GemArts Masala Festival 2017; a South Asian cultural infusion of a festival……

Working in Culture within the North East is possibly the best sector in the entire world to work in; it’s just mint! The ideas, the events, the projects, the people and beyond. As a none people loving people person, I really finding my little space in the world, with such brilliant people.

The Cultural sector in our region is just so diverse – I’ve never experienced anything like it. The cross fertilisation of ideas, partnerships and collaborations and the ever emerging willingness to work together culminates to ensure an exciting bubbling richness of lush things and people.

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GemArts and Sunderland Stages present Gods & Mortals at Sunderland Minster

The sector is also very close knit – you can attend any event really and see a smattering of friendly creative faces smiling, championing you and your projects and attending the things you do. It’s a like a secret club of lushness…… the people you work alongside or attend their things and champion, very easily move from project partner or such and such from that organisation….and become friends. Real friends and people who you celebrate every cultural moment with.

Sinead from Gem Arts is one of those people (and in fact really the whole Gem Arts team….but Sinead really likes cats and is quite ridiculous like me, so she’s my favourite). I’ve known of Gem Arts for some time and championed them for as long as I have worked in the cultural sector….. their Mini Mela was my induction into working with a large scale cultural children’s event.

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GemArts is a dynamic arts development organisation presenting South Asian arts. They produce and programme new and exciting culturally diverse arts, by creating and developing high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists. Every event I’ve attended has been a cultural hot pot and celebration of South Asian diversity and learning about respective cultures.

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Last year they launched Masala Festival and I had the pleasure of championing it as part of Gateshead Arts Team and of course, as Sinead’s mate Horts. So as we are literally about to jump into the second Malasa Festival (deep breaths Sinead and team – it’s going to be mint!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with her and find out what this year has in store for the region alongside digitally championing to my fellow Culture Vultures what a cracking week this is going to be…..

Well hello Sinead, so first up; what is Masala Festival?

Masala Festival is the North East’s very own, award winning, South Asian Arts Festival, bringing a mix and blend of the finest art and artists to the region for 7 days in July starting on 17th July.

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How many years has it been running and what kicked it all off?

GemArts launched Masala Festival in July 2016, offering a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary arts. After 16+ years presenting diverse arts in the North East, we decided it was time to put our expertise to good use, and create a brand new Summer Festival, showcasing artists from the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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This year the Masala Festival programme explores partition, migration, globalisation, identity, heritage, tradition and modernity, and marks the 70th anniversary of Independence for both India and Pakistan, something we were already starting to think about in 2016.

You won a Culture award for last year- tell me what that was like?

Recognition is the icing on the cake, alongside the incredible support we continue to receive from participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful and celebrates the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again.

Receiving an award for something your team is truly passionate about is a dream come true, and has given everyone an even stronger drive to continue championing creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offering people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.

So… now 2017; what’s coming up for Masala?

This year’s Festival (17th-23rd July) will ramp things up, building on our award success we’ve been even more ambitious, and added exciting collaborations and takeovers to last years list.

GemArts has commissioned work from celebrated companies and artists  and the programme is packed; award winning poetry readings (Daljit Nagra: Heritage and Identity), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh soldier’s music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), two nights of powerful theatre (No Dogs, No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers and collaborations (Q Festival, Trinity Square and Dabbawal), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling shows (Henna),  talented musicians fusing jazz, electronic and Indian classical music (Sarathy Korwar), folk music and dance (Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band),  film screenings (The Jungle Book, Ghandi), exhibitions (AURORA by Jayamini de Silva), food events (Biryani Club), fantastic workshops (Bollywood dance, Meditation and Yoga), talks and demos (including GBBO contestant Chetna Makan) and lots more……

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What should I not miss out on?

We think you should attend everything, but there probably aren’t enough hours in one person’s day. Three events we know the Culture Vulture will really enjoy would be;

SACRED SOUNDS – A national project called Sacred Sounds, which tells some of the largely forgotten stories of British India’s role in the First World War. Using archive footage, letters, photos, music and poetry, SACRED SOUNDS is a multi-art form performance which explores Sikh musical heritage and traditions, which soldiers took with them to the battlefield.

HENNA INDIAN STORYTELLING SHOW – As part of our Q Festival takeover we’ve invited international storytellers Peter and Gorg Chand to tell a very special story. On the eve of a wedding a young bride-to-be is having henna applied to her hands. As the patterns emerge, the stories begin to unfold… love, loss, betrayal and Bollywood! Plus GemArts Henna artists will be on hand to create beautiful designs for any of our audience who want them.

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NO DOGS NO INDIANS – A powerful new play from Siddhartha Bose. Three intertwining stories, spanning decades, explore the effects and legacy of the British in India in a powerful new play to mark the 70th anniversary of independence.

I’m always up for trying something new and out my comfort zone- do you have any recommendations?

CHANGES: stories on the edge will certainly make audiences ask some serious questions, and think long and hard about the world they live in and the resilience of people. Following last year’s successful ALIVE film programme, we’ve teamed up with creative producer Bobby Tiwana again, who has curated a stunning line up of short films for CHANGES; a programme of lives on the edge – personal and political conflicts test human resolve.

My little mini Culture Vulture Beck (one of my best pals little boys) – he’s really into trains, stamping his feet, stairs and exploring- anything for him and his lush fam?

There is plenty for mini Culture Vultures and their adults to get involved in during Masala Festival. We’re starting our Q Festival takeover with Bollywood dance classes for ages 2+ from 9am, and then from 11am we’ve Stories from the Punjab and Beyond for ages 5+ , a fun, interactive, and lively session of Indian tales.

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Part of our Movies at Masala programme with the Jam Jar Cinema, shows The Jungle Book at 11am on Saturday morning.

Sunday sees the return of our popular Masala Festival Mini Mela, which last year welcomed more than 500 people throughout the day. Like all GemArts Mini Melas the day includes a range of drop in arts workshops, from Rangoli, Kite making and Silk painting to Bollywood Dance and Dhol drumming, plus we’ve invited an amazing group of musicians to really bring the space to life, as the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band will perform throughout the day.

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Heard about the curry night at Arch 16 which obvs I’m all over that…..I like my curry to be an experience…..

BIRIYANI CLUB AT ARCH 16 – We love working with our friends and neighbours, and when we read about Arch 16’s curry clubs with Ashiyana Café we knew we had to chat Masala Festival with them. A tasty curry for less than £10, and GemArts DJs spinning the best bhangra hits, what’s not to like?!

CHETNA MAKAN CHAI, CHAAT AND CHUTNEY – As big fans of food shows, food cooking and food in general, we were over the moon when former Great British Bake Off contestant Chetna Makan was available to deliver a cooking demonstration during Masala Festival. Chetna will share stories from her travels around India for new cookbook, Chai Chaat and Chutney, and attendees will get to taste a selection of delicious street food recipes created before their very eyes!

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Well that’s all a little bit amazing isn’t it – so make sure you check out GemArts Masala Festival next week…..you’ll see instantly why  it won a Culture Award and how fantastic it is – every night a brand new experience of diverse lushness – so much to see, do and of course Culture Vultures, EAT!

So bye for now Culture Vultures and Sinead, well I’ll see you on the other side of Masala Festival…..

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The Culture Vulture xx

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