INTERVIEW: Masala Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Arun Ghosh by Emile Holba

Returning for its eighth event, the incredibly popular and award-winning GemArts Masala Festival returns to a variety of venues to celebrate South Asian creativity and cultural goodness.

Continuing to expand on its original premises of bringing impactful art and culture to venues and spaces in the North East, this year’s event sees even more packed into the festival’s six-day duration, which runs from Monday 17th-Sunday 23rd July.

This year we’ve tried to go even bigger and better than previous years,” confirms Vikas Kumar, chief of GemArts and curator of the Masala Festival. “In the first instance that means being really clear with some of the themes we want to explore, such as celebrating and exploring contemporary experiences of migration, identity, existence and place. Then after that it’s really been about trying to work with international artists from across the South Asian diaspora, as well as local artists, to create really impactful events and art that have a real potential to positively influence people and connect them to each other.”

Built around a variety of art-based events, including music, dance, literature, poetry, films, exhibitions, workshops, events for children and families, and food, this year’s Masala Festival aims to push the festival’s artistic boundaries into new places. Vikas confirms the intent by offering an insight into the diversity of the events: “We want to use different types of art so that we can impact a diverse collection of people with diverse interests – some people may have a preference to see shows or films, others might want to read stories or poetry, and no matter which type of art people enjoy I’m sure the festival has something for everyone.”

Sometimes all we need is a little nudge and a little inspiration and it can bring out huge changes to how we feel and how connected we are

Opening with dance and live music production Roshni by Sonia Sabri Company at Dance City on Monday 17th, the festival also hosts a number of unique events including a collaboration with the BBC Proms programme at Sage Gateshead featuring two leading lights of the British jazz scene, Yazz Ahmed and Arun Ghosh (Friday 21st); Michael Messer’s Mitra offer up a unique fusion of blues and Hindustani slide guitar and tabla rhythms at The Cluny 2 (Wednesday 19th); there’s the launch of Out Of Sri Lanka, a ground-breaking anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry published by Bloodaxe Books at Culture Lab (Thursday 20th); and You And Me, a dance performance event which is choreographed from a South Asian feminist perspective by Amina Khayyam Dance Company at Monument Metro (Friday 21st). Also worth noting will be the work of artist Sajil Kaleem, whose paintings consider colonial remnants of buildings using the visual language of ornate South Asian tradition of beautification, which will be exhibited at The Newbridge Project from Thursday 20th-Saturday 22nd; and some fascinating film showcases including Rehana Maryam Noor, a gripping and unsettling tale following a medical school lecturer who witnesses the sexual assault of one of her students, screening at Tyneside Cinema (Tuesday 18th), and Topographies: Places And Faces, a programme of short films at BALTIC which explore urban and rural landscapes across South Asia exploring contemporary youth experience, identity, existence and place (Saturday 22nd). The festival culminates with the Mini Mela at Bensham Grove Community Centre, which encourages families to get involved in colourful and vibrant arts, crafts and music from across the Indian sub-continent (Sunday 23rd).

More than anything, we want the Masala festival to be somewhere that offers accessible places which enable people to be inspired in some way and then to feel safe to have conversations about their own interests and enjoyments.” Vikas explains. “We are all, regardless of our heritage, incredibly different as individuals and we all have our own tastes and preferences which give us unique and interesting personalities. The more that we can share those with others, the more comfortable people can be to share their own stories and their own art with others. Sometimes all we need is a little nudge and a little inspiration and it can bring out huge changes to how we feel and how connected we are.”

Regardless of artistic interest, Vikas is keen to point out that the heart of the Masala festival has been, and always will be, the people who attend. “It’s great to have shows and events but more importantly this is a chance to connect and learn with others; the Masala festival is for everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, background and interests.”

To read exclusive interviews and features with a variety of artists taking part in this year’s Masala Festival, including Yazz Ahmed, Arun Ghosh and Michael Messer click here.

GemArts Masala Festival takes place at various venues from Monday 17th-Sunday 23rd July. For the full programme, visit their website.

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