Review: Asian Dub Foundation + Laal @ Southbank Centre (London, 27th May 2016)

This ingenious collaboration between London’s Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) and Pakistan’s Laal was possibly one of the biggest concerts of Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival this year, and certainly exceeded expectations. The festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates the historical and cultural ties between South Asia and Britain, and this concert, which saw the meeting of two seemingly different groups, captured the very essence of the festival perfectly.

Stylistically, both groups are pretty different. Laal, Pakistan’s most politically outspoken band, performs groovy folk-rock tunes, while ADF draws from slightly rougher traditions, such as electronica and rap. Yet both are powerful in their own right, sharing similar messages of the power of standing up and speaking out, as showed in their two separate sets before collaborating at the end.

Laal’s set was truly a memorable one, led by bandleader Taimur Rahman’s infectious sense of humour and warm personality. However, underlying all that jam-packed fun lay songs that were potent with political courage and deep meaning, which non-Urdu speaking audience members could understand through English translations and visuals on the big screen. Their rendition of Eddy’s Grant’s “Gimmie Hope Joanna” for instance, may come across as an unassuming folk song, but in fact carried a deeper meaning, with references to Malala Yousafzai and their advocation for gender equality rights in Pakistan. Taimur Rahman’s charisma was clearly popular with the crowd, and wasted no time in coaxing audience members out of their seats, inviting some on stage, while also sitting among the audience to serenade them, stopping for hugs and to dance with children along the way.

Complimenting Laal’s interactive upbeat songs was the ADF, which brought a darker and heavier tone to the stage. As the crowd that had gathered to dance during Laal’s set grew larger through the night, dancing shifted from light-hearted bhangra moves to more of head banging and fist pumping in line with ADF’s influences of rap, punk and hip-hop. Special mention, however, goes to the flautists of both bands – Laal’s Bansuri flute player, Jaider Rahman, and ADF’s Nathan Lee, where their individual flute playing, whether inspired by North Indian music or beatboxing, was what encapsulated the festival’s spirit of fusion and innovation.

Although more collaboration would have been nice, and despite the concert ending on a bit of an abrupt note, it was nonetheless a highly invigorating and rousing concert, and truly an experience of a lifetime.

photo © Alice Boagey/Southbank Centre.