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Brighton Festival – Multi-arts celebration has many highlights, as guest director Nabihah Iqbal takes to the stage for her own ‘Suroor’…

Brighton Festival – Multi-arts celebration has many highlights, as guest director Nabihah Iqbal takes to the stage for her own ‘Suroor’…

One of the largest regional festivals of its type, we spotlight some of the South Asian artists appearing…

AN ARRAY of top musicians and other artists will be playing at this year’s Brighton Festival (May 6-28) which is full swing now and features a number of interesting collaborations and rare pairings and combinations.

There’s a lot here for any culture vulture, let alone a South Asian one, so here’s our pick of artists and events coming to the South Coast.

Nabihah Iqbal, guest festival director Brighton Festival
pic: Shahir Iqbal

The festival has been created around the theme of ‘Gather Round’ and is the brainchild of guest festival director Nabihah Iqbal and her team.

Broadcaster, DJ and musician, Iqbal features in several headline events herself, marking her own interest in music, history and culture.

Iqbal said at the outset: “It has been an honour to curate this year’s Brighton Festival and I’m looking forward to seeing it add another layer of vibrancy to Brighton, a city so full of energy already. It’s a cliché to say that the Festival offers ‘something for everyone’ – but maybe to get the most out of it, the key is to try going to the things that you think aren’t for you…and hopefully you’ll come away pleasantly surprised.”

Anoushka Shankar (May 14), Talvin Singh (May 23) and Bishi (May 26) are among the Asian musicians who will be performing separately at their own gigs.

Anoushka Shankar pic: Laura Lewis

Shankar plays alongside Petit Oiseau, in a combination with Indian classical musician Jatinder Singh Durhailay, who is a master of the Dilruba, a 300-year-old bow instrument that is said to originate from Afghanistan, with Suren Seneviratne providing backing on synthesiser.

Singh comes to Brighton with Scottish Indian protest musician Kapil Seshasayee whose ‘Laal’ explores the dark underbelly of Bollywood in an R&B influenced second album.

Bishi by Frederic Aranda

Bishi presents her ‘Celestial Voices’ (‘Swargiya Awaz’) – as ever this mercurial vocalist, whose most recent album ‘Let My Country Awake’ delves further into a panoply of style and range – brings the UK’s first trans+ professional choir, Trans Voices, into the mix to mark Intersex Day of Remembrance with a choral piece dedicated to the life of Herculine Barbin (1838-1868) and whose memoirs describe her intersex life. Also playing a lunchtime spot is Meera Priyanka Raja and Dominic Doutney (May 11) – as the pair cover Mendelssohn and Indian ragas and talas.

Iqbal most notably brings her own experimental high energy musical piece, ‘Suroor’ (May 15 – and translated often as joy or exhileration) to Brighton Festival. Joined by Raheel Khan, Paul Purgas and sister duo Qazi & Qazi, the group will explore sound, music and heritage in a set up that is receiving international attention.

Iqbal has just explored the musical life of BBC Broadcaster Anita Rani, who will soon add the title of novelist to her many accolades (see here for more on this) – in Nabihah’s own ‘Glory to Sound’ (May 9) sessions, mixing music and talk.

Nabihah Iqbal (‘Suroor‘)

Next up in ‘Glory to Sound’ spots is renowned poet Linton Kwesi Johnson (Sunday, May 14) and Iqbal casts her net both wider and lower (to the ground as it were) as she also talks to acclaimed British historian David Olusoga about the diverse history of the local area (Tuesday, May 16).

Those who love graphic novels, should head to ‘The Art of the Graphic Novel’ (Saturday, May 13) with Sabha Khan who memorably became the first graphic artist to win the prestigious Jhalak Prize, which showcases creative literary work by people of colour in Britain. Her work ‘The Roles We Play’ is about creating a new British identity informed by her own community’s displacement and cultural heritage in leaving Mirpur in Pakistan.

Khan also appears later the same day with Caleb Azumah Nelson talking about ‘Writing Music & Memories’ (6pm). Nelson’s latest novel ‘Small Worlds’ is about how we navigate (and create) the environment around us and how creative and imaginative we can be in the process. This conversation is moderated by Sabeena Akhtar.

Umi Sinha, Ali Arif and Hafsa Zayyan.

Place, Race and Being British’ is the subject of a discussion by authors with South Asian roots (on Saturday, May 13) – Ali Arif, the founder of the South Asian Book Club, explores these subjects with Umi Sinha and Hafsa Zayyan.

Two outstanding musicians in their own respective genres join forces to produce something that is described as a meeting of “cutting-edge Indo-futurism” with “Hindustani raag and roll”.

Sarathy Korwar is a jazz vocalist whose Indo-futurist album ‘Kalak’ has won many plaudits and exposed people to a wide-ranging set of rhythms and practices, inspired by South Asia – and turned into ground-breaking electronica. The London-based Hindustani psychedelic rock group Karma Sheen are lead by Sameer Khan, who brings a heady mix of Sufi inspired lyrics to a modern 1960s and 1970s psychedelia sound, that is highly original. They hit Brighton Festival on Tuesday, May 16.

Sheila Ghelani is an artist who likes to cut things up, break objects, tear them apart and sometimes mix them all up and makes new objects in the process – and also sometimes, likes words to accompany these object-making exercises and acts of improvisation. She is also keen on how art and artistic creation can further wellbeing and health. Her unique brand of art and revival, comes to Brighton for a week from Saturday, May 13 to the following week at various times (check listings and there is limited availability according to the website).

Little Murmur

If you want to introduce children and young people to the world of South Asian dance – you couldn’t do better than see a performance of ‘Little Murmur’. Created by one of Britain’s most innovative and creative voices, choreographer and dancer Aakash Odedra brings his critically acclaimed piece about his own dyslexia and academic difficulties (in the adult, ‘Murmur 2.0’) to an audience of young minds who should realise that difference does not mean less or lesser – whatever some people (bullies) might like to think. Elegant and engaging, it comes to the festival this weekend (May 13 and 14, at various times – check listings below).

Fans of Nish Kumar – of which there are many – shouldn’t miss him headlining ‘Live at Brighton Festival’ (May 19) – as the celebrated host of BBC’s much celebrated, ‘The Mash Report’ heads a a strong line-up that includes Lou Sanders, Chloe Petts, Thaniya Moore & John Robins.

Also coming from the world of dance and movement – and part of a particular strand that sees pop-up shows every weekend – is an arresting piece of choreography by Kathak dancer and choreographer Amina Khayyam which comes to the festival right at its end (May 27-28).

Her spot is part of the ‘A Weekend Without Walls’ series – pop up outside dance and associated activities in festival time over the weekends.

Nish Kumar

This is ground-breaking dance work, featuring two South Asian men falling for each other in ‘You&Me’ and as seen from a brown feminist perspective.

Experience the movement of Kathak with the live music of sitar, tabla and cello. On the very final day (Sunday May 28), you can also experience ‘Pravaas’. Presented by one of the country’s longest established dance groups, Akademi, this explores the fragile ecology of one the most vulnerable places on earth – the Sunderbans. Situated across both India’s West Bengal province and its coast and Bangladesh; and home to nearly 4.5 million people, the land is slowly submerging and a whole way of life is under threat because of rising sea levels caused by climate change. There are performances both at 1.45pm and 4.30pm for ‘Pravaas’.

Mohammed Adel

Artist Mohammed Adel’s paintings are evocative of time and place, and his creations evince a sense of existence and remembrance that play between the familiar and the distant, the personal and the universal. His ‘A Future Memory’ can be seen now and until May 27 and is on display at Brighton CAA, in Grand Parade, about a kilometre from the main railway station and is free to view.

You will find all the individual listings here – use the subject categories to navigate –


All pictures: Courtesy of Brighton Festtival

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture