By James Vegnuti
146 individual artists, 10 hours of programming, 1 stage…
My day starts with a strong coffee, surrounded by clipboards, schedules, and high-vis jackets ready to pack for the rest of the team. After making sure all the artists have sent the correct audio and double checked last minute programme changes I’m ready to get to site and meet the team. The car is packed for every eventuality: umbrella, sunscreen, and plenty of snacks.
Months of planning and a huge team effort all culminate today, the anticipation is building and none of us can stop checking the weather forecast. We proceed to the stage, where the word “BIRMINGHAM” is written in enormous letters. As programme partners, we were invited to the morning briefing a couple of days earlier with the many teams that put on the festival, so it’s all steam ahead as soon as we arrive. Festival producers, technical staff, stage managers, and artist liaison were available to answer our questions as well as make their own.
30 minutes till show time, we conduct final checks with our two fantastic compere’s Dharmesh Rajput and Jaya Khazaei. All hands are on deck to make sure we start on time and the audience are ready to go with their exercise mats – the energy in the square is evident.
The show starts, our compere’s welcome the audience and get everyone excited about the day’s activity. Easing the audience in to our 10 hours of programming we have Akash Parekar on sitar, Jasjit Singh on tabla, and Subash Viman leading a morning stretch routine. Backstage we’re meeting with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games mascot ‘Perry’ to make sure his entrance with dhol group Eternal Taal goes as smoothly as possible.
With the day in full swing it’s time to welcome Perry to the Square, with my Hi Vis jacket on we left the backstage area and the parade begins. Eternal Taal, Perry, and festival volunteers journey around the square twice, stopping in the middle for an impromptu dance party. We safely get the performers backstage and then it’s their time to shine on stage.
It starts to rain, only lightly. We’re lucky that the audience embrace it and trust that it will blow away fairly quickly, which it does (one of the few things that can’t be coordinated!)
The weather brightens up during one of the busiest times of the day, when two poets and three dance groups performed for the next 45 minutes while we prepared for Chand Ali Khan’s Qawwal & Party to set up. It was a huge task for the technical and stage team to set up the risers on the stage, bring the seven musicians into place and do a sound check all in the span of 20 minutes. There are always pinch points during festivals like this and I’m grateful when there’s a fantastic team to work with.
For the next three hours we had a jam packed line up of dance and music, all performed to a really well-attended audience. Local dance groups India Island Academy, Vakhri Tohr, and Chitraleka Dance Academy brought a diverse set of routines. Dance groups from further afield including Devika Rao and Sonia’z Fusion wowed the crowd with their costume and storytelling. Music from Abigail Kelly, Soweto Kinch and Natasha Rose Seth really got the audience hyped up!
The time had come for our compere’s to change over, Dharmesh and Jaya had done an excellent job all day keeping the audience entertained and excited for the rest of the programme. Now came the turn of Youtube sensation SMASHBengali! The first act for SMASH to introduce was a group who amazed us at our annual dance show case, Asian Spring. It was Ultimate Bhangra’s time to shine.
As the crowd was really building up for the twilight performances, backstage we were gearing up to receive our headline artists: DJ Ritu’s Kuch Kuch night and Apache Indian. In an attempt to make the transition as smooth as possible we would set up both acts together, this involved some swift artist liaison and the moving of equipment to the side of stage as soon as possible.
The famed DJ Ritu presided over the ‘Kuch Kuch’ night, which featured a 50-minute world tour of dance styles and emotions featuring musicians and dancers from a variety of genres. This section of the programme had a real party atmosphere and got everyone ready for the finale.
And so, the culmination of a huge collaborative effort brought us to the crescendo of the evening, a night marked by Apache Indian‘s electrifying performance that left an indelible mark on everyone present. Apache performed an outstanding mix of new tracks as well as all the favourites, back in his home town, Birmingham.
A day to remember and confirmation that Birmingham is unquestionably on the map!