Weekend One of Kinara Festival saw some of the brightest lights in UK spoken word shine on the stage at the ACE Centre in Nelson. From a two-day workshop, bringing local poets’ words to life, to a stunning performance from Lemn Sissay, Love & Etiquette Founder Rizwan Iqbal discusses the wonderful start to Kinara Festival and the space it is creating for timely discussions about art, relevance and community.
For a moment, the launch of an Asian arts festival and a whole weekend of spoken word poetry seemed an unlikely happening in Nelson. However, after hearing the rapture of applause and cries of laughter, I cannot help but accept the subtle fusion of food, melodies and narratives from across the UK is a perfectly organic phenomenon.
Blackburn-born comedian Tez Ilyas officially opened the Kinara Festival on Friday evening. His quick wit and charm immediately won the focus of the audience, only to see him return on the Saturday night to host an evening of live poetry and music. Tez was supported by the talented Faz Shah who proved that beat boxing and playing the violin is no easy feat to achieve in a formal black shalwar kameez. This short performance broke all forms of spoken and musical stereotypes. Adorning an Afghan hat, Faz was a testimony to the much needed development and artistic endeavour of young Asians in Britain today.
The lighthearted entertainment paved the way for a conversation to uncover The Art of Relevance and how we can make art that speaks to local communities. Chaired by Laurie Peake, Director of Super Slow Way, the conversation provided revelations of identity, origin and understanding what is the context and whether or not art actually needs to be relevant in the first place. The conversation provided enough to challenge the audience from topics such as Brexit, racism and political correctness gone wrong.
Avaes Mohammad, the architect behind the workshops and evening performances, appeared perfectly at ease on and off stage in the ACE Centre, introducing and showcasing the weekend’s talent. His workshop and companions in poetry combined the elegance of the Urdu and English languages and melodies of the Punjab, where all the artists shared powerful expressions and creative writing skills that left the audience shouting for more.
Surrounded by the echoes and expressions of playwright Mojisola Adebayo and poet Jo Bell the evening seamlessly came together interwoven through a maturity of words and creativity performed with patience and perfection. The highlight of Saturday evening came in the form of Amrit Kaur Lohia, who sings, plays the sarangi (a bowed, short-necked string instrument from India) alongside her brother on tabla (Indian drums). Her collection of Punjabi poetry and spiritual lyrics from Sufi-inspired poets and saints silenced the audience who were already in awe of her haunting sounds of string and soulful song.
On the final night when Portugal lifted the European Cup trophy, a new collective of three spoken word poets and the infamous Lemn Sissay tore the roof down to an overwhelming reception. The evening proved why these types of events are crucial to fostering artistic inspiration and platforms for local artists and audiences.
The powerful yet decisive words of poetry took me through the journey of childhood, adulthood and being present amongst so many voices and borders. The poetry illustrated stories and emotions and left nothing lost in translation. The poetry was the music and transcended any language barriers. Although we had a superb reception and welcome to the weekend I feel local audiences missed out and made me think about the challenge that is still present before arts organisations and individuals who are trying to engage and develop the arts in minority ethnic communities from a South Asian heritage.
Maybe spoken word poetry needs to evolve or include the local passion of naat and nasheed which is a highly celebrated form of songs of praise from the Islamic tradition of recital. I know we had some of the highest quality UK poetry and self-expression on show and feel spoken word /poetry is still a misunderstood art form. As an art form I feel it can really help literacy, share local stories and become a voice of change where under-represented communities can have a voice and vanquish stereotypes. I acknowledge this will take time to change and minority communities in Pennine Lancashire have a very good opportunity in the coming years to make a positive change to get involved and drive a culturally relevant narrative, direction and programme of events.
To hear Lemn with beautiful poetic flow converse with the audience was an unforgettable experience and the entire weekend has certainly sparked a fuse to the art of what is possible.