Festivals/ Events

Festivals/ Events (7)

This section contains previews, reviews etc. of arts and cultural festivals and similar special events.

The Dream Lives On: the spirit of Victor Jara remembered in Wales

The Dream Lives On: the spirit of Victor Jara remembered in Wales

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Pete Godfrey gives details of an upcoming music and culture festival in Wales

In mid-August Wales will reverberate to the unlikely sounds of Latin American music with a distinctly political twist as the El Sueño Existe festival – ‘The Dream Lives on’ – is celebrated among the green hillsides of Machynlleth.

The festival, inspired by the music and political vision of legendary Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, is held in alternate summers, and has become something of a fixture in the calendar of folk music and progressive ideas. This year’s festival, which runs from August 16th to 18th, features a wealth of musical acts headlined by Anglo-Chilean band Quimantú and the melodious scourge of frackers and frequent flyers, Seize The Day. Alongside them will be the customary colourful array of Latin dancers and theatre performers, and a wide-ranging series of political and cultural workshops.

pg kids musicians

Each edition of the festival focuses on specific issues, and this year’s themes are Mexico – a historic opportunity for progress under the socialist government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador – and Women of Latin America: the struggle for gender equality and female reproductive rights. Workshops will include a focus on human rights in Mexico, remembering the still unexplained disappearance of 43 students travelling in a coach, exploring the phenomenon of migrant caravans, and ‘Workers, not maids’ – a look at how Mexican women in domestic jobs organise.

Further afield, there’ll be sessions on indigenous resistance to deforestation of the Amazon and the Trump administration’s heavy-handed attempts to sabotage social progress in Venezuela. The festival is also family-friendly, with a full programme of games, stories and activities for children.

The spotlight on Mexico – author and academic Adam Feinstein will provide an insight into the country’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz – will also give consideration to the cultural and political significance of artists like feminist icon Frida Kahlo and muralist Diego Rivera. The potent working-class Mexican mural movement was subsequently taken up by Chileans during the successful election campaign of Salvador Allende, whose Popular Unity socialist coalition came to power in 1970. Colourful, imaginative murals demanding workers’ rights and equality between the sexes ‘made the walls speak’ all over the capital, Santiago.

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The demise of Allende’s government under the brutal CIA-backed military coup of General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 is all too well documented – but the mural tradition migrated to Britain along with thousands of Chilean exiles. In 1976 three young Chileans painted a mural on the refectory wall at Leeds University with the slogan: ‘And there will be work for everyone!’ The huge artwork was later covered up by a new building development, but has recently been recovered and re-painted by volunteers, and a copy of it – with the original slogan also translated into Welsh – will be unveiled at this summer’s festival. Two of the original Chilean artists are going to be present.

El Sueño Existe attracts a vibrant mix of Chileans who found a haven in Britain in the 1970s, veterans of solidarity campaigns here, and the younger generation who have inherited the wealth of both Latin American and British cultural traditions. The touchstone is Victor Jara himself, a Communist and passionate supporter of Allende’s government, who was among the thousands of Pinochet’s victims, tortured and savagely murdered at the age of 39 for being a voice of the people. Unlike his tormentors, his legacy has become recognised as being artistically unique – an eloquent testimony of the flagrant injustices in Chilean society, and a call to arms to remedy them.

One of Victor Jara’s musical collaborators, Alejandro Reyes, who came to Britain as an exile, will be among those playing at the festival. Although he describes himself self-effacingly as ‘a relic’, he is more a part of the living history of a cultural inheritance that remains astonishingly robust and all too relevant.

pg band

But it is a musical tradition that is evolving. At the festival the Anglo-Chilean band Quimantú will showcase a unique range of styles blending Andean instruments, Western classical influences and African drumming. Nicaraguan pianist and singer Clara Curteis brings her feminist perspective to songs of social struggle. Expresión Inka, a young people’s dance and drama group, will present a play about the migration of Latin American children. Welsh language music – always an important part of El Sueño Existe – is represented by young singer-songwriter Meinir Gwilym as well as the women’s choir Chor Gobaith. Salsa comes all the way from Penzance with Cornish band Quijada. And Seize The Day will give harmonious expression to the urgency of trying to avert a climate catastrophe.

Visitors to the festival can expect the unexpected, whether it is an early morning ceremony to honour ‘Pachamama’ – Mother Nature – or a lyrical poetry performance from Latin American women’s writers’ group ‘Las Juanas’, all with a splash of colour and a strong dose of progressive politics.

Perhaps the last word should go to a Chilean woman exiled here, who attended the previous El Sueño Existe: ‘The festival is the one place in Britain where I really feel I belong.’

Weekend ticket £50/£60 (£30 under 25s), camping £20, campervan £25. Tickets: www.elsuenoexiste.com

Expresion Inca

El Sueño Existe: The Dream Lives On

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Tim Hollins introduces the Victor Jara Festival, El Sueño Existe

Deep in the heart of rural West Wales, in the pretty market town of Machynlleth, a quite extraordinary political/cultural festival “El Sueño Existe” (The Dream Lives On) keeps the spirit, the music and the politics of Victor Jara of Chile alive each summer. If you want a small scale summer festival combining politics and culture, this is it!


Victor Jara mural, Chile: “Give us your strength and courage to struggle”, from the Victor Jara song, Manifiesto

Victor Jara, a member of the Chilean Communist Party, emerged as the iconic singer of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Government of 1970-73. On a wave of optimism and enthusiasm Allende had been democratically elected, introducing far reaching reforms throughout society – nationalising the copper mines, land rights for the peasants, free healthcare and education for workers, popular art and culture and much more. It was all brutally ended on 11th September 1973 by the military coup, led by the fascist General Pinochet – and supported by the CIA and the US Government of Nixon and Kissinger.

Victor Jara’s sublime poetry and songs of the workers’ struggles, their joys and sorrows were heard throughout Chile, and after his brutal killing in the immediate aftermath of the coup, he quickly became a key voice in Latin America’s struggles for justice and socialism, in resistance to 500 years of oppression and genocide.


Alejandro Reyes, contemporary of Victor Jara

Today the El Sueño Existe festival brings together for a magical weekend, not only Latin American singers, songwriters, exiles, bands, dancers, poets and painters, but also a great crowd of solidarity activists, journalists, academics, film makers, theatre groups, Welsh language activists and festival goers, in a wonderful melting pot. It is a happening on a grand scale, where you are just as likely to drop into a workshop debate on ‘AMLO’, the new progressive President of Mexico, or an Argentinian singer in a laid-back concert, a full-on dance set from Quimantu playing Chilean/fusion rhythms, a shaman taking you on a mind journey to the heart of the Amazon, or an academic demolition of Trump’s attempts to take imperialism back to white supremacy.

In short the festival is an eclectic and heady mix of all things political and cultural, and creates its own special energy through the hundreds who make it over the hills to Machynlleth. Each festival (entirely run by volunteers) chooses a Latin American country as a main focus, whilst promoting all cultures that seek a progressive way forward. In August 2019 the main country focus will be Mexico, from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s astonishing art, via the missing & disappeared ‘43’ students to AMLO – Lopez Obrador, who has recently triumphed in elections. In the era of Trump, Brexit and all of the threats we all face, El Sueno Existe is an uplifting and magical experience.


Tony Corden, festival director and self-confessed Victor Jara fan

As Chilean academic and activist, Dr. Francisco Dominguez from Middlesex University says:

In all my many years as an activist in Britain, I have found that one of the most beautiful gestures of commitment with Latin America’s struggles is the El Sueño Existe Festival in the depths of marvellous Wales. Organised to celebrate the worldview and music of Chilean singer, Victor Jara, to tell the world that his dream, our dream, of a better world goes on. El Sueño Existe is solidarity at its very best. Just get there, & you won’t be disappointed.

Victor Jara Festival - El Sueño Existe, August 16th-18th, Machynlleth, Wales SY20 8ER. All info & weekend tickets, (£50/£60 + camping £15, campervan - £25) available from the festival website

Thanks to Kevin Hayes for all images.

Meanwhile, what about socialism?

Meanwhile, what about socialism?

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Conrad Landin introduces the AV Festival in Newcastle. 

When the AV Festival lost its funding in the latest round of Arts Council awards, there was little outcry in the national press. The fact that the festival is defiantly not London focused — connecting as it does north-east England with art projects the world over — could well point us to why. But though the festival which opened last week could well be the last, it shows no signs of abating in its boldness, vibrancy and originality.

This year's AV is the second to be titled Meanwhile, What About Socialism? The first, staged two years ago, explored the history of industry and left-wing institutions and the festival's formidable director Rebecca Shatwell says that 2018’s programme is all about presenting “new work by artists and film-makers that consider the future.”

AV Lucy Parker Apologies 2016 film still. Courtesy the artist 2

Lucy Parker, Apologies, 2016, film still. Courtesy the artist

Its highlights include a new commission from New Delhi’s Raqs Media Collective, Provisions for Everybody, which follows the path of George Orwell from his Indian birthplace to the north of England, Catalonia and Burma. Lucy Parker’s video installation Apologies comes from extensive work with the Blacklist Support Group, a campaign well familiar to Morning Star readers. But rather than simply dwelling on the crimes of the past, it questions the worth of public apologies and examines the continued campaign for a public inquiry.

At Newcastle’s Mining Institute, Prabhakar Pachpute has connected England and India across mining landscapes, mechanics and trade unionism, while Jeamin Cha’s Twelve reimagines the work of South Korea’s clandestine minimum wage commission, bringing the limits of arbitration to the fore.

AV marx

Raoul Peck, The Young Karl Marx

In its opening weekend, the festival hosted the British premiere of Raoul Peck’s film The Young Karl Marx, which charts Marx and Engels’s collaboration up to the writing of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. It was followed by an enlightening post-screening discussion on the relevance of Marx’s writings today, which I took part in, with Shuddhabrata Sengupta of Raqs arguing that the film’s strongest message was “the communism of everyday life” through adopting a broader perspective than the classic biopic. Instead, it examines Marx’s collaboration with Engels and the influence of other intellectuals such as the anarchist Proudhon. Equally key, with a lot of welcome creative licence taken, is the supportive role played by Marx’s aristocratic wife Jenny and Engels’s working-class Irish partner Mary Burns. Both are shown to be fierce intellectual minds in their own right.

“It’s a network of people who argue, support each other, fight and fall in love,” Sengupta said. And he contended that the “lively maturity” of the film’s intellectual exchanges is something today’s left should be seeking to emulate.

I welcomed the British left’s renewed interest in ideas. Under new Labour, social democratic politics rejected debate and intellectualism while embracing the worst aspects of the academic world — technocratic management, think-tank wonkery and the fetishisation of selective aspects of the new. The new generation of left activists, freed from the shackles of cultish Trotskyite sects thanks to Labour’s transformation into a mass movement, is instead embracing political education.

In my new home town of Glasgow, Scottish Young Labour has set up a night school to train activists in the basics of theory and practice, while in Manchester the newly established Chorlton Socialist Club is attracting huge crowds for gigs and political discussions alike. At Sunday night’s screening, Newcastle city councillor Nigel Todd said that, as a veteran Labour activist, he welcomed the change in political culture. “The past 30 years have been like living in a coffin,” he said. Another audience member, a striking lecturer at Newcastle University, urged fellow viewers to join the picket lines and teach-ins this week.

Once again, the AV Festival was using the past to look to the future and using the ideas of far away to think about fault lines far closer to home. It’s a massive shame, though not surprising, that Britain’s arts establishment isn’t interested.

The AV festival runs until March 31, details: avfestival.co.uk. This article was first published in the Morning Star.

Combat au bout de la nuit

The arts can imagine alternatives: Chi Onwurah MP introduces the AV arts festival

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Chi Onwurah MP made the following address at the opening of the biannual AV Festival in Newcastle upon Tyne recently.

You know the mining institute is one of my favourite buildings in the city, built by engineers, enjoyed by everyone. But as I stand here with Rebecca opposite the picture gallery – all these paintings of men, well, they may be Geordie men but they are very like all the paintings of men which follow me around the houses of parliament. And it’s ironic that it should be two women championing the telling of our stories in the face of all these men! But I want to start by saying how great it is to be opening the the AV Festival – again!


As I said last time I was here, I was sorry to see the demise of the Tyneside Film Festival. It was a great reflection of the region, focusing as it did on politically engaged film making. But we still have the Tyneside Cinema, best cinema in the world, and I’m pleased that we still have such a wide range of quality cultural events like the AV Festival and the Newcastle International Film Festival which is launching later this month.

Not only do events like this benefit those lucky enough to call Newcastle home but they draw in visitors from all over the country and the world too. The AV Festival has been doing that work here for fifteen years and looking ahead at this year’s programme I hope you’re all as excited as I am.

Road to Wigan Pier

The theme for this year continues to be The Road to Wigan Pier – picking up where the last festival left off two years ago. As The Road to Wigan Pier is a two-part book, it is fitting that we are now returning to ‘Part Two’ of the Festival.

I first read the book when I was 12 or 13. When people ask how I got my political education, I say listening to my mum, reading George Orwell and growing up in the eighties. The first part of the book was about trying to convey the real lives, the very real poverty and struggle that ordinary working class people lived through every day, albeit through the eyes of an Old Etonian. The second half is a long political essay in which Orwell describes his middle-class upbringing and questions British attitudes towards socialism.

Two years ago during ‘Part One’ of the Festival, the context was very different. Labour’s bitter defeat of the 2015 election was still fresh in the memory, we were trailing in the polls, austerity was hegemonic, working people were suffering. And the Brexit referendum was looming. When Osborne wasn’t on TV smirking about the virtues of his zombie economics, it was Farage saying that UK needed to ‘take back control of our borders’. So in 2016 the question ‘what about socialism?’ could have been met with a shrug. ‘What about it?’

A broken economic model

In 2018 it still may not be question on everyone’s lips, but when even the Financial Times is asking if the country needs a socialist Chancellor, it is clear that a lot has changed. Since 2016 the country has voted to leave the European Union – a fact that I am sure passed none of you by. It makes me angry when commentators blame Brexit and its consequences – rising hate crime, paralysing economic uncertainty – on the Northern working class, those ‘left behind’ by globalisation. It’s especially ironic given that the ‘Brexit revolution’ was led by a Surrey stockbroker and an old Etonian.

But the vote for Brexit was driven in part by a broken economic model. And I believe it that it was a backlash against this model that led in part to Labour’s unexpected success at the last election. Our message won hearts and minds across the country, we gained 10 percentage points and over 30 MPs. Our party now has almost 600,000 members, and our youth wing has more members than the entire Conservative party.

Two years ago at this festival visual artists from Newcastle and beyond were able to shine a light on Britain’s injustices and provide – in Rebecca’s words – ‘historical foregrounding to the theme’, much as Orwell did in the first half of the Road to Wigan Pier. In 2018, I believe we’re now better equipped to do what Orwell did in the second half of his book – analyse, discuss, and imagine an alternative. To return to that question ‘What about socialism?’

Imagining the alternative

I’ve always admired the power of the arts to inspire and inform on a whole range of important issues, to respond viscerally to the important issues affecting our city, our country and our planet.
Art can illustrate – as I, Daniel Blake did so powerfully – the callousness of Tory welfare policies, the precariousness of modern work, the reality of poverty. But it can also inspire people, can help them to imagine and articulate alternatives to the world we live in.

Too often in recent years our future has been seen as something to be determined by investors, financial speculators, and Whitehall mandarins – not people on the streets of Newcastle. Festivals are an antidote to this. They are unique in the way they inspire interest and allow the power of contemporary culture to burst forth. This festival creates, captures and harnesses the energy of visual artists and visitors alike around a particular theme.

I am proud to call myself a socialist. In Newcastle we never stopped calling ourselves socialists, even if some of my comrades elsewhere in the Labour Party did. There is no shortage of issues that need socialism in today’s world. Be it the rise of foodbanks, the desperate plight of refugees, children in poverty – more than 50% of children in some wards in my constituency - the insecurity of modern life, the lack of diversity at the top and throughout many institutions and organisations. The fact remains that today, just as in Orwell’s time, for the disadvantaged, for the poor, for refugees, for those discriminated against and those without opportunity socialism remains the best and indeed the only recourse to achieve a society where everyone can reach their full potential.

My hope is that by the end of this festival, there will be more people in Newcastle and beyond who will join me and those of us here in calling themselves proud socialists too.

Burns Unbroke

Burns Unbroke

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Picture: Calum Colvin, Portrait after Archibald Skirving.

Burns Unbroke opens on 25 January 2018 at Summerhall in Edinburgh. This new, contemporary, multi-arts festival will celebrate the variety of artistic and performing practices currently on offer in Scotland, and beyond, through the prism offered by new interpretations of the life and work of Robert Burns. The inspiration for the title comes from the epigraph, which Burns marked as ‘anon’, printed at the beginning of his first poetry collection, the Kilmarnock edition, published in 1786.

The festival‘s innovative visual arts programme features over 30 visual artists and there will be newly commissioned work by four Scottish based artists. In addition, the programme of events includes an Alternative Burns Night, spoken word performances, children’s performances and a tailor made programme of music. Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of this project and new synergies will be offered to a diverse audience, providing a unique experience of contemporary interpretations of Scotland’s national bard.

An advisory panel has been appointed for Burns Unbroke: Gerry Carruthers (Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow), Calum Colvin (Professor of Contemporary Art Practice, Dundee University), Pete Irvine (Founder of Unique Events) and Emma Nicolson (Director, Atlas Arts).

Burns Unbroke will take place at Summerhall where the visual art will be on display in 11 galleries for six weeks, from 25 January – 10 March 2018, with the majority of performance events focussed around the weekend of 26-28 January. The exhibitions will be open to the public, Tuesdays to Sundays, throughout the six weeks and entry is free.

Burns Unbroke is a partnership between Sheilagh Tennant of artruist and Summerhall, Edinburgh’s most exciting new centre for visual and performing arts, best known for its innovative Fringe programmes.

The prime aims of Burns Unbroke will be to highlight the continuing relevance of Burns’s words and the remarkable extent of his influence as well as attracting/inspiring new, younger audiences.

Burns Unbroke runs from 25 January to 10 March 2018 @Summerhall, Edinburgh. See https://www.artruist.com/