Here finally are some pictures of the event at the Manchester Mega Mela, followed by a brief report as produced for the Cornerhouse who gave us some commission funds towards this project.
2011 is the centenary of the birth if Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Faiz was a renowned Urdu poet from Pakistan and a major figure in the literary and progressive world, winning the Lenin Peace Prize and being nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. We would like to make a wider public (re) discover the internationalism and humanity of Faiz but also explore if his poetry and his ideas are still relevant today.
We want to programme an event at Manchester Mela that involves a ‘jam’ between a performance poet, a VJ and a educationalist historian specialist on Faiz. There will be a cycle of the life story of Faiz interspersed with his poetry, alongside VJ footage relating it to various wider themes cut between clips of films his poetry was sung in, alternating with performed poetry by the poet and other poetic, spoken or musical contributions from the wider public and other artists at the Mela, as part of the ‘jam’. This will allow a drop-in experience to be rich yet not demanding, should people not want to follow a linear narrative from beginning to end.
The leading producers and creative directors for this event are Kooj Chuhan and Frankie Mullen from Lifting The Lid, a new organisation developing activities, events and opportunities that connect radical ideas, approaches and histories to how we live today. www.liftingthelid.org
This event will involve four key performers:
1. Mohsin Zulfiqar, a historian / educationalist specialising in cultural histories and Faiz in particular, and who is a member of the National Committee for the centenary. He has been involved with educational activism for many years, and has managed and run Access courses for people failed by the educational system as well as worked with South Asian, African and other progressive movements. He is soon to publish the first book about Faiz which properly examines his life in an international context. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohsin_Zulfiqar
2. Mzira, emerging digital image / video / VJ artist from the Middle-East/North Africa, and also a member of Virtual Migrants www.virtualmigrants.com . Before arriving in the UK as a refugee, he ran his own photography studio and collaborated on some short films. He is now re-emerging as a UK artist and experimenting with VJ methodologies.
3. Yvonne McCalla, a performance poet from Cultureword and member of the Speakeasy collective, and who has toured with SistaTalk – an offshoot from the Identity Writers Collective. She has also organised and managed a number of Black History related projects, including the current ‘Ghosts’ project about the original Nile and Reno clubs in Manchester. www.greenroomutd.org/companygroup/speakeasy-collective
4. Aidan Jolly, musician, composer and member of Virtual Migrants, previously also member of Banner Theatre in Birmingham, and committed English anti-racist. His recent album “State Of Hysteria” has received considerable acclaim from niche sectors, and he came late in to the project due to the stage format required by the Mela. www.aidanjolly.com
– We as a group spent some time researching and exchanging ideas across the internet, including poems and imagery.
– We had two dedicated rehearsals, thought he first one was largely consolidating the material and developing a rapport. These were very lively, creative, informative, experimental and exciting, but it was a struggle to work around a very tight slot format with our ideas and there were some worries about how effective the screen would be.
– We developed an interesting and thoughtful piece of work, that was really suited for a workshop space for a dedicated audience, and that was originally how it was conceived and pitched. This would have followed in the example of various other outdoor festivals which have a series of programmed workshops in dedicated small marquees.
– This space seemed to be elusive and basically not possible to have at the Mela.
– In summary, we managed a worthwhile performance under difficult circumstances.
– We became one member down due to Frankie having to go to Accident and Emergency directly from Platt Fields at the beginning of the day. This made negotiations with the Mela staff complicated as I was left on my own to also mind the stall and workshop equipment. We had to abandon the workshop element between the two performances for this reason.
– The MC in our designated marquee was aghast when we said our performance was based on poetry (he seemed to know nothing about this), and I had to say it included other elements before he would be happy to ‘try us out’; we were introduced in a rather apologetic manner.
– Our first set, despite not appealing to many of the passing audience, nevertheless gained a core of interested applause and very thoughtful expressions on a number of faces.
– The screen was a problem, it was small in relation to the size of the stage, and also very reflective – at least half of the audience would only have seen reflections rather than the imagery.
– For our second set, we were told a number of times that we would be on soon, and that they were just bringing earlier another couple of acts to run before us to make it easier for technical reasons – eg to have all the dances out of the way.
– This gradually lost any logic as singers also were brought on, and even an unscheduled singer was slotted in who stayed on for a very long time
– After some time and feeling it was unsure how long this would be taking, also with it being unpredictable, plus a feeling of insult with them stringing us along far more than anyone else, we decided (after prompting from Mohsin) to quit and leave without doing the second set.
– Nevertheless, it appeared on looking at the audience that the kind of people left at the end were the kind who our set would have appealed to more than the first set, including a few people who had arrived specifically to see us.
– Personally, I would have preferred us to have stayed and seen the second performance through, giving us time to implement our agreed adjustments and do a better set for a better audience and a better video record of the performance, especially as we had been there so long. However, I submitted to the wider sentiment of the group, which I also sympathised with.
– In comparison to the other highly successful Lifting the Lid event just two days later, where the Manchester Jazz Festival had been closely supportive from conception right through to the event and worked closely with us, this could not have been further away in terms of support and understanding of what we were trying to do. I think this was clearly the fundamental and key point to bear in mind for the future; I don’t think that such a performance cannot work for a Mela audience (in fact so many people around the Mela looked totally bored by the over-arching banality and commercial focus of the event), but it needs a different relationship and serious supportive interest on their part.
– There are also things we too can look at, this is a mass audience and a wide cross-section of South Asian people, a potentially good and unfortunately rare place to offer alternative engagement, and may need some re-thinking of how best to create and negotiate this. In terms of our creative process there was also recognised a need for a greater development and rehearsal period.
As a result of this mini-project, Chris Searle from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Archive has asked us to do a full multimedia performance/presentation in central Manchester (venue tbc) along with a talk by Mohsin about Faiz and his life; also Mohsin has asked us to do a performance at a dedicated Faiz event in Leeds which should have an attendance of about 200 people. This may well become a continuing collaboration between Lifting The Lid and Virtual Migrants.
Some discussion has also begun about possibilities of other cultural products, possibly with theatrical, or multimedia, or cinematic outputs. The possibility of working in a Mela context again is not ruled out, but would need to take place in a very different way.