Author Archives: britishcouncilindia

Music can make the world go round!

What do you think an annual arts festival in London, and a mythical tradition that amidst other goals focussed on developing an elixir of life to confer youth and longevity, have in common?

Alchemy is London’s Southbank Centre’s annual festival showcasing the best of music, dance, literature, comedy, fashion, art and design from the UK and South Asia. Alchemy is also an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers. We’d like to believe that cultural relations has some of this profound power, with music as a kind of magic that activates it.

On Monday, 19 May 2014, some of this magic was experienced by around 250 festival goers in London at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre. In a medley of percussion, singing, wind and string instruments and some clog dancing thrown in for good measure, the audiences listened as six musicians from different traditions, styles, and countries strung notes of gold.

The energetic Suhail Yusuf Khan brought his skill with the sarangi, and honeydew voice that perfectly complemented Saurav Moni’s soulful Baul singing, quintessentially accompanied by the ektara. On the melancholic harp was Georgia Ruth Williams from Wales, with Patsy Reid from Scotland on the up-beat fiddle. Also from Scotland was James Mackintosh, a veteran percussionist. Hannah James from England brought sounds of the accordion and that of happy clog dancing to this mix.

While the highlight of the evening was the music, it was peppered with stories and narratives from each one’s country, and tradition. What better way to experience the grace of difference than through folk music and stories.

But what brought this eclectic mix of musicians together to weave with their strands of music, a breath-taking performance?

Over the last two years, our Folk Nations project has brought together artists from across the UK and South Asia to create and exchange contemporary folk music. One such project was a residency in Kolkata in 2013, co-commissioned by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, where these musicians met for the very first time. The music performed at Alchemy was conceived here.

Have a look at images from the performance here.

Share via email

Keeping India’s street art alive

Designer and artist Hanif Kureshi, who is preparing to exhibit his work at Alchemy 2014 in London’s Southbank Centre from the 15 to 26 May explains his current project and shares a few insights into his work, which aims to preserve the practice of hand-painted street signs in India and promote the importance of letters.

Why preserve hand-painted type?

India has a long tradition of hand painted type. Hand-painted signs used to be part of the landscape, but with digital printing street signs now all seem to look the same. I don’t think we should lose the unique character of our streets and why I am working to find ways of preserving our street painting tradition. Most of the painters across India have their own unique style and I think it would be such a shame if this wasn’t passed onto the next generation of designers.

Signboard from BikanerDigital printing and contemporary Indian culture

As our world becomes more and more globalised, I am concerned about how this affects our cultural identity. I would argue that our urban landscape plays quite a big part in our cultural identity. There is little point in fighting technological advances, so for me it makes sense to explore how to combine India’s unique cultural identity along with the technology that is contributing to making our world increasingly connected and homogeneous.

AAAAAATypeface in a global context 

Most of the typefaces and fonts that we use have been designed by either professional American British or European type designers; they aim for simplicity and homogeneity. The typefaces you see in my project reflect a very unique Indian aesthetic and the reactions I have received from outside India have been really interesting. The colours and shapes seem to evoke vivid emotions in people who perhaps haven’t been to India before: this is the beauty of the project.

The identity of typeface 

A street painter’s style is interlinked with their individual identity and background. An artist from North India will have a different colour scheme and form than an artist from the South. Each region also has their particular style of painting. Painters are very influenced by the people who taught them and there is a strong tradition of ‘master and disciple’. This tradition enforces a sense of identity and place in their work, which you don’t see with the generic fonts that we use at the minute. 

The power of letters

I come from advertising background where I was taught that the image is worth a thousand words. This may be true for advertising, but for me letters are always more powerful.As I said, they belong to an individual with an identity, sense of place and tradition. I don’t think an image can reflect the same emotion. I feel local script plays a very important role in every culture and we need to keep that sacred as digital can never express the emotion of human handwriting. 

Find out more about hand-painted type

Read more about Alchemy 2014

Share via email

James Mackintosh: Language is no barrier for musical collaboration

James Mackintosh BW

Ahead of the Folk Nations gig at Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival on 19 May, Scottish percussionist James Mackintosh joins the group from the Kolkata Residency to showcase a unique collaborative project.

A veteran of the global folk scene, James shares his thoughts on collaboration and the folk scene in the UK.

The resurgence of folk music

There has been a Renaissance in folk music in the UK over the last two decades at least. From a Scottish perspective this has had a lot to do with a handful of inspired and energetic individuals who realised that to keep our traditions alive there needed to be a better infrastructure for the teaching and sharing of folk music for the younger generation. The “Feis” movement gathered strength very quickly and led to a much greater enthusiasm and pride in our traditional culture. Folk music became “cool” once more as teenagers realised the enjoyment of playing various traditional instruments in sessions and at Ceilidh’s.

The similarities of Indian and British folk music

From my time spent in India, I saw more similarities than differences between British and Indian folk music. I noticed so many connections in the content, mood and emotion of various songs and tunes. Rhythm is hugely important to both cultures and in my own collaborations with Rajasthani musicians, we had much common ground in melodic and rhythmic approaches. The folk music that I heard in India was wonderful, passionate, fun, sophisticated and authentic .Folk music at its best is timeless and can exist in many forms.

Folk music is inherently collaborative

Collaborations in the British Folk scene have certainly produced some exciting combinations of musicians over the years. Folk music is collaborative by nature, so different combinations of voice and instrument are very natural, as are collaborations between musicians all around the world. I have found that language is no barrier to musical collaboration; I think this can be a great example towards cooperation and understanding between different cultures and nations.

Read what Patsy Reid, Georgia Ruth, and Suhail Yusuf Khan have to say.

Share via email

Patsy Reid: ‘UK and Indian folk music have different roots yet are permeated by similarities’

patsy reid

Folk musician Patsy Reid took part in a week-long residency in Kolkata as part of the British Council’s three-year Folk Nations project. Patsy is now preparing to perform for a Folk Nations gig at the Southbank Centre in London on 19 May.

Patsy shares her experience of the Folk Nations Kolkata Residency and exploring Indian and UK folk music.

UK and Indian folk music: different roots yet permeated by similarities 

I think that there are similarities and differences between the UK and Indian folk music but my experience of them is really dependant on who I happened to meet and play music with during my three trips to India last year. Suhail Yusuf Khan, for example has so much respect for the tradition and he is known for doing so, but also goes off piste and plays really experimental, cutting-edge music, fusing Indian music with rock and other styles. I know many people like that in the UK. I think what I’m trying to say is that both country’s folk musics are extremely diverse and rich, making them similar contextually. Each is full of musicians working in all areas of the spectrum and although the actual roots seem very different, the nature, respect and geographical implications are exactly the same.  

Exploring the unknown

Before the residency I was a wee bit intimidated by Indian music. Believe me I still am and I have barely scratched the surface during my now 3 trips to India. But I suppose what I did learn is that it’s better to have a go and join in respectfully and informed than to be frightened of it. Often the results would surprise us all and it was exciting to create something new together. Suhail Yusuf Khan was great to work with as he understood all of our reservations and concerns about spoiling such beautiful music and put us at ease.

Recreating the feeling of Kolkata

I don’t think my latest work was consciously influenced by my experience in Kolkata, but there have been lots of reviews saying that it did! Influence is such a difficult thing to measure but I’m sure that my playing in general was inspired by our time in Kolkata. I also made the decision to make the album very soon after the residency and I think that’s because I was on such a high and feeling confident in my abilities as a collaborator. Making the album itself was like the Kolkata residency in that we were all involved in jamming and making the music and I wanted to recreate that relaxed, at home feeling with the musicians. I was just the facilitator.

Musical evolution since the Kolkata residency

We were delighted to be asked to play at Celtic Connections in January 2014 and although we were all part of the original group, there were lots of people, instruments and characters missing and so we really had to treat it as a new band and that was a really lovely opportunity. We were never going to recreate the special time in Kolkata but what we ended up doing was creating a totally different but equally special concert in Glasgow. We worked well as a team creatively and pulled it together in a relatively small amount of rehearsal time.

Advice for young people who want to forge a career in music

I would say, don’t be over or under confident. You have to be humble and open when working with new people yet forthcoming with your own ideas. I think it is important to work out why you are making music together and who it is for. Sometimes the answer is irrelevant and it should be ‘for the love of it’, but unfortunately that cannot always be the case. If the audience is expecting or assuming a certain experience then that needs to be taken into account.

Read more about what the other Folk Nations musicians have to say

Find out more about Folk Nations

Share via email

Georgia Ruth Williams: ‘Kindred spirits through collaboration’

georgia ruth

As folk singer Georgia Ruth Williams prepares to perform at a Folk Nations gig at London’s Southbank Centre on 19 May, she shares her thoughts on musical influences, collaborations and her experience at the Folk Nations Kolkata Residency. 

The universality of music

It’s an old cliché, but music really does help to break down linguistic barriers. The bonds the musicians made at the Kolkata residency were often forged on a musical level, and sometimes I think that we would never have been able to express those feelings without the help of the songs. That sort of interaction was at the very heart of what the Folk Nations project hoped to achieve, so we were very lucky.

The evolution of techniques and influences

I’ve been playing the harp for 19 years now, and my technique has definitely morphed and shifted since I first began learning. I started off with a very rigorous classical training (the harp within an orchestral, Western-Classical context as opposed to a folk one) but gradually those restrictions fell away and I began to teach myself to play the sounds I’d heard in other music. When I first played with Indian musicians, I again found myself needing to adapt my technique to the new sounds and structures I was learning. By today, my ‘technique’ is a bit of a mish-mash of everything; my influences change daily. But at the moment, I’m listening to a lot of Dorothy Ashby records. She and Alice Coltrane really pushed the boundaries of how the harp was perceived in the 60s and 70s. They made it a fluid, adaptable thing. They took it from the rigidity of the concert hall and made it a dynamic instrument. ‘Afro Harping’ from 1968 – with its breakbeats and jazz influences – is a prototype of the hip-hop production styles which developed years later.

Kindred spirits through collaboration

The Kolkata Residency was such an intense experience. We all bonded really quickly, and when I left Kolkata I knew that wouldn’t be the end of things. What was fascinating for me was the breadth of different styles and influences – Bangladeshi, Welsh, Indian, Scottish, Pakistani and English music: all at once. We started to collaborate quite tentatively at first; everyone was so new to each other. But what began as a show-and-tell of songs quickly became a noticing of patterns, and a growing excitement as we started to see the similarities in places we’d never expected. I’ve learned to always be open, share everything you have because you might find a kindred spirit (or song) where you didn’t expect to.

UK and Indian folk music: familiarity amongst the differences

It is the idiosyncrasies of each nation’s folk songs that make them unique; there are things which are universally human in the traditions. In the UK, Welsh traditional music differs quite significantly from the English, which differs significantly from the Scottish etc. And that’s before we even begin to think about the Indian classical music.  But I was amazed when I heard Saurav Moni’s Bengali river songs. They reminded me so much of some agricultural songs from Glamorganshire in Wales (songs about driving cattle forward across fields, along rivers) and it was so incredibly moving to hear him sing his songs – they felt so familiar.

Advice for young people who want to forge a career in music

Don’t hesitate, ever! You will thank yourself. Collaborations are the best way to know yourself as a musician, because you are constantly having to re-evaluate things you’d taken for granted.

Read more about what the other Folk Nations musicians have to say

Find out more about Folk Nations

Share via email

What is it like to work in the arts in India?

“It is a very exciting time to be an arts professional in India. There is a sense of community and sharing as well as a sense of investment in growing something together”.

Latika Gupta is an art-historian and critic based in Delhi. Latika has worked on documentary films and photography projects tracing the history of Indian art and as a curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art and at KHOJ International Artists’ Association. Latika is currently studying towards a PhD in material culture and rituals in the Himalayas.

Latika tells us what it is like to work as an arts professional in India.

I think the opportunities for arts professionals, though having increased in the last few years, are still few and far between. Most work is on commission from private galleries and the opportunities to work with public spaces and museums are negligible. Additionally, professional opportunities are primarily in the contemporary arts sphere. There also continues to be the perception that if you work in the arts, it is akin to philanthropy, so in terms of remuneration, it is somewhat difficult for arts professionals to have a sustainable practice, especially as freelancers.

On the flipside however, given that the arts scene is still growing, it is a very exciting time to be an arts professional in India. There is a sense of community and sharing as well as a sense of investment in growing something together.

With this context in mind, the benefits of finding international opportunities which you can then bring back to your work are very valuable. I was commissioned to curate an exhibition from the permanent collection of the British Council in 2011. ‘Homelands’ toured Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Lahore, Karachi and Colombo between January 2013 and February 2014.  For this project, I worked with technical advisors as well as a fantastic team of arts professionals here in India- all of whom I learned a great deal from in terms of ‘best practices’. I also received a three-months research fellowship from CWIT for a project on Himalayan art. It was extremely valuable in terms of the resources I was able to use as well as the academics I worked with. This has informed my current research work as a Phd scholar at the Jawharlal Nehru University, where I am working on material culture and rituals in the Himalayas.

Are you an arts professional in India? What has your experience been like? 

Post by: Emer Coyle


Share via email

The Politics of Pronunciation

Accent is our identity, an oral fingerprint containing all sorts of information about our life.

Do you have an accent?

Helen Ashton began her talk with this question to the audience – very few said yes.

Collins in collaboration with English Partnerships department organised a talk on ‘The Politics of Pronunciation’ by dialect coach, Helen Ashton at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday 2 April 2014. The event was live streamed; and audiences in our other offices in Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Bengaluru watched the proceedings.

In her welcome address to the audience and viewers of the live webcast, Alison Barrett, Director English for Education Systems, British Council South Asia spoke about British Council and Collins’ shared vision to support teachers in their development.

Dr Elaine Higgleton, International Publisher, Collins Learning talked about the role of Collins in the field of education. Since 200 years Collins has been publishing dictionaries, atlases, school course books and has worked extensively with partners across the world. Through this talk Collins wanted to discuss a key issue faced by teachers: What pronunciation should we be teaching our students?

Also present at the event were senior management officials from Collins; Mr. Colin Hughes, Managing Director, Collins Learning, Mr. Krishna Naroor, Managing Director, Collins India and Mr. P.M. Sukumar, Chief Executive Officer, HarperCollins Publishers India.

Helen believes that accents reflect our identities, and no one way of speaking is inherently better than another. However, this doesn’t mean that pronunciation teaching should be abandoned altogether, rather it should be flexible. Voice is physical and is a result of the muscle habits that we develop over a course of time. Helen made the audience breathe, yawn, play with their tongue, do an Elvis lip and blurt out a trill, to name a few – all part of muscular exercises important in pronunciation teaching.

She mainly discussed Received Pronunciation (RP) which is said to be the ‘standard’ in spoken English. Pronunciation is one of the major aspects of language and with the language constantly evolving, RP is changing too. For instance, a study has revealed that even the Queen’s accent has changed over the years.

In English curriculum, pronunciation plays a key role and majority of the teachers have always hesitated to teach their students as they themselves aren’t aware of the correct pronunciation. To overcome this barrier, Helen presented key concepts and techniques that are useful for teaching various pronunciation models and can be tailored to students’ individual goals.

As she progressed through the talk she used different accents: Scottish, British and American to name a few.

To sum up the session, ‘Accent is how we pronounce words when we speak so EVERYBODY has an accent’. She concluded the event with the same question she had asked in the beginning Do you have an accent?

A resounding yes!

The audiences across our four offices comprised teachers, professors, principals, students, publishers, teacher educators and representatives for other educational institutions.

The Q&A session was opened out to all cities via Twitter. The talk helped the audience understand how they could incorporate these easy-to-use techniques into their teaching of pronunciation in a way that was practical and effective and created a huge impact on teaching and learning. The success of this event has prompted the roll out of similar talks for the English teaching and education sector.

More photographs of the event can be viewed here.

Helen Ashton trained at The Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with Distinction from the MA in Voice. She specialises in speech and accent work, which she teaches at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London. She has coached actors in many different accents for Stage and Screen appearances.

Helen is co-author of the pronunciation guide Collins’ Work On Your Accent which was published in 2012, and teaches English pronunciation to speakers of all languages. Helen also holds an MA with First Class Honours in History from The University of Edinburgh.

Share via email

The politics of pronunciation – talk by Helen Ashton

Collins in partnership with British Council India invites you to a talk on The Politics of Pronunciation by Helen Ashton.


Helen Ashton trained at The Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with Distinction from the MA in Voice. She specialises in speech and accent work, which she teaches at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London. She has coached actors in many different accents for Stage and Screen appearances. Helen is co-author of the pronunciation guide Collins’ Work On Your Accent which was published in 2012, and teaches English pronunciation to speakers of all languages. Helen also holds an MA with First Class Honours in History from The University of Edinburgh.


Dialect coach, Helen Ashton believes that accents reflect our identities, and no one way of speaking is inherently better than another. However, this doesn’t mean that pronunciation teaching should be abandoned altogether. There is a middle ground: there is a difference between training people to talk like Received Pronunciation drones, and helping them to speak in a way that is expressive and clear to anyone listening. Although individual accents should be respected, there comes a point where pronunciation habits can be a limitation to fluency.

In this presentation, Helen will argue that pronunciation teaching should be flexible, and tailored to students’ individual goals. She will include examples from the Indian context and consider one of the key issues here that gets teachers arguing: should our children be taught English models of pronunciation or is it acceptable in this global world – for them to speak with Indian accents? She will also present key skills and concepts that are useful for teaching different pronunciation models.

There is space for both sensitivity and rigour within pronunciation teaching in India, and without either one of them, we are letting our students down. Read more here


Collins is one of the world’s leading dictionary, schools, reference and language publishers. Founded in 1819 on the principle of “creating knowledge for all”, Collins continues to offer an exceptionally wide choice for all language needs.

With almost 200 years of dictionary publishing experience, Collins is one of the world’s most authoritative education and language publishers. By pioneering new approaches to publishing Collins will always provide people with the most up-to-date and accessible dictionaries and language learning products available.

Collins is best known in India for its dictionaries, language reference books and course books for international schools. In a major new initiative Collins has now launched skills books for phonics, spelling, ELT, mathematics and reading for children in Indian schools in grades 1 to 8, and will shortly be publishing course books covering ELT, mathematics, science and computer science also for grades 1 to 8 focusing initially on the requirements of the CBSE board.

Globally Collins publishing continues to grow, with over 60 eBooks and hundreds of apps now available.

You can follow some of the discussions on Twitter @inBritish and @TeachEngIndia with #Pronunciation

Share via email

Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers

IMG6026We launched our global publication, ‘Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers’, edited by Julian Edge and Steve Mann in India in February 2014. The two editors undertook a six-city book tour, after delivering the first joint plenary at the Teacher Educator Conference 2014 in Hyderabad.

Julian Edge visited Chennai (25 February), Bangalore (26 February) and Pune (28 February), while Steve Mann delivered talks in Delhi (24 February), Kolkata (26 February) and Chandigarh (28 February).

At each stop the editors met with a large number of enthusiastic audience comprising in teacher educators, English teachers and trainee teachers. The focus of volume on pre-service teacher education and training (PRESETT) of English language teachers chimed particularly with the audience as PRESETT tends to be a neglected area within the wider field of ELT.

In Delhi, Steve Mann was the keynote speaker at the ELTAI Delhi chapter’s annual conference and the book was launched at the end of the lecture. In Kolkata the book was launched by Dr Chhanda Ray, Director SCERT, West Bengal, followed by a talk on “Innovations in PRESETT” by Steve Mann. The Kolkata event saw a full house of more than 80 inquisitive participants ranging from accomplished teacher trainers, current teachers and trainee teachers. The book event in Chandigarh was co-hosted by the Regional Institute of English, attracted over a 100 people and the book received excellent press coverage in the local press.

Julian Edge kicked off his leg of the lecture tour in our Chennai library, with the book being launched by Pooja Kulkarni, State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Mission, Tamil Nadu followed by an interactive lecture. Elsewhere in Bengaluru, Mohammad Mohsin (Commissioner for Public Instruction, Karnataka) launched the book and Julian Edge’s presentation was very well received by the audience, majority of them being B Ed students. In Pune, the lanch was well attended as well where the local press also wrote about the book.


This book is part of British Council’s ‘Innovations in…’ series. The series aims to bring to the reader a range of ideas and practices in English language teaching (ELT), and to stimulate new thinking and experimentation, by providing accounts of innovative experiences from a range of international contexts.

The book is available for free download on our website. For more information on our research and other publications visit this link

Share via email

Nirbhaya: what is the way forward?

Yael Farber’s internationally acclaimed play, Nirbhaya is currently touring India. It is a play based around the personal testimonies of women who have survived sexual violence and an evocation of the Delhi rape case of 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya has played to audiences around the world and met very similar reactions to the global problem of sexual violence: how do we move forward from here?

As part of Nirbhaya’s India tour, the actors and associate partners – the British Council, Oxfam and UN Women are supporting several ‘Way Forward Discussions’, which are open forums for people to share their ideas on we can advance on this issue.

In the ‘Way Forward’ discussion in Delhi, we were joined by great speakers: Huma Masood, UNESCO, Sonali Khan, Breakthrough, Keerti, ActionAid India, Manak Matiyani, Must Bol Campaign and Poorna Jagannathan, actor in Nirbhaya.

During the discussion, some very important points were raised, including:

  • The key to this problem is the prevention of violence and being critical of our social norms. Violence against women is accepted and normalised in India.
  • We need to reach out to various audiences, we can’t continue to speak to the ‘converted’.
  • Violence is about power and subjugating another person. This issue is about the framework of power.
  • All genders are responsible for this issue, the onus is not on just women or just men.
  • The culture of shame and silence about sexual violence is universal.
  • Sexual violence is a cultural and a social development issue.
  • The time is right to take action and engage more people in this issue.

But most importantly, the discussion focused on actions that we can take to change attitudes and strengthen our support systems:

  • Use popular culture and new media to engage different audiences, especially young people.
  • Demand that more budget is allocated to implementing the laws against domestic violence.
  • Women are kept without resources and thus unable to acquire power. The government needs to strengthen the social security system to enable women to be independent.
  • Translate Nirbhaya into Hindi and play around with different pricing structures so we can take this to more people.
  • We need to work at all levels, grass roots to policy, in a decentralised manner with various mediums and forums.

Do you agree? What do you think is the way forward?

Post by: Emer Coyle

Share via email