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Music & Dance 2016 – AR Rahman, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Patricia Rozario and Anoushka Shankar…(Year Review)

Music & Dance  2016 – AR Rahman, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Patricia Rozario and Anoushka Shankar…(Year Review)

December 30 2016

UNDOUBTEDLY one of the great thrills of the year for us was a chance to speak to the ‘Mozart of Madras’.

AR Rahman was in fine form, ahead of some planned UK concerts, which actually have now been postponed to Spring 2017.

The great AR Rahman will be returning in the Spring for the re-arranged concerts, see how you can win tickets (see link below)

He spoke to us about the concerts which will be different to previous ones in the UK, his work on the Hrithik Roshan, Ashutosh Gowariker (“Lagaan”) blockbuster release, “Mohenjo Daro”, and why he’s broken through into the West – (he has two Oscars and two Grammys).

Friendly, and very open, he was a delight to interview and while there wasn’t a huge amount of time, he was generous, humble and relaxed.
That piece also now holds the record for the highest number of Facebook (FB) shares/likes – 822.

It is here.

You can still enter our competition to see him when comes to the UK in the Spring. See –

The previous FB record came from a story on Saudha. It had almost exactly half the number of FB shares as the AR Rahman interview story.
Saudha is the Society of Indian Poetry and Music, and Ahmed Kaysher, one of its founders, explained what the group had been up to since March 2016, ahead of its Ghazal, Thumri and Kayal Festival.

Ahmed Kaysher (far left) with members and friends of Saudha, outside the Wilson Room, Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament

Forever looking at new and different ways of presenting Indian music and poetry not just from India, it continues to innovate and seek out new pastures.

An active group, you will find several pieces about their events in 2016 – which more or less culminated in a special one-off performance at Portcullis House, a building next to the House of Commons, and where many MPs have modern offices and facilities.

The performance was well supported and saw several MPs make it to the special event to pay personal tribute to Saudha’s work and dedication, especially nurturing young talent and enthusiasm.

It came as the Bangla Music Festival was underway and the group was about to return for a concert at Keats House. Yes, that Keats, the romantic English poet who lived in a house in Hampstead, North London.

The group has its own accompanying troubadours (poets/singers) now and has its eyes set on performing in Europe.

The story about their ‘takeover’ of Portcullis House is here and it also contains links to previous stories about Saudha in 2016.

In between all that one of Saudha’s leading members Imtiaz Ahmed brought over one of India’s foremost classical vocalists, Ustad Rashid Khan. The concert, in May, at the Barbican was a sell-out and Khan had not played in the UK for a while. It proved to be a special evening for Indian classical musical enthusiasts.

'Greener' (Keisha Atwel) & 'Ma' (Patricia Rozario) in 'Clocks:1888 The Greener'

In April, we covered the story behind a new Opera with a very distinctive South Asian element – “Clocks 1888: the greener” featured one of India’s best known singing exports to the West. Patricia Rozario is a very well-known name among operagoers. She grew up in Bombay (Mumbai now) but trained in London and has largely performed in the West. She essayed the part of an ‘ayah’ (domestic home help) who finds herself abandoned in London and becoming something of a surrogate mother to ‘a greener’ (slang for an immigrant at the time) who herself has fled slavery in the West Indies. The show played at the Hackney Empire and was something of a throwback to the days when that grand old dame of the East End routinely hosted operas and other large scale theatrical work.

The preview with creators Rachana Jadav and Dominic Hingorani, as well as an interview with Patricia Rozario is here.

Slightly under the mainstream radar but not ours – was the film, “Desert Dancer” featuring both Frieda Pinto and Reece Ritchie.

Director Richard Raymond, who commissioned Britain’s own Akram Khan (more on him below) to choreograph the dance scenes, spoke to Suman Bhuchar about his debut film.

Reece Ritchie and Frieda Pinto in 'Desert Dancer' Reece spoke to us about what made him take on the challenging lead role

His film is about the dancer, Afshin Ghaffarian, who grew up in Iran and escaped to France to learn dance formally. Ghaffarian is something of a celebrated and better known figure there. Ritchie, who plays Ghaffarian in the film, spoke about the challenges and why he was drawn to making the film. That interview is here.

One of the newer icons of South Asian music returned to the UK. Ali Rahat Ali Fateh Khan came on a short tour to the UK and we ran a competition ticket giveway and Tasha Mathur reviewed the set.

That was in August and as we hit September – it means only one thing on our music calendar – Darbar.

Europe’s largest Indian classical music festival at the Southbank is one of our great cultural and artistic treasures.

This year, the concert was graced by the one of the giants of Indian classical music – Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.
We interviewed him over email and it was a huge honour and thrill to hear him discuss the state of Indian classical music and why “instant café culture” was something that went against the spirit and ideals of Indian classical music.

The current King of Qawwali Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

That interview is here.
His wife Subhalakshmi, once a much celebrated young Indian classical dancer, made a rare public appearance alongside her husband in a special Darbar talk.
The couple spoke about their enduring affections for each other, how their sons have taken on the mantle of their father’s music and how Subhalakshmi came to marry into a Muslim family, despite being a conservative Hindu family herself.
It was one of the highlights of Darbar 2016 – which also saw Khan perform (separately) at the festival in a double bill with Shuba Mudgal.
There’s a short video to give you an idea of the atmosphere of this talk.

Another highlight of Darbar 2016 was the collaboration between The Philharmonia Orchestra and Niladri Kumar on sitar and Rakesh Chaurasia on bansuri (Indian flute).

Subhalakhsmi and husband Ustad Amjad Ali Khan at the Darbar talk

The Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank was also host to one of the most remarkable concerts and collaborations surely ever witnessed.
As part of the multi-arts annual extravaganza that is Alchemy at the Southbank, pioneering Pakistani rockers Laal played both on their own and with one of the most iconic of all home grown South Asian outfits, The Asian Dub Foundation (ADF).

John Pandit, one of ADF’s founders talked about how the collaboration came about and how excited he was about playing with Laal – a band which also wore its political heart on its sleeves.
That interview is here.

We covered the actual concert mainly on social media and in real time and the audience and atmosphere was something quite special.
Laal’s own rendition of the Eddie Grant anti-apartheid classic “Joanna” – changing it to “Malala”, the young Pakistani-born human rights’ campaigner, was hugely affecting and brought the house down. You can see the whole concert here and the ‘Malala’ part from about 58.00

Towards the end of the year there was also the announcement that the late Ravi Shankar’s one and only opera was going to be performed in 2017. At a special press launch event at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, daughter Anoushka and Shanker’s wife Sukhanya spoke about this rather unique and special project. Shankar was writing it when he passed away in 2012 but Anoushka and David Murphy, Shankar’s long-time collaborator were able to complete, “Sukanya”.
Yes, named after his wife and originally from an ancient Hindu mythological tale, the full scale opera production will premiere at The Curve, Leicester next May. Here’s the full story.

David Murphy, Anoushka Shankar and Sukhanya

In December, we reported that music composer Nainita Desai had been named a Breakthrough Brit by Bafta.
A well-established TV documentary music composer, she is looking to expand her repertoire, especially into feature films.
She told us what being made a Bafta Breakthrough Brit could mean for her.
It follows the success of her work on the BBC documentary musical, “Mumbai High”.

Last but certainly not least, we got a chance to talk to London Mayor Sadiq Khan about culture and the arts.
He took a few minutes out from the London Mela to discuss how important the role of culture was to the beating heart of London.
It’s in the music section because the London Mela is still one of the top draws when it comes to music artists performing – as well as the interview with Khan, there’s a short clip from the main stage of the Mela, held for the first time in the Wembley Park (which adjoins the stadium) and sadly the weather was very unobliging. Just click on this link to see Raxstar, Punjabi Hit Squad and main stage presenters Azad Shan (Zee) and Anushka Arora (Sunrise).


Amina Khayyam (right) and Lucy Rahman teamed up for a special dance-song tribute to Kazi Nazrul as part Bangaldesh Freedom Week at Rich Mix

Early in the year we attended a performance of “Kaash” by Akram Khan, as with all his work, it was memorable and left a real impression. This was Khan’s first work as a choreographer in 2002. Of course today, he is probably best known as the choreographer behind parts of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. A Kathak dancer by training, he is one of a handful of names who traverse not just national boundaries but genres and codes of dancing itself. For “Kaash” (which means, ‘what if’ in Hindi) itself, he brought together Nitin Sawhney for the music and Anish Kapoor for the set. It probably doesn’t get a lot better than that for any artist of South Asian origin. All three were still developing their art at that time – some 14 years later the talented trio – are all world renowned names.

One of Bangladesh’s most celebrated writers and composers, Kazi Nazrul was commemorated in a special dance and music piece, entitled “Meeting Nazrul” at the Rich Mix Centre in Shoreditch, London during its annual Freedom Week, marking the birth of Bangladesh. Kathak specialist Amina Khayyam was joined by British Bengali singer Lucy Rahman in exploring the words of Nazrul who died in 1976 and remains one of the giants of Bengali arts.
An interview with Khayyam about the piece is here.

Dancer Vidya Patel joined a professional dance company to perform in an 'Italian in Madrid' at Sadler's Wells

Dancer Vidya Patel was best known for reaching the final of the BBC Young Dancer competition in 2015 and she showed how she’s developing and maturing as she joined a contemporary dance company to perform, “An Italian in Madrid” at Sadler’s Wells.

A new piece by the well-known and much admired veteran of British dance, Richard Alston, Patel was the only Kathak artist in a troupe of 10 contemporary dancers. The piece mixes different dance styles and looks at how cultures meet and change one another. Patel played the lead part of ‘Princess Maria Barbara’ and her performance was elegance and enchantment personified.

Needless to say, Sadler’s Wells was impressed. Patel spoke to us about making the grade professionally and dancing with a contemporary company. The interview is here.

Thanks for reading and sharing all our dance and music stories in 2016. Wishing you a great New Year!
Sailesh Ram and the team at

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture