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Could you imagine me dancing to the Bollywood music or jumping like a Masai along to the sound of Taiko Collective Drumming Group? I couldn’t either until I did it at the Festival Asia over a week ago. A friend of mine, Monica, who was View of the Arts and the festival’s official photographer, was also heating up the floor with her fabulous dancing skills.

On May 15th, 16th and 17th at Tobacco Docks in London, a new, unique and exciting event was held for a few thousand people. Festival Asia included cultures throughout Asia – from India and China, followed by South Korea and Japan traversing the continent all the way to Indonesia. Over the course of three days the audience was spoiled for choice when it came to attractions such as music, arts and dance as well as Martial Arts originating from India, South Korea, Japan and many more.

However, before travelling to the festival, Monica and I made a list of things we wanted to do and artists we were interested to see. We ended up with a very long list believing that it would be possible to see everything and everyone mentioned on it. We started off with exploring the venue, Tobacco Docks. Honestly speaking, I was slightly overwhelmed by the size of the place. I questioned myself if this venue was the right one for such a festival. At first, I thought it was a good location, however, I changed my mind when I arrived. Tobacco Dock wasn’t perfect. Too far away from central London. Shadwell has only DLR and overground, no tube, which definitely made it harder to get there on the weekend. Nevertheless, we made it and we survived it. After investigating the place, we moved to the main stage where we waited for the tremendously talented group of drummers called Taiko Collective. The group consisted of 5 people: James, Masami, Ting- Chi, DongDong and, the youngest member, 19 year old Meg Ashley. Taiko in general is often used to mean the relatively modern art of Japanese drum performances (kumi-daiko), but the word actually refers to the taiko drums themselves. Literally, taiko means “big/fat drum,” although there are many shapes and sizes of taiko. People are sometimes confused by the frequent usage of the word “daiko”, which is a suffix used to indicate a type of drum, a taiko group, or a style of taiko playing in a compound word. “Although traditionally, taiko have been used in very specific ways and in certain combinations of instruments, modern kumi-daiko groups do not suffer such restrictions. Taiko selection is based on the style of taiko music you are playing as well as personal style.” I must admit that Taiko Collective has their own style. Their powerful performance was filled with energy and passion. It was, without a doubt, a stellar show. The musicians performed 12 times over the three days. I can’t believe that I watched them 12 times. Each show was like a little spectacle. Taiko Collective also ran a drumming workshop at the festival, which turned out to be one of the most popular things to do at the event. I spoke to a few people about the artists and this is what one of the participants had to say: “Taiko Collective were superb. I loved the workshop the most. I have never thought that playing drums would be so enjoyable yet hard. I would definitely see the guys again if they performed in London.”

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Taiko Collective (Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone)

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Taiko Collective (Picture courtesy of Monica Sasblone) 

Apart from Taiko Collective’s show, we also saw a Japanese duo: Hibiki Ichikawa, the Shamisen player, and Enka singer Akari Mochizuki. They didn’t disappoint either. Their beautiful and subtle performance caused serious goosebumps. Hibiki was dressed in the Japanese traditional clothing and Akari wore a stunning evening dress. She also wore a conventional Kimono, given by her mother on the day that she left Japan. The Kimono looked impressive; “I needed my friend’s help to put it on, it wasn’t easy” laughed Akari.

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Hibiki and Akari ( Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone)

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Akari in her gorgeous Kimono (Picture courtesy of Akari) 

Monica and I stayed by the main stage for a while, before exploring other parts of Tobacco Docks. We both enjoyed Kaya’s performance, a South Korean duo. The pair consists of Ji- eun Jung, a traditional harp player and guitarist Sung Min-jeon. They have been performing together since 2002 in Korea and since 2005 in Europe after they settled in London. I sincerely enjoyed their little 15 minute concert.

After their performance we decided to go and visit the festival’s exhibitors to see what they have to offer. What caught my attention was the huge Indonesia Pavilion, where you could experience everything with relation to the country. Food, amazing coffees, fashion as well as tourism. It seemed like the pavilion was popular amongst the visitors. It was interesting to learn that the Indonesian Embassy invited selected participants from the country and the UK to take part in the festival. I was overwhelmed by its culture, colourful clothing, crafts and mostly the best coffee I have had in years; I would recommend the Java one. Indonesian acts in the programme included 10 artists; a dance group Lila Bhawa, Sasanado’s Djitron and Mia; Djitron played on a traditional harp while Mia sang and played violin. I was blown away by her incredibly strong vocals and beautifully executed notes.

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Kaya (Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone) 

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Kaya (Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone) 

While Monica disappeared in the crowds, or maybe in the middle of food stalls, I went to see how other exhibitors were doing. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many stands as I expected. I felt like the festival organiser could have put many more promoters in the area. A few exhibitors complained about it: “The space was too big and not enough people came to see us. We feel like there was no proper organization when it came to exhibitors. We really felt left behind. We do hope it wouldn’t happen again. It would be a pity if we had to give up on coming to the festival next year.” I hope so too. It would be nice to see Festival Asia returning in 2016.

After having delicious Korean and Indonesian food, we were both back to see the fabulous Bollywood dancers Sunny Singh Group. There is only one word to describe the guys’ performance: SPECTACULAR. The place was filled up with excited spectators. With its complex avocations of faraway culture and catchy music they were a big hit. They performed 9 times during the festival with glee and an array of costumes so admirably vivid that even the audience members exclaimed about them. All the music was taped. Bollywood dance is the genre that this suits best. (It’s hard to imagine it danced to live music anyway.) I enjoyed every single minute of their performance.

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Sunny Singh Dance Group (Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone) 

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Sunny Singh Dance Group (Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone) 

Apart from the artists mentioned above, there were many more performing at the Festival Asia. Such as Fluer Estelle, an irresistible belly dancer, Jonathan Mayer – Indian Duo Sitar and Tabla, Guan Yin Lion – Chinese Double Lion Dance; which, unfortunately, I found a bit boring. Cheng Yu, a Chinese Pipa Player and Eunsley Park, a South Korean violinist, grabbed my attention pretty fast. Also the Nomadic Tunes, a Mongolian act, was interesting and worth listening to. I was also curious about the Martial Arts stage, which was on the other side of Tobacco Docks. There were over a dozen warriors and fighters showing off their skills. From Karate Shinboku Kai followed by Battodo Fudokan, demonstration of Japanese swordsmanship and School of Korean Martial Arts finishing with superb BDS Gatka Group UK whose style was distinguished by the characteristic fighting techniques. Their incredible precision while blindfolded and using swords was striking. I was left breathless after their outstanding performance on stage.

Festival Asia not only offered music, dance and Martial Arts but also invited the visitors to a cultural room where the public could learn more about Asian cultures such as Korean, Indonesian, and Chinese (by learning the calligraphy) as well as Mongolian and Japanese. The most interesting thing for me, while exploring the cultural room, was a presentation of a short film by the Mongolian Ambassador H.E. Mr Tulga Narkhuu. ‘Three Kilts in Mongolia’, directed by the MacDonald brothers from Scotland, is a 45 minute documentary which follows “three middle aged dads from Scotland as they embark on the journey of a lifetime (…) The guys will share their highs and lows and come away with a love and respect for the beautiful country of Mongolia that will last a lifetime.” The short was great, I cannot wait for the guys to be done with postproduction so the film could be screened to the public.

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Mia (Indonesia; Picture courtesy of Monica Sablone)

After spending three days at the Festival Asia I honestly must say that there were a few issues with the event when it came to organisation. First of all the venue wasn’t well marked. The visitors couldn’t easily find food stalls or even a coffee stands. A small amount of exhibitors was another issue. Lack of promotion outside of the venue was a problem too. Unfortunately the number of volunteers wasn’t enough either. Nevertheless, even with these organisational mistakes I found the festival entertaining, enlightening and engaging. As press I was treated very well, offered a quiet place to conduct interviews as well as free and delicious Chinese food. I must say this rarely happens at the events. I would like to say a big thank you to Li Li and Corrado for inviting me to the event. I am sure that next year will be even better.

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Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Jess Murray

Pictures courtesy of Monica Sablone 

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About View of the Arts

We are both enthusiasts of the arts, passionate about cinema, theatre, and literature. Roxy is a successful Arts Journalist, who writes for several magazines and websites. Maggie is a freelance film producer and an associate producer. We Will Rock the World One Day!

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Art, Film events and festivals, General, Music and Fashion

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