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Alchemy 2017 at the Southbank Centre – What’s your brew?

Alchemy 2017 at the Southbank Centre – What’s your brew?

Multi-arts festival is largest outside the subcontinent…

IT’S QUITE possibly the most extravagant celebration of South Asian culture in the UK – with virtually something for everyone.

From food to the latest pop sounds coming out of South Asia, classical music and Bollywood vibes – the Alchemy Festival (May 19-29) has it.

On Friday (May 19), the Southbank Centre and the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) in London opens itself up to the sounds, music, visual art and cuisine of South Asia.

Bollywood tunes with Vishal and Shekhar

Among the highlights is a concert by Abida Parveen, one of the great Sufi singers of our time, and accompanying her and building up to her concert next Sunday (May 28) will be a puppet troupe from Lahore.

Bollywood sensations Vishal & Shekhar also come to the RFH on May 27 and their unique sounds cross language boundaries as they sing in Hindi, Telugu and Marathi.

There is the London premiere of the late Ravi Shankar opera, ‘Sukanya’ this Friday (May 19) and Indian pop sensations Parekh & Singh will present a free ‘Friday Tonic’ session, starting at 5pm in the Clore Ballroom (on the lower level).

The quirky pair who made a name for themselves from their slick and stylish Youtube (YT) videos have just signed with a record company – and there isn’t a whirring sitar or pounding tabla in earshot.

Bilal Khan

One of Pakistan’s most popular pop singers Bilal Khan

Among the other musical highlights is Pakistani soap opera star and Coke Studio icon Bilal Khan. An Ed Sheeran type of figure, his YT videos have clocked up millions of views. He plays two acoustic sets next Sunday (May 28), while there’s a real treat for anyone interested in shrine music as Shaukat Dholiya also descends on the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall. Catch it, it’s free on Sunday evening next week (May 28).

One of the comedy highlights will be Sajeela Kershi’s quartet ‘Mother Tongues from Father Lands‘. It is something of a return for Kershi as she expands on her hugely popular ‘Immigrant Diaries’ (first presented at Alchemy in 2014) and comes back with a slightly diffeernt line-up, which now comprises former Corrie star Shobna Gulati, ‘Citizen Khan’ wife Shobu Kapoor, and stand-up and political commentator Ayesha Hazarika. This takes place on the first Saturday (May 20) and is a ticketed event inside the concert hall at the RFH.

Comedian, actor and performer Mawaan Rizwan also returns with a new show – ‘Twerk in Progress’ and rising circuit star Tez Ilyas also makes a comeback with his popular ‘Made in Britain’. He also imparts a few tricks for young comedians (between 11-15) looking to develop material and a style. It takes places this Sunday (May 21).

Ilyas also hosts one of the hot topic debates ‘Diversity – Do We Need it?’ on Saturday (May 20).

There are a lot of free events including several art displays which can be viewed around the Royal Festival Hall from the first day to the last.

Comedian Tez Ilyas

From 10am on Friday (May 19), you will be able to see ‘Five Rivers’: ‘A Portrait of Pakistan’; ‘My Grandad’s Car’; ‘Khirkee’; ‘All India Backhod – When India Spoke to Pakistan’.

BBC Asian network broadcaster Ashanti Omkar brings her knowledge and insight into South Indian food to the festival with ‘From Kerala to Kayts through Food & Music’. Teaming up with musicians and chef Suhanya, the South Indian & Sri Lankan music and Indian film specialist BBC presenter will take you on a journey of discovery. It takes place at 7.30pm next Saturday (May 27) on the top level of the RFH.

For the bookish among you – the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) rolls in for a day of discussions, recitals and book presentations this Saturday (May 20).

Among the participants are Ameena Saiyid OBE, the founder of KLF and managing director of Oxford University Press, Pakistan; Mohammad Hanif; Moni Moshin; Kamila Shamsie; Aamer Hussain and Imtiaz Dharker and a host of others.

Ashanti Omkar

BBC broadcaster Ashanti Omkar presents a special South Indian food event with music and chat

In terms of theatre, the much acclaimed ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ comes to Alchemy for two nights (May 23-24) with Nyla Levy starring in the one-woman monologue and not orginal writer-performer Ambreen Razia, as shown in the publicity pictures; and poet and playwright Siddhartha Bose presents his new play, ‘No Dogs, No Indians’ – something of a reflection on the relationship between Britain and India and marking 70 years of push and pull. It hits the RFH on Saturday (May 21).

Performance artist Jyoti Dogra brings ‘Notes on Chai’ interweaving everyday conversations with abstract sounds to look anew at communication and understanding. It can be see May 25-26.

Some of the events will go on tour to other parts of the country to and mark a nationwide celebration of artistic creation and Asian life in Britain.

Nyla Levy

Nyla Levy ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’

Rachel Harris, creative producer, festival development at the Southbank Centre said: “This year’s festival sees a greater focus on celebrating work from the British diaspora across the UK and we are excited to once again tour and collaborate with partners Black Country Touring, Cast Doncaster and Oldham Coliseum Theatre to reach new audiences and bring Alchemy to these regions.”

Look out for our coverage of this year’s Alchemy by making sure you’re connected to us on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Ready to connect? Meet you at Alchemy? We will be there @SumanBhuchar @TashaMathur @DimplePau @Naomi2009

For full listings please see


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture