A bhangra performance in a Chinese classical garden? No, it's not in China. Or Pakistan or India. It's Vancouver.
This year, the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society chose the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Classical Garden to unveil the details of its eighth City of Bhangra Festival, which will be held May 31 to June 10, 2012.
VIBC media relations manager Sukhi Ghuman told the Georgia Straight that the garden, which also appears as a backdrop in their posters this year (see video below, with explanations of the images by VIBC chair Mo Dhaliwal), helped to convey the cross-cultural intent of their festival.
"The VIBC Society is all about bringing communities together, and what better place than in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden," Ghuman said. "It's a beautiful backdrop and…for us, [it's] a natural collaboration. And because we're all about bringing bhangra to people of all cultures, and bringing different cultures together to perform, it made sense for us."
She explained that the festival hopes to appeal to a broad audience, not necessarily a culturally specific one. "We're always trying to bring together people to see that we're not just a South Asian event or a South Asian culture. This is something we can all be a part of, regardless of race or ethnicity."
This year is the first year that the festival will hold events in Surrey, which boasts a large South Asian population. Echoing the sentiments of Ghuman, VIBC chair Mo Dhaliwal explained that from the beginning, their focus has primarily been on overcoming cultural divides. However, they're now taking that approach to Surrey.
"We've actually been criticized for years for running a Bhangra festival in the downtown core of Vancouver, and not ever doing anything in Surrey," he said. "Eight years ago when we started, it made sense because our entire model was about bridging cultures. And now what we're doing is we're taking some of that message and we're actually exporting it back into the heart of the South Asian community, which is the second largest Punjabi settlement in the world outside of India. And this message of interculturalism, this message of innovating, of building bridges with other communities, we're taking this back to Surrey."
Although the festival began as the Vancouver International Bhangra Competition in 2005, a dance competition for bhangra teams, the competition component was phased out, and replaced with a diverse range of events. Ghuman told the Straight that this was part of a natural evolution in response to the interests of audiences and the organizers.
"The VIBC Society really wanted to bring on the festival format, and with the competition, it was just a one-day event," she said. "And due to popular demand and what our audiences wanted to see, they wanted to see a true festival."
And what a festival it is.
This year's program, kicking off on the last day of Asian Heritage Month and spread over 11 days, is packed with 14 events that will include performances, workshops, parties, and more. Not to mention numerous free events.
A new addition is Celebrate the Harvest (June 2, Central City Plaza, Surrey), a free dance and music showcase that will include singers, drummers, dancers, and even a collaboration between Israeli and Punjabi artists.
rePercussion (June 7, Vogue Theatre) will offer an international fusion of folk drumming and percussion styles from China, Cuba, Brazil, and Punjab. Sal Ferreras, dean of the Vancouver Community College School of Music, will lead the event. With a little help from his friends, he presented a taste of what's to come with a performance at the media launch.
Downtown Bhangra (June 9 and 10, Vancouver Art Gallery plaza), which features beat-boxers, break dancers, bhangra dance teams, folk dancers, and drummers, has been expanded to a two-day event. Performers include the U.K.'s Dalvinder Singh, New York's Bikram Singh, Birds of Paradoxx, U.S. violinist "Violinder" Raginder Singh Momi, locals Tambura Rasa and Raju Johal, and more. And it's free.
If you want to bang your own body to the beat, there's Basement Bhangra (June 8, W2 Media Café) featuring New York City–based DJ Rekha and the U.K.'s Dalvinder Singh.
Capping off the press conference, the Shan E Punjab Arts Club's Little Stars Bhangra Team treated the audience to a performance.
Full details about the festival are available at the City of Bhangra 2012 website.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.