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South Asian Sounds – four day musical extravaganza as many South Asian artists to perform at Southbank Centre in London…

South Asian Sounds – four day musical extravaganza as many South Asian artists to perform at Southbank Centre in London…

Several global names are lined up for this festival which celebrates South Asian musical culture and sounds off with the Afghan Youth Orchestra…

LOVERS of many forms of South Asian inspired music – classical and more modern – have a lot to look forward to as the Southbank Centre opens its doors to the South Asian Sounds festival that begins on Thursday (March 7) and runs until March 10.

There’s quite the mix of genres – there’s classical, bhangra, jazz and Qawwali and club sounds too – and British-based sarod musician Soumik Datta has something to offer a little different to a conventional concert.

The Afghan Youth Orchestra – Breaking the Silence UK tour

There was huge concern when the Afghan Youth Orchestra lined up to open South Asian Sounds festival on Thursday (March 7) were initially denied visas to travel to the UK, but the Home Office reversed its decision and the young orchestra (which has both western and traditional instruments) will more or less open the four-day musical extravaganza as originally scheduled.

Malkit Singh

One of the biggest contemporary bhangra artists of the age – Malkit Singh comes to the Royal Festival Hall on Friday evening (March 8) – he has been playing around the world and delighting people for more than 30 years now. His concert is billed as ‘King of Bhangra Malkit Singh Golden Star‘.

The Southbank Centre says the South Asian Sounds concerts represent the diversity of the capital and the UK and seeks to create “an exciting space of interplay and experimentation between tradition and innovation”.

It all starts with a rare appearance of the Afghan Youth Orchestra – exiled since the Taliban came to power (2022), its members now live in Portugal. The group is also playing in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester in a mini-UK tour.

Irshad Khan

“This is undoubtedly going to be one of the highlights of the South Asian Sounds – they are truly magnificent and need a lot of support – anyone going to the concert will be impressed with these musicians and the huge effort they have put into their art. It is going to be special,” producer Jay Visvadeva told, before the furore over their visa rejection. His Sama Arts is producer for the Southbank show and also supports the tour – see other tour details and crowdfunded appeal on the Sama Arts website (see link below).

Visvadeva is excited too about Nishat Khan and Irshad Khan playing together in a ‘Jugalbandi’ – this is a tradition of virtuoso Indian classical musicians ‘jamming’ and ‘riffing’ and sometimes goading the other musician to go further and deeper – and there is a competitive edge to a duet.

Nishat Khan

Nishat Khan has a long history of playing the sitar internationally and collaborating with a myriad group of artists, including legendary guitarist John MacLaughlin and composer Philip Glass, while Irshad Khan is widely regarded as one of the finest exponents to emerge from the tradition of surbahar (bass sitar) playing and made his Southbank Centre debut when he was just 13.

Visvadeva, who is responsible for helping put together these concerts, is equally effusive about this Jugalbandi.

“They are two great musicians in their own right to have them together and playing the jugalbandi promises to be something truly special,” he added to acv.

This concert draws the curtain on one part of the South Asian Sounds festival on Sunday (March 10) with the rousing finale at the Royal Festival Hall, the largest of the venues on the Southbank Centre.

Soumik Datta

On Friday evening (March 8), British-based sarod player Datta takes to the stage – to perform ‘Mone Rekho’ – meaning Remember in Bengali, it’s described as an immersive concert that will have Indian music, electronic hybrids, visual collages, cinematic scenes, personal anecdotes and even some comedy – as presented by Datta himself. Split into two segments, it’s both an invitation and a meditation to your imagination – as it traverses subjects such as the concert hall, classroom, care homes and the Kolkata streets of Datta’s family heritage.

The Leo Twins and Zeeshan Ali (centre)

Also on Friday (March 8) are the Leo Twins – Haroon and Sharon – and Zeeshan Ali – singer Ali teams up with guitarist and violin player. Ali is a versatile vocalist who has been compared to singers such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Noor Jehan, and Mohammed Rai. Renowned for simple tunes on a keyboard and searing poetry and lyrics, these musicians are regarded as the vanguard of new generation of artists emerging from Pakistan.

Late in the evening (10.30pm), there is a takeover of the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer Space as a South Asian artist led movement, Dialled In, begin their weekend gigs. Among those performing are DJ Anu from NTS Radio (a UK-based on radio station with a global footprint), Mumbai-based Kiss Nuka and the Vedic Roots sound system, who are inspired by the combination of bhangra and dub, which emerged in Southall, west London some years ago.

DJ Anu

Dialled In have played at a number of one-day festivals previously and are run by Ahadadream, Ahshan-Elahi Shujaat, Almass Badat and Dhruva Balram. Working closely with Walthamstow Council, they collaborate other groups such as Thinkfound, Beyond the Box and Blackhorse Workshop, which all gave underrepresented groups a chance to learn about live event production, stage management and other possible careers in the music industry.

Pratibha Singh Baghel

There’s a chance on Saturday evening (March 9) to hear one of India’s most popular and versatile singers – Pratibha Singh Baghel comes to the UK for the first time and performs with the backing of one of Britain’s most innovative and brilliant orchestras. Chineke! Orchestra are made up of diverse classical musicians and on this occasion will be joined by eight instrumentalists from India.

On the same night, one of Pakistan’s undoubted maestros makes his UK debut at 79! Noor Bakhsh plays the Balochi benju (a keyboard zither) and will be joined by regular damboora player Doshambay The two will reprise Balochi music, ragas and Arabic, Persian and Kurdish folk arrangements that were familiar in a region, once an interchange for people, music and ideas before more defined international borders. On the same bill is Pritt, a Carnatic specialist with Tamil heritage, she leads a live ensemble of ghatam, morsing, handpan (traditional instruments) and sitar – which will reflect the sounds of the diaspora and its encounter with more western forms.

Noor Bakhsh

If Indian folk singing gets you going, then Sunday afternoon (March 10) needs to be on your radar – another two iconic singers from India take stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Malini Awasthi is well-known for preserving the rich sounds and traditions of many a community and musical schools that emerged from Avadh (Lucknow) and Benares (Varanasi) as they were known at the time when these traditions flourished. Joining her is Anwar Khan who hails from the Manganiar community – well known to those familiar with the music of Rajasthani folk – which itself is a confluence of cultures, faiths and musical sounds.

Malina Awsathi

If something more contemporary and with a British Bengali-Bangladeshi flavour is more to your taste then Khiyo should be music to your ears – as they mix Bengali folk with western folk, jazz, and blues. The band formed when vocalist Sohini Alam, started to collaborate with Oliver Weeks, a composer and multi-instrumentalist – since 2007, Khiyo has played many festivals at home and abroad.

There is more – including DJ sets, short musical films and a chance to see and hear from a wide range of musicians whose South Asian heritage has dialogued with more western and other classical and popular forms.


“Really for any person interested in the broad sweep of South Asian music – there is a lot here and something for everyone,” Visvadeva told acv.

Pictures: Southbank Centre, Sama Arts, Soumik Datta

South Asian Sounds – March 7-10
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX

Check individual listings

Afghan Youth Orchestra UK tour:

Crowdfunding appeal:

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture