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The Crack Magazine

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The sights, sounds and tastes of South Asia

GemArts’ award-winning Masala Festival returns for seven packed days this July with the very best of South Asian creativity being celebrated in all its glory.

The Masala Festival is now as much a part of the Tyneside summer as the annual visit from the Hoppings or Northumberland Plate Day at the racecourse. And this year’s programme has, once again, been put together by the estimable GemArts with their director Vikas Kumar commenting: “We have an exceptional line-up of regional, national and international artists exploring diverse themes, reflecting the essence of both urban and rural life, the quest for freedom and spirit of resistance through classical, folk and contemporary art forms. As always, we have lots of fun events for children and families, alongside the irresistible flavours of Indian cuisine.”

The festival is launching with Aunusthan from Pagrav Dance Company (pictured: 15 July, Dance City). Here you will be invited to step into a world of abstracted relationships, interweaved complex patterns, rigorous choreography, virtuosic performance and riotous rhythms. Conceived with the intention of portraying the multi-faceted nature of kathak (North Indian, classical dance style), Aunusthan takes the audience on a vibrant journey through infectious rhythm and dance. Artful Struggles is the title of a fascinating exhibition that you can see at Gateshead Central Library from 15-27 July. It will commemorate the second anniversary of the Aragalaya/Porattam (“Struggle” in Sinhala and Tamil respectively) – Sri Lanka’s 2022 Occupy movement against corruption, immiseration, and impunity, which toppled a president and a prime minister. New Ways of Moving in the Counterworlds should be a real highlight of the summer and this performance has been especially commissioned for the Masala Festival (17 July, Cluny 2). It will see bassist John Pope and violinist John Garner playing alongside poet Nisha Ramayya in an experimental homage to their shared influences. Drawing upon Pope and Garner’s 2022 album ‘Water Music’ and Ramayya’s forthcoming collection ‘Fantasia’, the trio will celebrate the luminaries of jazz and poetry including Alice Coltrane, Moten/

López/Cleaver, and Nathanial Mackey and The Creaking Breeze Ensemble. Freespill (18 July, DiverCity Hub) is where you need to be if you fancy a night of unfiltered desi soul. Hosted by Newcastle’s very own Tahmina Ali, this exciting event will feature spoken word poetry celebrating multi heritage and the vibrant South Asia diaspora communities in the UK. The line-up will also include Brown Girls Write, Wajid Hussain and special guest Nasima Bee. With a contagious brand of hummable pop music, When Chai Met Toast are real genre pioneers (19 July, The Glasshouse). The quartet, in their seven years of existence as a band, have created a loyal fan base for themselves in a nation where mainstream media thrives almost solely on Bollywood and regional music. They sing predominately in English with their sound being an intoxicating mix of indie, folk, pop and rock. Balladeste is a collaboration between cellist Tara Franks and violinist Preetha Narayanan (20 July, St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead). Writing all new music collaboratively, this unique string duo interweave contemporary minimalism, India classical and folk to create all original compositions that are vibrant and experimental, yet melodic and filmic in quality. The pair have released three albums to date, all of which have been met with glittering acclaim. The grand finale of the festival will, once again, be the Mini Mela & Mini Book Fair (21 July, Bensham Grove Community Centre, 11am-3pm). This free event is perfect for children and families and will thrum with colours and excitement and feature arts, crafts, music and lively performances straight from the heart of the Indian sub-continent. The Mini Book Fair will, of course, be bursting with tales and characters from South Asia heritage. There will also be Bollywood dance workshops to groove to, block printing, Rangoli art, kite making, face painting, and henna stations that will let you jazz up your style with intricate designs. You can even try your hand at pottery – create your own masterpiece inspired by South Asian culture. Oh – and of course, mouth-watering Indian food will be in abundance.

Other stuff to look out for at this year’s festival are Cities of Dreams – beneath the surface (an event at BALTIC contemplating the built environment, from sprawling urban metropolises to cities of tomorrow – 16 July); Ink Pi Workshop (an artist workshop with Kavan Balasuriya where you will learn about making geometric art with numbers – 17 July, Gateshead Central Library); and Snow Leopard (shot in the stunning high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau, this is the final film from Tibetan auteur Pema Tseden – 18 July, Tyneside Cinema). Be sure to check out the GemArts website where you can find out more details on all of the above.

GemArts’ Masala Festival, 15-21 July.