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DJ Ritu, violinist Jyostna Srikanth, theatre company director Yasmin Sidhwa, pianist Rekesh Chauhan, and others talk art and honours…

DJ Ritu, violinist Jyostna Srikanth, theatre company director Yasmin Sidhwa, pianist Rekesh Chauhan, and others talk art and honours…

Re-visiting King’s Charles Birthday Honours List, we’ve caught up with some of those who have been recognised for their contribution to British cultural life – including fabric artist Aruna Mene and art activist Salma Zulfiqar…

IN THE ARTS scene, she is one of the best known figures and much respected for her work and so the MBE is in many ways, a sort of official acknowledgement of her contribution to the cultural life of Britain.

DJ Ritu pic: Zefrographica

And yet in her 37 years of working in the broadcasting and deejaying industry, this is her first honour, DJ Ritu, as she is widely known, revealed.

“I don’t have a stack of trophies and awards plastered on my shelves and I have a sense of not having fulfilled my full potential in some respects. So, I am absolutely thrilled.”

She further told acv: “I can’t tell you how utterly delighted my parents are about me receiving an MBE, and how happy I am that they are still here to hear about it. They have talked about nothing else.

“An honour is something that they recognise and understand, and it means so much to them. If there’s a chance to make my parents feel proud, then I’m grabbing it with both hands.”

DJ Ritu grew up in east London in the 1970s and her path into broadcasting and DJing were far from simple.

DJ Ritu at Fabric, one of London’s most popular dance venues
pic: Rakhi

At school and on the street, there was rampant racism and the fascist and quite openly racist National Front (NF) political party enjoyed widespread popularity in some locations, among some groups.

“I grew up in East London when there was a blatant NF presence and my normality was being called the ‘P’ word everyday, and being the only kid-of-colour in my street and secondary school class, I didn’t have a huge amount of self-worth,” DJ Ritu disclosed.

She said when she first started out as a DJ – acceptance was very hard – both as a woman and as a woman of colour.

“Female DJs were a rarity and South Asians were an oddity in the media – career opportunities and fees were in short supply.”

Ritu said she was grateful to the people who nominated her and said finally her work as a pioneering broadcaster and DJ had been recognised, formally.

“I’ve been trying to make the world a better place in my own way – through music and education – and through equalities activism through working with charities, community radio stations, clubs, festivals, publications, social media, the Greater London Authority (GLA), European Union Broadcasting and more both in the UK and abroad.”

She said the MBE was a spur to do even more.

“My mission of connecting cultures and through music and creating a space for marginalised people still has a long way to go – there are so many innovative things that I still want to do.

“I am hoping that this MBE will help to support those endeavours and particularly allow me to raise up the voices of even more women from diverse backgrounds.”

DJ Ritu wanted to thank all the people who have “so generously supported me in what I do throughout the years”.

As well as deejaying and broadcasting her own show, ‘A World in London’ on Resonance FM, she co-founded the Outcaste record label, signing Nitin Sawhney and Badmarsh & Shri and in helping to set up two club nights, Kuch Kuch and the iconic feel-good party space for LGBTQ+ communities, in Club Kali, from 1995. A recent documentary about Club Kali featured at the recent London Indian Film Festival (June 22-29).

She is also lending her weight to a campaign which seeks to change more than just the nomenclature around such awards – and instead of being part of an Empire, these awards would be about Excellence. So, rather than be Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), they might be Members of the Order of British Excellence – and thereby detaching the link to Empire – which for many is a painful and bloody enterprise – and gave rise to Slavery and Colonialism. (For more see the link below)…

Jyotsna Srikanth

Violinist Jyotsna Srikanth was also given an MBE. The one-time medical consultant gave up her profession to throw herself fully into her art sometime ago, setting up the London International Arts Festival (LIAF) and creating an arts organisation, Dhruv Arts to manage it and her creative output.

It produced a virtual LIAF at the end of last year and first started in 2004. Srikanth who divides her time between London and Bengaluru (Bangalore) expressed her delight and pride to acv recently.

“I am extremely happy to receive this prestigious MBE. I owe this award to my family, my mother who has struggled all her life to support me, my husband for his unstinted support for my music & my children for their co-operation at all times.

“My pranams (respect) to my gurus and my friends and organisations who have been a part of my musical journey. It’s highly appreciated that the UK Government is recognising South Asian Arts. I will continue to carry on my work in music,” Srikanth told acv. (We have featured her work on more than one occasion).

Pianist and composer Rekesh Chauhan received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to music, charity and mental health work in the community. He spoke to us about his composing work for ‘Neelam’ (2020).

He told acv: “It is great privilege to be recognised in The King’s Birthday Honours List. Music is a lifeline for so many, I am so grateful to be able to connect with our communities through music for causes that deserve attention.

“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so generously over the years. It is indeed a great privilege to work with so many charities and organisations who do such wonderful work to create positive impact through music.”

Yasmin Sidhwa – Mandela Theatre Instagram

Yasmin Sidhwa began her life in theatre as an aspiring actor, joining Tara Arts (now Theatre) before setting up Pegasus Theatre and then Mandela Theatre Company for which she received a British Empire Medal (BEM).

Mandela Theatre, which is based in Oxford, describes itself as “diverse & female led, social justice touring and training theatre company”. It is currently showing a production of ‘Paradise Lost’ in France and Sidhwa was a founding member and set up Mandela in 2016 after many years at Pegasus Theatre in Oxford.

Posting on the company’s Instagram account (see link below) she said: “It is inspiring to be recognised for the work I do with young people and artists in theatre. It is an honour that I share with all the young people who have worked with me in Mandala Theatre Company and before – their energy, creativity, and talent lights me up and enables me to help them shine.”

Aruna Mene – Instagram

Aruna Mene was also awarded an BEM. She is an established artist who works mainly with textiles and was honoured for her creations in this form of media. Her work has been displayed widely in Britain and has attracted international attention. (See link below for more).

Salma Bano Zulfiqar is a pioneering art activist, recognised now too with a BEM.

She created ARTconnects in 2017 and it seeks to empower refugees through art and it draws on Zulfiqar’s experience of working with the UN on rights and development issues throughout the developing world, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her focus is very much on women and girl orientated projects.

Salma Zulifiqar – Points of Light Award website

She said she was “absolutely humbled and thrilled” to be awarded an BEM. (See link below for more).

Others also recognised for their work in the arts: Sandeep Dwesar, chief operating and financial officer for The Barbican, London; Aftabur Rahman, CEO Legacy West Midlands (MBE); Prodaman Kumar Sarwal, lately Trustee of Historic Dockyard Trust and chair (MBE).

Among some of the other big names to be recognised in this honours’ list are Jaipur Literature Festival co-founder, William Dalrymple (CBE); playwright and spoken word icon, Inua Ellams (MBE), Stephen Frears (Sir). Frears directed the films, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (1985) and ‘Victoria and Abdul’ (2017); Ben Okri (Sir), poet and Booker Prize-winning novelist, ‘The Famished Road’ (1991).

In all, six per cent of all recipients are from an Asian ethnic group; three per cent from black communities; one per cent from mixed ethnic and another one per cent from different ethnic groups not cited here.

This is an update to our story –

The King’s Birthday Honours List was announced publically on June 16.


DJ Ritu (Ritu Khurana)

Jyotsna Srikanth –

Rekesh Chauhan –

Yasmin Sidhwa – Instagram –

Aruna Mene –

Salam Bano Zulfiqar –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture