Festival celebrating South Asia makes return to Southbank

Alchemy, Southbank Centre’s festival celebrating the cultural connections between South Asia and the UK, returns for a seventh year (20-30 May 2016), 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 – as well as a stimulating array of workshops, book clubs, talks, debates and food. This year sees an increased focus on British Asian artists, fashion, Shakespeare with a South-Asian twist, and addresses contemporary issues from the LGBT Asian community to radicalisation.

Highlights of the 2016 programme include:

  • Famed Indian musical trio Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy make their Royal Festival Hall debut with a special one-off performance (28 May);
  • Tabla master Zakir Hussain makes a welcome return to Alchemy for a residency and UK premiere of his new tabla concertoPeshkar (commissioned by India’s National Centre of Performing Arts) with the BBC Concert Orchestra (20 May);
  • Pakistan’s foremost politically-active music group Laal joins 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 (27 May);
  • K J Yesudas, the multi-award winning, multi-lingual eminent Tamil singer, returns to Southbank Centre 20 years after his debut to present some of his most loved film music, alongside devotional classics (21 May);
  • The Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards, a brand new awards event recognising exceptional achievement and contribution to the arts & culture sector from Britain’s South Asian communities (22 May);
  • The Jaipur Literature Festival comes to Southbank Centre for a third year (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 features William Dalrymple, Gavin Francis, Patrick French,Namita Gokhale, Rakhshanda Jalil, Gideon Levy, Amrit Kaur Lohia, Jim Mallinson, Ferdinand Mount, Ibukun Olatunji, Jerry Pinto, A. 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? and a cabaret night of music, drag and alternative comedy featuring some of the UK’s best South Asian performers (20-21 May);
  • 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 (21 May);
  •  BBC Asian Network presents the first outside broadcast of weekly panel show Shaikh Debates hosted by award-winning young BBC Asian Network and BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Mim Shaikh (29 May), and gems from the BBC’s archive are displayed in Royal Festival Hall’s Archive Studio throughout Alchemy;
  • The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death is celebrated with a South Asian twist. The Sonnet Exchange brings together reinterpretations of Shakespeare sonnets by contemporary poets from the UK and India with workshops, discussion and live readings(29 May), alongside rare opportunities to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Nepalese (27-28 May) and A Winter’s Tale in Urdu (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 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 (14–30 May).
  • The Asian Writer editor, Farhana Shaikh to host this year’s book club discussion on Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways

Performances include: Tongue Tied & Twisted, a UK twist on traditional stories collected from Punjabi elders with live storytelling from Peter Chand and music from UK producer PKC the First (28 May); 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 (21 May); and 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 (19-30 May).

Music includes: 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); and a night of live and electronic music from India’s alternative music scene, curated by Delhi-based culture magazine Wild City (29 May).

Literature events 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 is 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 Pledgewhere local schools come together to perform a work choreographed by multi-award winning Akram Khan with specially composed music by Nitin Sawhney.

Rachel Harris, Creative Producer, Festival Development, Southbank Centre, said, “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. Residencies from emerging talent sit alongside some of the world’s most legendary artists. Alchemy is also an important platform to debate some of the most pressing issues of our day, and we look forward to revealing more rarely-seen and innovative work coming to the festival in the coming months.”