A musical collision of punk pop and political consciousness
If there has to be a single creative act which symbolises what Alchemy at The Southbank is about then it is Asian Dub Foundation (ADF). The British band epitomises the theme of the festival which celebrates and showcases the best in South Asian culture, making it accessible and appealing to call. ADF rose to fame in the nineties and have gone from being an East London community music collective to one of the most established music groups in the UK. Since their debut they have always combined and amalgamated explosive and highly energised music with traditional Indian sounds and blending mixed global rhythms. On appearance they are militant, stage dominating MCs with powerful beatboxing lyrics. This has been a vehicle for their prophetic issues, protest and 'saying it like it is'
The Alchemy, concert in the name of peace, filled the Royal Festival Hall, pulling in a diverse audience and an enthusiastic intergenerational crowd. The line up included their usual eclectic fusion of drum ‘n’ bass, reggae and punk with crowds quickly gathering to the front dancing with their arms in their air. They performed Flyover with its distinctive opening and the always relevant Fortress Europe. They also played Rebel Warrior from their first album Facts and Fiction inspired by the poem called Bidrohi by Bangladeshi national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) who was ahead of his time and well-known for his activism against oppression and social justice which earned him the title ‘Rebel poet.’
ADF's gigs are never just an auditory experience. The atmosphere was also very much a visual feast and the set included the use of film clips as the backdrop, capturing footage of oppression around the world, conveying what their music is about. ADF continues to stand up against social and global injustices. One of the most appealing things about them is the zeitgeist of their music and live performances. Consistently pushing the boundaries, ADF are more relevant than ever.
For this special gig they were supported by the Pakistani band Laal which means red in Urdu, making their debut at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Laal’s enthusiasm to be on the London stage to celebrate what they stand for was obvious. They were energetic and showed how music from Pakistan can be a tool for resistance against contemporary struggles, religious extremism and oppression. The band consists of Timir Rahman on vocals and guitar alongside his wife the vocalist and artist Mehwish Waqar and traditional bamboo flute player Haider Rahman. Their songs were both in Urdu and English and reflected the spectrum of music from the region from the progressive writers of Pakistan, Sufi poetry and the rhythm of bhangra sounds.
Rahman demonstrated a mini bhangra tutorial, sharing that it was ‘all in the shoulders’ as members of the audience crowds flocked to the front of the stage enjoying the music and supporting what Laal were trying to do. They performed Fareda capturing traditional sounds of the flute, tabla and Timir’s vocals. They also sang Mustt Mustt by the famous Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with elements of Qawwali Sufi music. The crowd were hooked as they repeated the chorus. The highlight had to be the collaboration with ADF. Together they sang a symbolic reworking of Eddy Grant’s sing-a-long anti-apartheid Gimme Hope Joanna perfectly appropriated to You give me Hope Malala in honour of the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The backdrop of comic satirical images of the Taliban and religious extremism just showed how unstoppable they are in their campaign for human rights and breaking barriers through socialist and progressive political songs. Laal’s debut was simply a powerful performance.
This joint concert featuring Asian Dub Foundation and Laal was organised as a peace concert and that is just what the night represented to the crowd through the essence of the Alchemy Festival. In the journey for social activism Asian Dub Foundation and Laal showed just what is possible through powerful eclectic global music.
Asian Dub Foundation and Laal performed as part of Alchemy 2016 at The Southbank Centre. The band are touring the festival circuit across Europe this summer.