Alchemy Festival is an ambitious exploration of contemporary connections between the UK and South Asia. Now in its sixth year, it returns to London’s Southbank Centre, but will also go on tour to Oldham and Doncaster and then heads to Glasgow for the first time.
At Thursday night’s launch, held in the Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall, SBC’s artistic director Jude Kelly paid tribute to one of her associates from Pakistan, Sabeen Mahmud, who ran an arts centre in Karachi and was shot dead by extremists last month. Mahmud founded PeaceNiche, a not-for-profit organisation who promote democratic discourse and conflict resolution through cultural engagement. Dil Phaink is one of PeaceNiche’s audiovisual installations and can be seen throughout Alchemy at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
The festival’s musical highlights include Zakir Hussain, one of the world’s greatest percussionists. The famous tabla player joins up with a group of Scottish and Irish musicians for Pulse of the World, a project that started at Celtic Connections festival in 2011, was developed for the Olympics in 2012 and has just been on tour in India and the US. On the Scottish side musicians include Gaelic singer Jenna Cumming, violinist Patsy Reid, Charlie McKerron (also on violin) and Michael McGoldrick (flute) from Capercaillie, plus Kumaresh and Rakesh Chaurasia from India. Hussain is a recognised master of percussion, forging an international language and Pulse of the World is the latest aspect of this. The concert takes place in London on May 21 and Glasgow on May 22.
Among Alchemy’s new creations is a live film accompaniment by sarod player Soumik Datta with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The film King of Ghosts was made by Satyajit Ray in 1969. “On the surface, Goopy Gayne Bagha Byne [its Bengali title], is a typical kids’ fantasy film,” says Datta, “however re-watching it as an adult I realised it’s about music and art giving us the strength to fight for what is right in the world and overcoming evil.” In an abridged version of the film, the sarod represents the voice of Goopy, the lead protagonist.
Other highlights include Bollywood star Shreya Ghoshal, Nrityagram dance company from Bangladesh, and a two-day residency by the Jaipur Literacy Festival. Plus there will be plenty of South Asian food and drink on offer throughout the SBC.