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Style & Stuff Editorial

masala19.jpg Elvis, Bollywood & Eaten by Lions

One of the real highlight of the summer arrives in July when GemArts once again brings us the Masala Festival featuring their award-winning blend of the finest in South Asian arts and culture.

During these sprawling, multi-event festivals – in this case spread over a full week – it’s sometimes the more tucked away events that can provide just as much fun as the extravaganzas. For instance, at this year’s Masala Festival everyone can give Bollywood style dancing a whirl at a workshop in Gateshead Central Library (Saturday 20 July). If that sounds a bit too energetic then why not head down to Cullercoats for the family friendly Beach Yoga and Picnic with the Yoga Tribe (Sunday 21 July).

Of course, the festival hasn’t won all of its awards just for the quality of its workshops. They know how to do the other stuff, too. And how! Case in point is this year’s launch event, a new commission especially for the festival, which is set to take place at Sage Gateshead. This evening will feature an incredible collaboration between the internationally renowned sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan and a string quintet from Royal Northern Sinfonia (Monday 15 July). Wajahat, with his distinctive style and virtuoso technique, has made a revolutionary contribution to the art of sarod playing, becoming one of the most accomplished Indian classical musicians of his generation. This promises to be one of Sage Gateshead’s outstanding shows of the year.

If it’s big laughs that you’re looking for then Northern Stage will be able to sort you out when they stage An Indian Abroad (Saturday 20 July). Written and performed by rising star Pariah Khan, it sees Krishnan, stifled by life in middle-class India, upping sticks to see more of the world and visiting the exotic island of Great Britain. An astute and wickedly funny send-up of ‘the spiritual journey’ we follow Krishnan as the tries to find himself but instead falls in love with one of the natives.

Poetry fans should make tracks for Culture Lab in Newcastle University where they will be staging Luck & Hope (Tuesday 16 July). This will feature two of the most feted poets working today, Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharker. Arshi won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2015, and, at the centre of her latest book ‘Dear Big Gods’ is an overarching commitment to hope. Dharker writes about exile, journeying, home and displacement and she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014.

Among the screenings at this year’s festival will be a special night at BALTIC. Woman will feature contemporary South Asian film shorts about freedom, desire and resistance (Friday 19 July). Films will include the critical documentary ‘Qandeel’ about Pakistani model, actor and social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch; ‘We Are Fire’ about Champa Pal’s resistance to an entrenched cultural system in Uttar Pradesh by Oscar-winning director Orlando von Einsiedel; and ‘War-la’ about women’s indomitable spirit. 

There will be plenty of musical treats at the festival with one of the stand-outs coming from Zoe Rahman and Laura MacDonald at the Lit & Phil (Tuesday 16 July). Rahman has firmly established herself on the contemporary jazz scene. A vibrant and highly individual pianist and composer, her style is deeply rooted in jazz yet reflects her classical background, British Bengali heritage and her broad musical taste. And it should be some show when she teams up with the renowned Scottish saxophonist Laura Macdonald, a pairing that first wowed audiences at the 2015 Glasgow Jazz Festival.

No round-up of the festival highlights would be complete without a mention of the Mini Mela, which will take place in the Live Garden at Live Theatre (Sunday 21 July). Once again, it’s totally free and will feature colourful and vibrant arts, crafts, dhol drumming, Bollywood dance, performances by beautiful Indian marionette puppets, and – get this! – Elvis’s Bingo Balls, in which you can enter a seafront arcade, pulsating with neon and filled with the sounds of slots and bingo. Your caller, clad in his best Elvis suit, will tell stories of moving to this town “so every day can be a holiday”, while his assistant dreams of singing and dazzling audiences with her act…

Among the other events to look out for I’d pick out Eaten By Lions, a film which is being screened at Jam Jar Cinema in Whitley Bay (Monday 15 July). This feel-good movie tells the story of half-brothers Omar and Pete, who were raised by their Grandma after their parents were tragically killed by lions in a bizarre accident. When their Gran dies, they find themselves on a life-changing journey to Blackpool (the incomparable Johnny Vegas stars in this one).

There will also be spoken word events, more workshops, more screenings, more tea-making events (with added chat), and the wonderful Dabbawal Street Food Kitchen on High Bridge and in Jesmond will be serving up a specially crafted menu throughout the festival’s run.

You can get more information on all of the above, and the rest of the programme, from the website, below.

GemArts’ Masala Festival, Monday 15-Sunday 21 July. Venues across Tyneside. gemarts.org