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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Jesterval North East Comedy Festival 2017; Summer with a side of hysterics.

So it’s that time of year, where I eagerly sit planning my Summer, wishing the Springtime away – I rarely take holidays or take time off, but yet I still manage to cram as much as possibly into the Summer time…. The light nights make everything seem possible and the realities of real life so far away……..always time for one more drink, one more song, one more festival and where going out on a Wednesday was laughable mid-December, suddenly becomes essential.

Whilst I’m busy planning my Summer and my diary is looking jam packed full of lushness – I’m also thinking of festivals; my perfect job would be one I could take 2months off and festival my heart out. I do try to attend at least one a year now either abroad or in the UK away from the North East and as many as possible in the region; this year I’m off to Festival of Thift, Lindisfarne Festival, Q Festival and of course, an annual fave not just for me and my friends, but also Mama Culture Vulture – Jesterval North East Comedy Festival!

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Jesterval has now become so entwined in my Summer holiday planning mostly down to the fact I was absolutely furious a few years ago when I booked a holiday over half the festival. It was so devastating and serious, that I was tempted to cancel….. hehe. But now, in my Summer planning, the question is always first – “right, so when is Jesterval?” – making sure it has prime position and such an oversight never occurs again.

I attend as many of the Jesterval days and nights as possible and I love it for so many reasons; obviously I get to see lush comedy in a brilliant atmosphere from some of comedies bigger hitters before they head off on tour or to the fringe. I also, get to discover some hidden gems, up and comers and lots of people I get to tick off my comedy list who I’d always wanted to see. All of this within an amazing programme, which I love; walking into the Jesterval tent discovering someone brilliant.

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I love the Jesterval community vibe too – you see lots of regular festival goers and there is something so brilliant and uniting, over a beer or G&T, from absolutely laughing your socks off, eye liner crying down our faces, with a laughter stitch causing such pain that I’m a million percent sure I will have a six pack the next day – so much so, I’d go and have been many times, to nights on my own, laughing like a cracker on my own, feeling part of the Jesterval furniture. I also have friends who do the comedy rounds at The Stand and others and it’s great to see them get the opportunity to perform on my door step…… and of course, I’m sure it’s great for them, to have a proud friend wailing, jeering and cheering from the back…friends are the worst hecklers – especially after a gin or two.

But my biggest love for Jesterval, is the fact that it is unrivalled as a festival with such a brilliant programme; I can and do attend things with my really diverse friendship groups, people from work, Mama Horts, people who haven’t really been to comedy gigs before, comedy regulars and my friends with families of little tinkers. This is why I go so much….. so much to do and see – may as well camp on site.

Those eagle eyed of you will have noticed that Jesterval tickets have gone on sale and that this year, it is part of the bigger Q Festival event on Baltic Quays, 14th July – 6th August in a lush Spiegel tent.  Well, I thought it was the right time to catch up with Jesterval programmer Della and get this year’s low down….and find out, who I should be seeing……

Hi Della, Jesterval is back for 2017, I’m buzzin’ obviously as always…..for those who haven’t been before or unsure what Jesterval is, can you explain what it’s all about?

It is a festival of comedy with jesters and val….; hehe not really it’s an amalgamation of jester and festival. And it’s about to go off on the Gateshead quayside, over 45 comedy shows in one space.  Bringing together some of the best UK and International Comedy performers.

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Gosh……I was excited to meet this Val for a second…. That might be my 2017 Jesterval heckle “where’s bliddy Val, I came to see Val?!!!” So how did the idea for Jesterval start – why did you launch a comedy festival here in the North East?

There has been a comedy festival in the north east for a number of years we inherited it 7 years ago. Previously all the shows were hosted in different venues around Gateshead and Newcastle, we wanted to centralise it and make a single fun destination where people could hang out and enjoy a festival atmosphere. We run up here because I am a local lass and therefore save a fortune on travel and why would you want to go anywhere else!?

My favourite memory of Jesterval so far, was a Sara Pascoe show a few years back – on one side of the front row we had a step Dad desperately trying to bond with a teenage step son and a very middle class first meeting of future in laws on the other side…… I’m not sure if I laughed more at Sara’s show or the social awkwardness of these two groups refusing to laugh or look each other in the eye during each rudey joke….it was brilliant! Do you have any fond memories or favourite shows from years gone by?

Too many fond memories too many great shows always enjoy Ed Byrne who has been an ardent supporter of the festival, Luisa Omielan who never fails to smash it and also Lee Kyles’ various shows are always a riotous unpredictable laugh fest!

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Ed Byrne having a Jesterval bev in 2015

You’re announcing the programme bit by bit (sneaky!) – what and who can people expect this year for 2017?

They can literally expect something for everyone, we have the master of one liner’s Gary Delaney, Surrealist Paul Foot, too many comedy award winners to mention, but here are a few Sara Pascoe, Phil Nichol, Brendon Burns, Zoe Lyons, Glenn Wool, Mick Ferry and the list goes on…..

What are you most excited about for 2017?

We are always excited by the idea that people will come along and take a punt on an act that they have no knowledge of but trust our booking instincts; for example last year we hosted Scott Gibson with his show that then went to the Edinburgh festival and won the best newcomer award. He is back again on the 20th of July which like all nights has a stunning line up, with solo shows from Scott, Mike Gunn and Matt Reed.  We are also super pleased to welcome Tom Binns back fresh from filming his new BBC Comedy Series Hospital People.

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Jesterval is known for championing new comedians and comedians experimenting with new material before heading up to Edin – who or which show is your one to watch for this year?

Desiree Burch is relatively new to the UK circuit and most definitely one to watch out for. Because we select the shows for Jesterval we believe that every one of them is as good as the next, but just different.

Right onto the important stuff…..Jesterval is for all kinds of people and I usually go multiple times, can you suggest some shows this year for me…..

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  • For me and my best mate Kate – we like crime dramas, anything ridiculous, lots of gin and crisps, nothing too cheesy or preachy.

I would suggest salt and vinegar crisps as they are definitely not too cheesy. Go and see Lee Kyle and his show “The Best Comedy He Can Do Without Swearing” and Paul Foot’s ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Piglet’.

  • For me and my Mum – Mama Horts LOVES Sara Pascoe, humour taking the mick out of real life things, women stuff etc.

Well as you will know Sara Pascoe is back, so thats a no brainer and as I know your mum loves Hal Cruttenden as do I, then that is Mama Horts sorted.

  • For me, my friend Carla and her little boy Beck – he’s two, likes puddle stamping, bright colours, food (me too) and going up and down stairs?

The Gunge show or Yukfest sounds like it would be perfect for Beck and of course the big kid in you and Carla.

  • For me and my friend Laura with her family- all under ten and a grown up husband…..?

There are so many fantastic family shows and the best part is that they are fun for adults too, believe me, I have seen them.   The Kagools are hilarious and we have even added some circus comedy into the Jesterval family programme this year with “Arr We There Yet“ and “Arthurs Odyssey”. Families will be spoilt for choice.

  • For me and my friend Lucy – we want to check out the undiscovered, someone new?

Sophie Willan is back this year with her Edinburgh preview show ‘Wild’; Sophie is most definitely one to watch out for.  Johnny Pelham and George Zac are also ones for the undiscovered list.

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Right, so the all-important question now – where can I get my tickets for shows? Are they on sale now?

Tickets are on sale now and you can buy them from our website

Jesterval is part of a bigger festival this year, on Baltic Square Gateshead called Q Festival……..can you tell your loyal audience (like me) who go every single year, a little bit more about what to expect?

We are absolutely thrilled to be collaborating with Gateshead Council on Q Festival, the programme is so varied and is such an awesome addition to Jesterval Comedy.  Some of the events you can expect are a Gin festival brought to you by local guys Steampunk Gin, gerrin!, Immersive Cinema from the absolutely talented Screenage Kicks, craft sessions galore, an 80’s party (get your leg warmers ready), a baby rave with Chalk, yes that’s right a blooming rave for the bairns and much more.  I am so excited for this festival and can’t wait to see the people of the North east down on Baltic Square from July 14th to 6th August.

Thanks Della……

Well that sounds proper lush……..and I’m properly excited now and need to get tickets for everything immediately…..for those that love Jesterval as much as I do, get your tickets before shows start selling out and for everyone else, go go go and cherry pick some shows and embrace the Jesterval Comedy Fest vibe.

(All Pictures are used with permission from Jesterval and courtesy of picturesbybish, a fantastically talent photographer!)