August 9 2014
We speak to three different acts making a buzz at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival…
IT’S THAT time of year when art lovers of all descriptions head for Edinburgh and the largest arts festival in the world and hope to seize upon the next big show or personality.
And there’s much to look out for if you’re interested in terms of British Asian arts production from the well-established and already famous – TV personality and comedian, Hardeep Singh Kohli – to those treading the boards for the first time.
As always, we’ve been doing a bit of digging around and while this isn’t definitive, we’ve found three special people – women – offering something a little more challenging and different and worthy of your utmost attentions at the Edinburgh Fringe, we believe.
Comedian Sadia Azmat is not Malala Yousafzai. That much might seem obvious from the picture, but it’s amazing how random folks will come up to her and say – “Well done, for Malala”. She performs a 50-minute stand-up routine entitled, “I am not Malala”.
She is warm and funny – and perhaps not as far removed from Malala as all that.
“I’ve been working on it for about a year,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com “When you’re Asian you can get generalised for representing everything Asians might do.
“We might take the negative feedback for something an Asian might have done – equally, it can be frustrating when it is positive with people coming up to you and saying – ‘Well done on Malala’ – now I don’t know her and obviously I am not related to her.”
There are expectations people can have when confronted by an Asian woman in a headscarf, especially if they don’t know too many other Asian headscarf-wearing women.
“I just wear my normal clothes and my headscarf, I don’t take if off anywhere. I don’t think it makes that much of a difference.”
She has already got an important ringing endorsement from one very important person.
Christina Lamb is the “Sunday Times” correspondent responsible for crafting Malala’s hugely successful autobiography, “I am Malala”, chronicling the now 17-year-old Pakistani icon’s plight from schoolgirl to outspoken critic of the Taliban and champion of children everywhere, via a failed assassination attempt by her chief tormentors and the subsequent medical treatment that brought her to Birmingham.
“She (Lamb) came to a preview, and she loved the show and gave me a quote: ‘Hilarious – and insightful – take on what it’s like to be a young Asian Muslim woman, who is not Malala’. She meets Malala every month. I hope to take the show to Birmingham, so you never know…”
Azmat who is based in London, started performing in 2010, after a colleague and standup comedian at the call centre where she worked encouraged to her to take the leap and not just write gags and funny lines as she had been doing.
A previous show at the Edinburgh fringe in 2011, “Please hold: you are being transferred to a UK-based Asian representative” was a huge success and brought her to the attention of BBC Radio 4, and “Front Row”, one of the station’s flagship arts programmes.
In 2011, she cemented her ‘rising star’ status by reaching the final of “Funny Women” competition.
Ayndrilla Singharay is a writer presenting her first play at the fringe with her own production company, Red Mane. “Unsung” is adapted from a Rabindranath Tagore story, “Punishment” and explores oppression, inequality, and violence within a marriage in contemporary London.
“I come from a Bengali family and I’ve grown up with Tagore, his writing, his poetry, his music. I am a big fan of his short stories and he has something important to say,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com
“Women are facing the same kind of issues and it could take place here and now – how far have we really come? We hear a lot about it in India but there’s a lot of problems here and we still haven’t got it right. Tagore really is a visionary writer – the things he observed then are still going on now.”
In “Unsung” two brothers and their wives live in modern-day London, the older one is more traditional than the other, having an arranged marriage and a wife who comes from India, while his younger brother has fallen in love and married a local Asian woman.
“When I first read the Tagore story it was a long time back, and then I started working with a director on it last year, and it lends itself perfectly – it’s a very short story, very simple and about an act of violence that takes place and how one woman is expected to take the blame.”
Singharay’s play comes from a deep source, she works with Asian women who have experienced domestic violence and who are often trying to rebuild their children’s, and their own, lives.
For more than four years, she has seen the effects of domestic violence, working with South Asian women’s charity, Asha and was able to take a group from there to see the play when it was first performed in London last year.
“They found it moving,” she reported. “I think the portrayals are authentic in terms of having spent a lot of time with these women.
“I’ve tried to avoid the stereotype – it’s the woman from India who is not quite so educated – she’s the one who sees what is going on and understands what is happening about control and liberty.”
Premiered at Wilton’s Music Hall in Tower Hamlets, where it enjoyed a sold-out two week run last year, it’s making waves in Edinburgh, and had reviewers last year singing its praises.
“We’re really pleased with the response,” said Singharay of her time in Edinburgh so far. “Everyone involved in this project is doing it because they care about it and they feel there’s an important message. It’s a team effort.”
Singharay, who completed an MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway College, hopes to take “Unsung” around the country after Edinburgh, and perhaps even to India itself.
Kirsten Newell knows India well, having spent a period of five years there, learning different dance forms and is a practioner of her art with an unusual pedigree.
She trained for four years at one of India’s leading dance institutes, Kalakshetra in Chennai, learning the art of the classical Indian dance form, Bharatanatyam.
She takes her learning into a dialogue with Flamenco, which is historically believed to have derived from Indian dance.
Her first encounters with Dance Ihayami (I am here) a Scottish-Asian dance troupe and its founder and director Priya Shrikumar, predated her travels but set her on her unusual path.
“I was doing ballet and contemporary, and I just thought Bharatanatyam was such a beautiful dance form, from there I just knew what I wanted to do,” explained Newell.
She first studied at Attakalari in Bangalore, where they teach a mixture of ancient Indian martial arts and classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam.
She then headed to Kalakshetra on an Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship.
“It was a great experience with all the tradition and culture you absorb everything.”
On her return to Scotland last year, Dance Ihayami was involved in developing a project which involved Flamenco and Bharatanatyam. The piece is managed by Alba Flamenca with the Indian classic dance part choreographed by Dance Ihayami.
“It’s showing the journey of Flamenco from India into Spain and the Gypsies who picked the Indian dance travelled with it and on the way it changed with the cultures on their travels.
“It’s very interesting to see Flamenco and the different hand gestures, and it uses quite a lot of these and there are traces of Bharatanatyam in the feet work, though in the beginning they would not have had shoes.”
The one-hour dance involves three dancers: one representing Bharatanatyam (Newell herself) one Flamenco, and another belly dancing.
Last year, when it premiered at the fringe, they had a Rajasthani tribal dancer and this year the belly dancer does some of the tribal section.
At the moment, the show is only scheduled to be performed at the fringe.
“We want to take it on further and that might happen, we are talking to people,” disclosed Newell.
- Sadia Azmat, “I am not Malala” 11.15am , free, non-ticketed, every day (except Sundays) until August 25 at The Space, SpaceCaberet Venue, 54 NorthBridge EH11SD.
- Ayndrilla Singharay, Red Mane, “Unsung” – £8.50/£7.50, 2.10pm, every day till August 25 (no show on August 12), C Nova Studio 3, India Buildings, Victoria Street, EH1 2EX.
- “India Flamenco“, Dance Ihaymi, £12/£10, 6pm every day (except August 13 & 20) until August 24, Alba Flamenca, 74 East Cross Causeway, EH8 9HQ
For futher information and detail, please see Edinburgh Fringe Festival