Just before the national lockdown comes to end an end next week (December 2) in England, a popular local music festival is readying itself this weekend to go global with some well-known performers from South Asia and the UK…
TEN YEARS ago, it started as a gathering of people just interested in Bengali folk music.
It grew as some concerts and events moved outside and made use of the spectacular countryside and views across the Yorkshire Dales and organisers invited performers whose music was sensitive to the surroundings and loved nature and were not just South Asian. It started as a one-day festival and attracted substantial audiences before expanding across Leeds surburbs as the number of concerts and performers increased.
The present Radha Raman Folk Festival was born.
It was co-created by cultural polymath and amateur singer, Ahmed Kaysher.
Every year groups gather to listen to outdoor concerts and events at Otley Chevin, a forest-like area not far from Leeds. It had started as a one-day
Like some South Asian music festivals, Radha Raman would start at 2pm and go on through the night, sometimes till about 5am – with some of the late night sessions hosted at the Scammonden Activity Centre, near Halifax. The free festival has also expanded to Bradford in recent years.
This year, instead of cancelling or abandoning Radha Raman because of Covid, Kaysher and his team have organised an online extravaganza of music and other forms of entertainment and have added debate and discussion as the festival has grown. They wanted to make sure the festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in style.
It will now be a three-day online festival from this Friday (November 27) and will consist of 12 hours of music, dance, poetry and discussions and will be available to anyone anywhere with access to Facebook or Youtube (see links below).
This year among the performers are Bhajan King Anup Jalota, Indian tabla virtuoso PT Kumar Bose, Baul singer, Parvathy Das Baul and well-known vocalist Jayoti Chakraborty, and violinist Vidushi Kala Ramnath.
From Scotland, well-known musician and fusion icon, Simon Thacker, Iranian tambura and sitar player Niknaz Mirghalami, Egyptian dancer Lily Neloufer, Lebanese-Canadian musician Lara Eidi, Moroccan Nai, Oud maestro Hassan Erraji and Schubert vocalist Eric Schelander.
There are also a number of top figures from Bangladesh, including actor and former culture minister Asaduzzaman Noor, folk singer Ashik, Bengali experimental music composer Bappa Mazumdar, actor and dancer, Aupee Karim and other well-known personalities – Sadia Islam Mou, Tanna Khan, Farhana Chowdhury, Nilanjana Jui and Nritya Shaily.
“It’s going to be a fantastic treat while we are still in lockdown in England,” said Kaysher, speaking to www.asianculturevulture.com.
In 2016, the much respected Yorkshire Post newspaper declared Radha Raman as one of the best 10 summer festivals in the area.
“It started just as a community folk festival, but in the last three years it has grown internationally and we have worked with European folk musicians, from Italy and Greece too, as well as those from South Asia,” said Kaysher who is a librarian.
Baul is a popular form of folk music in Bengal and often heard in villages and small towns across both eastern India and Bangladesh.
“We’ve had troubadour musicians at the festival and Radha Raman is popular among non-South Asian audiences.
“It’s about promoting art and enjoyment – unlike some forms of South Asian traditional music – it is not primarily about spirituality or the divine.”
Troubadour music is form of poetry cum song, and originated in medieval Europe and remains a strong tradition in parts of Continental Europe, while Baul has syncretic elements, derived from both Sufi Islam and Hinduism.
“People love listening and dancing and we used to host free barbecues and lots of musicians and others would also come to network,” said Kaysher. “People would explore the beauty of the natural area.”
This year, people will be able to see and hear more than 60 performers, some 25-35 dancers in all and listen to several debates.
Three high-profile local Labour MPs Fabian Hamilton, Richard Burgon and Alex Sobel and former governor of the Cayman Islands, Anwar Chowdhury will help to inaugurate the festival, along with MA Mannan, Bangladesh planning minister, KM Khalid, minister of state for cultural affairs and Muhibur Rahman, a Bangladesh MP.
Kaysher is also well known as one of the founders and curators of Saudha, society of poetry and Indian music, and The Gronthee, an experimental bi-lingual poetry magazine.
Radha Raman Folk Festival (UK) starts from 2pm-2am daily, Friday, November 27- Sunday 29.