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

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Image: The Forest Dream

After a tumultuous couple of years of hybrid events, South Asian Masala Arts and Culture Festival returns to physical venues across Newcastle and Gateshead from Monday 18th-Sunday 24th July, and GemArts’ Director Vikas Kumar MBE is delighted to be engaging once again with local communities. “The energy that is created between performers on stage and live audiences is what we all do this for, it is totally exhilarating, irreplaceable, and we’ve missed it massively. It is all about creating shared cultural experiences, be that with your friends, family or absolute strangers. Festivals bring people together to create lifelong memories, celebrating culture and identity, and we certainly guarantee that with this year’s Masala Festival!

Appropriately for the festival’s seventh year, it all begins at Dance City on Monday 18th with a performance of SEVENS, a dance and musical celebration by Srishti Dance Company made up of three parts: Snags, Steps and Sins, celebrating the sacred and sometimes sinful connotations of the number seven.

Regional artists working in visual arts are well represented: Lore by Mani Kambo and Narivad by Sofia Barton are both viewable in the gallery of Gateshead Central library throughout the festival (and running until Saturday 10th September), sharing histories of objects, storytelling and Indian suffragettes. “It is vitally important that the festival shines a light on regional talent,” Vikas says. “We are really proud to be able to programme national and international artists, alongside the exceptional talent we have in the region. We also have Payal Ramchandani, one of the UK’s leading Kuchipudi dancers based in Newcastle, and her new work The Forest Dreams [Caedmon Hall, Friday 22nd] blends Indian classical dance forms with contemporary dance to highlight the climate crisis.”

Festivals bring people together to create lifelong memories, celebrating culture and identity, and we certainly guarantee that with this year’s Masala Festival!

There will also be a group exhibition from local students entitled Jashn, which will reflect on the diversity of experience expressed in South Asian lives, available to view from Sunday 24th July-Wednesday 24th August at Bensham Grove Community Centre.

Elsewhere in the programme, film screenings include a series of contemporary South Asian shorts at BALTIC on Tuesday 19th, which investigate facets of identity, nature, physicality and purpose, and there’s poetry readings at Newcastle Uni’s Culture Lab on Wednesday 20th courtesy of Bloodaxe poets Amali Gunasekera and Shazea Quraishi.

Live music comes courtesy of a couple of performers who already have an army of fans in the region. Newcastle’s The Globe will welcome the art rock-infused jazz sounds of Yaatri on Thursday 21st, and they’re among the highlights for Vikas. “Yaatri are well worth checking out. A five-piece alt. rock/jazz group causing a real stir with their rhythms of India, mixed with electronic music, and energy of rock and roll, what’s not to like!” Also no stranger to the region, Jasdeep Singh Degun shows off his recent album, Anomaly, at Sage Gateshead on Friday 22nd, accompanied by a large ensemble of collaborators from across the Indian classical, western classical and jazz traditions.

To bring the festival to a close on Sunday 24th, join in with Mini Mela at Bensham Grove Community Centre, a family friendly day of crafts, music performance and even more activities.

GemArts’ Masala Festival takes place at venues in Newcastle and Gateshead from Monday 18th-Sunday 24th July.

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