March 20 2015
Marking the best of Bangladesh in London and cultural activist Runi Khan tells us what’s exciting for her as a programmer…
A SINGER regarded as the finest exponent of Rabindranath Tagore’s vocal compositions comes to London as culture centre Rich Mix marks ‘Freedom Week’ from today.
Organised to celebrate the birth of Bangladesh, there are a number of different cultural events, from music to art, showcasing both Bangladeshi culture and its artistic connections and links to other communities based in London.
Opening the week tonight (March 20) at the Shoreditch venue, in the borough of Tower Hamlets (where there is a significant Bangladeshi origin population) is Rezwana Choudhury Bannya (pronounced Bonna).
She is widely regarded as the best singer of classical Tagore songs anywhere in the world. Presented with many awards by both India and Bangladesh, she sings songs composed by the great early 20th century Bengali polymath, Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote poetry, books and composed music. Both the Indian and Bangladeshi nationals anthems are composed by Tagore.
Bannya comes to Rich Mix, courtesy of Culturepot Global, run by London-based cultural activist, Runi Khan.
As well singing, Bannya will present a DVD and talk about her experiences of setting up Shurer Dhara – a school modelled on Shantiniketan, the university founded by Tagore, which places emphasis on a child’s creativity and freedom of expression through music.
In 2009, Bannya set up a ‘Music for Development’ programme, working with children from the Dhaka slums and getting them to learn through music. Originally the children were going to be performing alongside Bannya, but the group of five were unable to get visa clearance from the British High Commission in time.
Khan, a retired former banker, who has been arts programming for many years, has curated significant parts of ‘Freedom Week’ and has built on her experience from organising the programme at the first Freedom Week last year.
She told www.asianculturevulture.com that in contrast to some arts organisations, programmes created by Culturepot Global will always have a strong educational and social component.
She said: “We are not just about entertainment, we have a long term perspective.
“What attracts to me to Bannya is her work with children. I visited the Music for Development programme. The children were from the worst places imaginable and they were transformed, it has completely changed their lives. I asked one of them what they did when they went home knowing that it was an environment of darkness. She said she gathered the others who couldn’t attend and started reading and teaching them. What an amazing story.
“This is basically my focus, to do things which are enjoyable, have quality, and at the same time, has a message and an impact and a long term vision.”
She said Culturepot Global sought to highlight such work, as well showcase both the artistic talent of those from Bangladesh and London.
“Culturepot Global draws on the diversity of the city of London and the best of cultures here,” continued the founder and director of Culturepot Global.
“We tend do more on Bangladesh as it has a rich cultural heritage that we only find being represented at a community level and we want to draw attention to it at a mainstream level and bring it to the attention of all Londoners.”
She believes innovative programming is the key to engaging more second and third generation London Bangladeshis in their own rich cultural heritage.
“If you just put on two hours of pure Tagore singing, the second and third generation London Bangladeshis will not go, I am always thinking of how to get them to come.”
As well Bannya singing and talking about her work, there will also be a screening of a short film “The Singing Teacher” by Bangaldeshi London-based London College of Fashion graduate, Inshra Sakhawat Russell.
“We’re about creating innovative ways of putting together people from diverse cultures and these programmes are often led by Bangladeshis and from this something original can happen.
“It’s about Bangladeshis and others realising here’s a country that has a rich cultural heritage.”
She said she is especially keen to put together established talents with those that are on the way up and working with artists both from London and Bangladesh.
“They all call me Aunty, and ask about opening doors – I always tell them there are no doors on the open stage, you just have to reach out.”
As well as the first evening, Culturepot Global has organised the music for Saturday evening. Billed as ‘Rhythmns of Peace – Songs to Inspire’, it is also a fundraiser and includes Bannya, a musician from Nepal, Ganga Thapa and his band, Namlo, which plays a mix of Nepalese, Indian, Latin and African styles, playing. On the same evening, Tagore will get an operatic treatment from sisters Sanchita and Tanya Basu De Sarkar as well as unique collaboration between Professor Imtiaz Ahmad and London based singer, Wendy Lewis.
On Wednesday evening, there is a high-powered special discussion programme, also organised by Culturepot Global.
It will involve BRAC – set up during the 1971 Bangaldesh Liberation War, it has become one of the leading global NGOs and focuses on bringing education to some of the most impoverished communities in the world.
Dr Erum Mariam and Lewis Temple both from BRAC will discuss challenges with renowned British-Bangaldeshi educationalist Dame Yasmin Bevan (knighted for her services to education) and another educationalist, Zahad Ahmed. The debate will be chaired by Jane Earl, CEO of Rich Mix.
In addition to these, there’s dance performance of the Lorca classic, “Yerma” by the Amina Khayyam Dance Company (March 21), an afternoon of music marking the freedom of Bangladesh (March 22), the screening of a documentary “Mass E Bhat”, which while being free, involves a donation of non-perishible food (March 22); young people’s drama (March 24); band Khiyo playing (March 26); and all night music festival (March 27). More on this next week.