Posts Tagged ‘alchemy festival’

Alchemy Festival begins at the Southbank Centre

Posted on May 15th, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts by .


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.

Find out more about the festival.

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May 2014: Top 10 UK Live Events

Posted on May 7th, 2014 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

We’ve compiled a list of the top ten concerts happening this May to help make sure you don’t miss out on this month’s best shows. 

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita


The Songlines-award winning duo will tour this May. Their album Clychau Dibon won the Cross-Cultural Collaboration award for their blend of Welsh traditional harp and the Senegalese kora. Don’t miss them on their 12-date trip across the UK. They’ll also be playing WOMAD and Shambala this summer.

Where & When: Across the UK, May 2-17. More info.





A Hack and a Hacksaw


The American folk duo will perform with the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of a programme that explores the folk music of Eastern Europe. The programme features works by Bartok and Ligeti, plus a brand new piece has been written especially for the collaboration, which will be premiered on the night. There is also a free pre-concert gig in the Front Room from Firefly Burning.

Where & When: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, May 7. More info.





Mamane Barka


Nigerien biram master Mamane Barka will visit these shores for a string of dates in May. It’s a great chance to see the sole remaining player of this wonderful harp-like instrument.

Where & When: Across the UK, May 8-23. More info.








Will Holland, aka Quantic, will play eight dates – including a full live show at London’s KOKO – to celebrate the release of his new album Magnetica, which comes out on Tru Thoughts this May. The co-founder of Ondatrópica  has collaborated with Pongo Love on the lead single from the new release, which can be viewed here.

Where & When: Across the UK, May 8-29. More info.





Gilles Peterson

@Youri Lenquette. Cuba .La Havane . 06/2009 .Projet Gilles Peterson present Havana Cultura .

The fantastic Franco-Swiss DJ/producer is curating an all-dayer at Dingwalls on May 11. Peterson is also performing at a  launch party for the upcoming release of his latest collaboration with Brazilian artists, Sonzeira, which is out on May 19. He’ll be supported by DJ Nuts.

Where & When: Dingwalls, May 11 & Club Bam Bam Bam, May 15 (both London). More info.





Alchemy Festival


Now in its fifth year, the Alchemy Festival at London’s Southbank Centre presents some of the best music, dance and art from South Asia and the UK. Our spotlight star – read more in issue #100 –  Soumik Datta (pictured) will perform with his project Circle of Sound, a duet with percussionist Bernhard SchimpelsbergerTheir album was a Top of the World in #84, and his new solo album was released on May 1. There is also a special performance from Susheela Raman, in anticipation of her first album release since 2011’s Vel.

Where & When: Southbank Centre, London, May 15-26. More info.




Rodrigo y Gabriela


The inimitable Mexican guitar duo will play two dates at London’s Royal Albert Hall this May. Their new album 9 Dead Alive was released on April 29, and these dates come as part of a huge worldwide tour in support of this release.

Where & When: Royal Albert Hall, May 20-21. More info.





9 Bach


9Bach are Real World Records’ first Welsh act, and the six-piece are about to release their second album, Tincian, on the label. The music of the album reflects their home environment of Gerlan in North Wales, and they will tour this May in support of the release. They shall also be playing at Green Man Festival and WOMAD this summer.

Where & When: Across the UK, May 15 – June 6. More info.










Rough Guide Live!


This event sees a coming together of three brilliant acts in celebration of both 20 years of the World Music Network, and 25 years of Riverboat Records. The Ethiopian band Kraar Collective will perform alongside Carnatic violin virtuoso Jyotsna Srikanth and Greek folk duo Krissi Stassinopolou & Stathis Kalyvioti. The anniversary celebrations will be hosted by BBC presenter Lopa Kothari.

Where & When: Rich Mix, London, May 17. More info.





Caetano Veloso


The legendary Brazilian musician will play the Barbican for a special one-off gig in the UK as part of his European tour. One of the key figures of the tropicália movement, Veloso has since received nine Latin Grammy awards, including Best Album for his most recent release, Abraçaçao. He shall be primarily playing material from this album as part of this show.

Where & When: Barbican, London, May 27. More info.  





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Alchemy Festival 2012 Review

Posted on April 20th, 2012 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

In its third year the South Bank’s Alchemy Festival has really come into its own. 

Susheela Raman (Mon April 16) delivered what was probably the highlight of the whole festival, weaving together Tamil, Bengali and Rajasthani ingredients and combining them with the qawwali singers of Mian Mir form Lahore, Pakistan. Alchemy is about collaborations and creating something new – gold perhaps – out of different ingredients.

Susheela always looks slightly scary onstage, delivering her intense vocals and raising her arms like she’s climbing wallbars, but the emotional trajectory of the concert was direct. Hundreds of people were clustered round the stage dancing at the end. This has the makings of a fantastic album and bigger things. 

Raghu Dixit from Bangalore (Wed April 18) – a Songlines favourite – was slightly disappointing, but through no fault of his own. He was suffering from a throat problem and cut short his set. While his vocals were incandescent in what he managed to do, we never got to hear much of his new material. Although he did get a shy Queen Elizabeth Hall audience singing four lines in Kannada – a pretty impressive achievement.

Most intriguing was the Sachal Jazz Ensemble (Tues April 17, pictured). It didn’t all work, but had great moments and revealed tempting possibilities. The orchestra has been put together in Lahore by Izzat Majeed from musicians no longer employed in the ‘Lollywood’ film industry. There was a nine-piece band from Pakistan, driven by a percussion section of tabla, dholak and other instruments, plus sitar, bansuri flute and sarangi and guest sarod player Soumik Datta. They were backed by a London string section and jazzers on piano, trumpet, bass and guitars.

Sachal Jazz’s version of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ has been a huge internet success – and it was the finale everyone was waiting for. It’s one of the pieces that work best in this hybrid format. Some of the tunes work well – ‘Take Five’, ‘The Pink Panther’ and, of course, the Pakistani tunes – I loved ‘Barkha Bahar’, which was the highlight of the evening.

But there were horrendous tuning problems with pieces that had more complex harmonies – particularly the bossa nova ones. At first I thought ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was ‘Desafinado’ because it was all so out of tune – the Indian instruments and the Western instruments were just not getting along. And I wondered who was leading it all, because the conductor Nijat Ali seemed to be just waving his arms to the music. And many of the arrangements were too formulaic with a sequence of solos from sitar, flute (the excellent Baqir Ali), sarangi and sarod.

It’s worth writing about this because I think there’s real potential here. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was full, there are great musicians and there’s a good story. What it needs is a professional arranger and then Sachal Jazz can become more than just a quirky story, but a sophisticated musical product within Pakistan and outside.



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Sounds of Bengal at Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival

Posted on April 19th, 2012 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

The Southbank’s Alchemy Festival is now in full swing and already chalking up some hit performances. Sunday night’s concert by the sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta and the young tabla wizard Arif Khan has got to be at the top of the list.

Let’s just get it out there in the open: I’m obsessed with soundscapes. I love them. I almost always have a dictaphone on me, because you never know when you might hear something interesting – a distant wedding celebration, a call to prayer cutting through the din of traffic or the gentle patter of rain on the terrace.

It could be for this very reason that I was so captivated by Sunday’s performance.

It would do the show, Sounds of Bengal, a disservice to call it a ‘musical journey’ through West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh. It may be better described as an aural odyssey.

Explaining the project, Soumik says, “Bengal is a strange, overcrowded, yet delightful, carnival-esque bubble of a place. The colourful people, the green flat land and all its history is steeped in a tradition of music and sound. I wanted my audience to experience this with me. Along with the hugely talented Arif Khan, we filmed, composed and rehearsed the show ready for a winter tour in India. Inspired by the rhythm of rickshaws, the sounds of the city, the songs of boatmen and much more, Sounds of Bengal uses video, audio design and live music to create a portal for audiences to enter and albeit momentarily, lose themselves within.”

Using multimedia, despite technical difficulties at first, each piece began with photos, video and ambient sounds of the everyday. Gently and almost imperceptibly at first, Soumik and Arif would join in a duet between music and sound. Sounds included bird calls, traffic, cries of street vendors and the tumultuous drums of the dhakis (traditional drummers who perform at Hindu festivals). Each soundscape led to a masterful duet between sarod and tabla, which incorporated an eclectic fusion of folk tunes, ballads, poetry and contemporary music.

Sarod and tabla seemed to flawlessly grow out of the soundscapes, though I often found myself wishing for further development of the interplay between instruments and sound. This interplay was, however, brilliantly exploited in the last few selections, featuring the drums of the dhakis. Surprisingly complimented by beatboxing from DJ Jason Singh, the thunderous, whirling music skillfully ended a superb concert, or rather, journey.


You can catch Soumik Datta’s next show, Circle of Sound with Bernhard Schimpelsberger at London’s Rich Mix on April 28. 

Be sure to check out our bonus CD with the current issue, Sounds of South Asia at Southbank Centre, which features the track ‘Calcutta Triangle’ by Soumik Datta and Bernard Schimpelsberger. 

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