London’s Alchemy festival to feature top British-Asian stars

CELEBRATE: The Alchemy Festival is due to showcase a variety of British and Asian talent
CELEBRATE: The Alchemy Festival is due to showcase a variety of British and Asian talent


AN ANNUAL arts festival celebrating the “unique” links between the UK and south Asia returns to London next month.

The Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre will feature dance performances, comedy, DJs, music, food and film.

Rachel Harris, the creative producer at the Southbank Centre, told Eastern Eye that the festival is  “brilliant” opportunity for audiences to realise how forward-thinking the artistic work is in south Asia.

“It is great for London to not be complacent that the West equates to contemporary and the East is very traditional,” she said.

“The festival is about contemporary work – although there are moments in the programme where we do have classical artists – but where something is exceptional or where it is rarely seen in this country, then it is important the festival invites that work.”

The four-day event will explore cultural links between Britain and south Asia, drawing in communities who perhaps are not given major profiles in the arts sector.

Highlights include performances from the Mercury Music Prize-winning composer and tabla player Talvin Singh; comedy from Muslim comic Tez Ilyas; music from India’s first Ska band The Ska Vengers and dance theatre piece The Troth, which tells the untold story of sacrifices made by Indian soldiers in the First World War.

Alchemy shows include dance theatre piece The Troth

Harris has worked on the festival, now in its ninth year, since its launch. She revealed the event aimed to provide platforms for Asian artists who may not have had the opportunity to showcase their work in the UK, and acknowledged the difficulties that British Asian artists may feel they have in terms of finding a place in the industry for their work.

However, she believed that Alchemy allowed individuals to share their talent and emphasised how important up-and-coming artists were to the festival.

“I’m sure if you were to speak to British Asian artists, they would say there is still a lack of opportunity,” Harris said. “This is why the festival invites people at the beginning of their careers as well as those who are world renowned. It is very important to give people opportunities all along the way.”

“We are also looking at celebrating the creative impact of British south Asian artists,” she added. “It is unique to hear how music, mainstream music, and popular culture has
been impacted by the second and third generation of south Asians.”

Harris said festival organisers wanted to achieve a balance so artists in all the countries in the subcontinent, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, have an
equal platform to showcase their talent.

In addition to the wide range of acts, three Southbank venues have been reopened this year to host some of the artists on the programme. The venues, originally constructed in
the 1960s, include the Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Hayward Gallery and the Purcell Room.

“It is definitely a special year for Alchemy,” Harris said.

Rachel Harris

In her role as creative producer, Harris revealed she had to ensure audiences from every age range had something to interest them. She also had to help “shape” the event, making sure she listened to the artists and gathered ideas from them.

There are a number of free events, including an interactive production of The Magic Fish, told through beat-boxing and dance, and a Bollywood dance workshop, open to all levels of experiences.

On the festival’s impact, Harris hoped it would show audiences how interconnected the world is.

“The world is smaller than we think – we are all interconnected, through politics and ideas and economics,” Harris said. “Alchemy is about breaking down barriers, allowing people to see things they may not have seen before, mixing audiences up and allowing people to connect.”

The Alchemy Festival will be running at the Southbank Centre from May 4-7. For more information about events and tickets, see