);
  • We Are 2nd Generation!,a late-night gig championing twenty years of the best of British-Asian club culture from iconic club music promoters Shaanti (28 May)
  • A night of live and electronic music from India’s alternative music scene, curated by Delhi-based culture magazine Wild City (29 May).

Alchemy also will feature literature events which include workshops from crime writing to how to write for children, a story hack exploring the art of storytelling in the digital age and book clubs for adults and Young Adults alike, featuring The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (24 May) and Malala Yousafzai’s memoir I am Malala (25 May).

The Asian influence on the West Midlands would be celebrated with Midlands Mantra, an afternoon of music, dance, poetry and spoken word featuring Chitraleka Dance Company and beatboxer Shan Bansil (28 May) and a new exhibition Desi Pubs runs throughout Alchemy, telling the story of how Asian landlords have salvaged the struggling pub trade by reinventing them for new communities.

Further free events include panel debates, talks, workshops, social dances, family events to performances including a Big Dance Pledge, where local schools come together to perform a work choreographed by multi-award winning Akram Khan with specially composed music by Nitin Sawhney.
It gives me great pleasure to announce such an exciting line-up for our seventh Alchemy, which grows in depth and diversity each year. More than ever before, this year’s festival sees a particular focus on incubating new work and showcasing the British Asian impact on culture and society,” said Rachel Harris, Creative Producer, Festival Development, Southbank Centre..