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Masala Festival Review: Sacred Sounds, Chetna Makan, Daljit Nagra, Sarathy Korwar

After previewing the second Masala Festival a few weeks ago, I managed to get along to four events in the eclectic and diverse programme celebrating South Asian culture in the North East. I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in a different culture in my own region, and look forward to attending more events next year (especially more food-related ones). 

Sacred Sounds, The Sage Gateshead 17.7.17

I took my seat in Sage Two, which had a great view of the stage and the seven places which awaited their respective musicians. I noticed members of the military in the audience (along with many Sikhs of all ages) there to simultaneously pay their respects for the 100,000 Sikhs who fought in WWI, and learn more about their participation and some of the stories which arose from such a dreadful conflict. 

The show started with a slideshow of haunting images of Sikh soldiers before an actor came on stage to immerse us in one family’s story (unfortunately it was difficult to hear him because of lots of latecomers). The combination of the drum and the violin was powerful, and when the Dilruba joined in (played masterfully by Kirpal Singh Panesar, also a talented singer), the sound was truly soul-stirring. The musicians performed Shabads (Sikh sacred hymns), recruitment songs and folk songs.

The photograph that inspired the show

In the second half, more musicians were involved; the female actors seamlessly transitioning into playing instruments and singing beautifully. It’s shocking to contemplate the fact that nearly 40% of the Sikh population enlisted in the Punjab, and the loss and grief their family members felt when many of them didn’t come back. Telling the story with music and actors worked well; between songs the actors read moving letters from soldiers and their families. I loved how the show was inspired by a single photograph of Sikh soldiers perfoming Shabads in a French barn. Poignant and informative.

Chetna Makan – Chai, Chaat and Chutney at Food Nation 18.7.17
I hate to admit that I haven’t always been an avid Bake Off viewer, but I do remember seeing Chetna Makan reaching the semi-final in 2014. I was happy to finally visit Food Nation in Heaton (a social enterprise inspiring people about good food in Newcastle) which was playing host to a cookery demonstration by Chetna, as part of the second Masala Festival, a celebration of South Asian culture in the North East. 
Chetna has just released her second cookery book ‘Chai, Chaat and Chutney,’ a vibrant journey through Indian street food, and selected a couple of popular recipes for the demo. I managed to get a front row seat right next to the main cooking action, and pretty soon the amazing smells from the fresh herbs and spices started to make my stomach rumble. 
First she walked us through making Vada Pav (click here for the video link), a popular street food snack consisting of spiced, deep-fried potato served in a mini bun garnished by various chutneys. It seems pretty easy to make, and would be great for a dinner party canapé or a filling snack, especially for vegetarians. The green coriander chutney was delicious too! She has a really natural, easy manner which makes it easy to follow what she’s doing, I also enjoyed her snippets of stories about India and the food she has tasted there. 

After we’d all had a taste Chetna then started making Chicken Kathi Rolls, which she had tried in Calcutta but realised that every ingredient in the recipe was deep fried, so she decided to make a healthy version. A few people in the audience asked about flour, and she doled out good advice about chapati flour and how to get it right. Vegetarians can also make an egg version of this recipe. The filling goes inside a roti flatbread which Chetna showed us how to make. Again they were delicious and luckily there were plenty to go around the twenty or so of us in the room. 
The demo whetted my appetite for making Indian street food, and I’ll definitely be consulting Chetan’s book Chai, Chaat and Chutney for ideas! Don’t forget to subscribe to Chetna’s Youtube channel for recipe ideas! 

Daljit Nagra: Heritage and Identity, Culture Lab/Newcastle University 18.7.17

It’s been too long since I went to a poetry reading (over a year ago I saw Carol Ann Duffy read her poems at Niddfest), and I’ve started to write my own poetry recently, so I was happy to attend this poetry reading and Q&A presented by GemArts, NCLA and Trashed Organ. Nagra’s debut poetry collection (Look We Have Coming To Dover) was published in 2007; his poems are mainly about the experiences of Indians born in the UK. He often uses language which imitates the English spoken by Punjabi immigrants (often termed Punglish).

His latest collection, British Museum, reflects the current challenges to our sense of national identity and asks profound questions about our ethics and responsibilities at this time. A departure from his usual exclamatory prose, this collection asks is more questioning, quieter and more contemplative than his previous work. He read poems Vox Populi, Hadrian’s Wall, BBC and The Vishnu of Wolverhampton, which all raised laughs from the audience as well as long, meditative silences. Alongside the titular British Museum, Nagra reflects on the major institutions that define our ‘Britishness.’ He spoke about his personal experiences being Poet in Residence at the BBC, and likened it to a spaceship (which tickled me as I stopped myself from booing).

In the Q & A afterwards the lecturer from Newcastle University asked a lot of pertinent questions about the grammar involved, the Indian community and things like ‘linguistic experimentalism.’ I left feeling the urge to read some of his earlier poetry and check out Youtube videos of his previous readings, after chatting with some friendly literary types.

Sarathy Korwar – Black Swan, Newcastle 20.7.17 

Sarathy Korwar
After hearing the Sacred Sounds of traditional Sikh music at the Sage Gateshead and watching an Indian street food cookery demonstration with Bake Off star Chetna Makan as part of the second Masala Festival, I felt like I’d been temporarily transported to Southern Asia. I rounded off my week reviewing festival events with more music, this time traditional folk music from India’s Sidi Community fused with modern jazz and electronics. 

The talented Tamar Osborn
I got there a bit late and was immediately thrust into an exciting cacophony of sound, with Sarathy Korwar centre-stage on drums, surrounded by his quintet (keyboards, guitar, bass and sax/flute). Korwar et al were performing music from his new Day to Day album, which is described as “an exceptional debut” by legendary DJ Gilles Peterson. I soon left the outside world behind and was totally captivated by the unique sound, which was unlike any other jazz I’ve ever heard. All of the musicians on stage were exceptionally talented, with Tamar Osborn stealing the show, alternating expertly between sax and flute. Some audience members couldn’t contain their joy at the music, with many in the room visibly transported to another plane. Whether the band were all playing, or just a handful of musicians were on the stage (the sax, drums and guitar section was particularly stand-out) each track was distinctive and refreshing. 
To listen to Day to Day click here 

Please visit the Masala Festival website to read more about this year’s festival, and looking forward to attending more events when it returns next year!

*I received tickets for the above events in exchange for reviews 

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