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Thank You, Glastonbury, for Recognizing South Asian Artists in Music Festivals
Dance music legend DJ Ritu opened Arrivals on Thursday night. Photograph: Yushy Pachnanda

The words “my mum needs to see this” aren’t commonly heard after 2am at Glastonbury, but that’s exactly what festival-goer Shivali exclaimed while capturing a video of her fiancé dancing to a DJ set in a newly introduced South Asian space in Shangri-La.

From Indian to Nepalese, Bangladeshi to Sri Lankan, the diversity at Arrivals — Glastonbury’s first-ever dedicated South Asian space — was as varied as the music genres represented. As a British-Indian journalist with ties to West Africa, I felt a deep sense of belonging in a place that harmoniously blended sounds and influences from multiple cultures.

This felt like a monumental shift in a UK festival market that often overlooks South Asian artists and audiences. Despite being the country’s largest minority ethnic group, South Asians frequently have to create their own music festivals, which usually attract predominantly South Asian audiences. These cultural gatherings, organized by groups like Dialled In, Daytimers, and Going South, are meaningful and joyful, but it feels mystifying that young South Asian artists, who draw from diverse global influences, are often excluded from the wider British festival scene.

Kudos to Glastonbury for facilitating this crossover on South Asian artists’ own terms. “With our lineup, we’re not about tokenism, we’re about everyone bringing their own unique sound to the stage,” said DJ Gracie T. She performed to an enthusiastic crowd from different backgrounds, many of whom waited for over an hour to enter the space. “We’ve got artists playing a mix of UK dance music with South Asian edits and inspirations. I’m Sri Lankan Tamil and it’s exciting to hear Tamil beats combined with footwork you wouldn’t normally expect.”

Arrivals was a futuristic, alien-like world centered on South Asian identity. Inspired by retro sci-fi films, the central stage featured a spaceship theme decorated with plants—reminiscent of a jungle planet. The space also showcased vibrant illustrations by artist Osheen Siva and art-deco-themed speakers created by Vedic Roots.

“I feel like we’ve pulled together the sort of brown Avengers,” commented Shankho Chaudhuri, who led the set design along with Esha Sikander and Shirin Naveed. “The design is an answer to the question: what if we were the main characters? There’s no single type of South Asian art or creative expression. What’s amazing about the British South Asian diaspora experience is how we’ve built our identity often without role models in the arts. But now, as our community matures and gains influence, we’re forming that wonderful jigsaw puzzle.”

From jungle to techno, electronic, hip-hop, and house, over four nights, renowned artists like Bobby Friction and DJ Ritu along with emerging talents such as Anish Kumar, Nabihah Iqbal, and Nikki Nair performed not just at Arrivals, but across various stages, winning over diverse audiences.

This year, Glastonbury’s programming featured more South Asian artists than ever before. When Ahadadream’s mix of “Tere Bin Nahin Lagda” resonated across Block9 on the Genosys stage, I knew I had made the right choice in skipping Dua Lipa’s headline act. Long lines formed to see performances by Girls Don’t Sync and Jyoty at the Temple stage, although I couldn’t manage to get in despite my best efforts.

A personal highlight for me was taking my friends to see my cousin, Rohan Rakhit of Daytimers, play at the Rum Shack to a bigger crowd than his Glastonbury debut in 2022. Sharing what I cherish with people I love and watching them enjoy it brought me immense pride and a sense of real change.

“Stages like Arrivals don’t happen in a vacuum,” said Rohan. “This year, South Asians were everywhere. Our roots run deep. Having these spaces changes culture and by being visible across the weekend, we hope to inspire others to pursue their dreams.”

I also spoke with Dhruva Balram, one of the minds behind Arrivals and a co-founder of Dialled In. Speaking in the Arrivals garden designed for attendees to chat, bond, and “recover for the next bout of dancing,” he noted the importance of having a diverse lineup. “It’s about showcasing artists from various South Asian regions—Nepalese, Bengali, Afghani, Mauritian, Indian, Pakistani, Tamil. By coming together, we can build together.”

Though the project was conceived, designed, and executed by an entirely South Asian team, Dhruva emphasized the collaboration with the Shangri-La team as crucial. “Arrivals is a reminder that siloing yourself off accomplishes nothing. You need different communities working together to have proper representation, both in front of and behind the scenes. Being part of a renowned festival like Glastonbury means so much to us.”

Each year, Glastonbury invites new collaborators to create spaces, so while Arrivals isn’t a permanent installation, its impact in 2024 will be unforgettable and hopefully a catalyst for more success in this area. It’s disheartening that it took so long for festivals to catch up with this music, but it’s gratifying to see progress.

“It was really special to have a place to celebrate my culture with others,” said Shivali. “From the art installations to the joy on the dance floor, it was incredible. I was thrilled to go home and tell my parents all about it!”

As was I.

Source: The Guardian