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.