Inside the University of York’s first ever BAME Creative Showcase

The event was held in an effort to showcase BAME talent and the need to raise BAME voices

The University of York held their first BAME Creative Showcase on the 12th of February 2023 in light of Racial Equality Week.

The Showcase was held in Central Hall, the landmark building on the university’s campus, in an effort to bring awareness to and celebrate the hidden creative talent of BAME individuals. The project was led by Anna, the Events Officer for the BAME Network, with the backing of the entire BAME committee. Selling 138 tickets, Anna said she was astonished by the talent on stage and humbled by the impressive response the project received.

Emilia Chambers, the uni’s current BAME Officer, said it was a “surreal moment” seeing such a rare event come together and be supported by so many. She said: “All the performers went above and beyond in their talents and it was clear they cared about their respective crafts”.

The event was hosted by YUSU Activities Officer, Rohan Ashar, who brought appropriate comedy to an event based on such serious societal issues. He had everyone laughing in their seats, and kept the audience engaged throughout the event.

Speaking to The York Tab, Emilia Chambers highlighted the significance of the event’s venue. She said: “I was especially happy to see that we were able to host the evening in Central Hall, which to me represents the traditional side of the University, as it is where our graduation ceremonies are held. So, it was great seeing the performers dressed in their traditional clothing and to hear such raw and candid talent in this space.”

The first act was by Neha Lakdawala who performed Raag Jog, a classical Indian song. For some in the audience, this was their first time hearing song sung live in a language that was not English. That such a talent goes unseen by the average student in York highlighted the importance of this event.

Next, Vani Mahajan showed us the scope of her talent by performing not only a Bollywood song but also When I Look At You, a song from the renowned musical The Scarlet Pimpernel.

‘It is important to express the pain and the strength of BAME artists past and present’

Neo Allert then presented an artistic representation of the disconcerting effects of music and the beauty that simultaneously exists within it. Beginning with a speech about how music can be pleasing but equalling unsettling and shocking, Neo presented to the audience how the musical form of jazz can represent the joys and hardships of life and therefore, “speaks for life”, as stated by Martin Luther King Jr in 1964. Performing with a stark quote by Frederick Douglas in the foreground, Neo’s improvisation of Louis Armstrong’s Go Down Moses was rich with emotion and incredibly impressive to watch.

Speaking to him after his performance, he told The York Tab: “I perform quite regularly in bands, on campus, and I play gigs, but this showcase gave me the opportunity to do something on my own. It also gave me a chance to really focus on what music means to me, rather than producing commercial music, to drive home the fact that, for me, music will never leave me untouched and this was what I aimed to translate with my act.

“The free jazz realm is always difficult because it is not necessarily what people expect, or even want to hear because it can be incredibly demanding, but it is important to showcase this side of music and express the pain and the strength of BAME artists past and present, through the music. You have to show emotion on the stage in order to translate to the audience, so I had to present the joy and the suffering and the power and the resistant that is within music that gives us strength to continue with our everyday lives in this world.”

Shirin Sitara, singing in multiple languages and playing the guitar, was next to reveal the range of her talent. Speaking to us before the event she said: “It is strange to know you are representing your culture rather than just performing. It feels different and fun and it has been amazing to meet new BAME individuals through art.”

Phillipa Ikhile proceeded to wow the audience with her emotional and spectacular performance of the famous Rise Up by Andra Day. However, she did not stop here, treating the audience to a powerful performance of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from the Broadway Musical Dreamgirls.

‘It was about presenting the audience with a dance form that is so rare to see in York’

Lastly, Parin, Ananya, Ninad, and Abhishek closed the showcase with an amazing and energetic Bollywood dance routine. Speaking to Parin and Ananya after the show they said how they were nervous, yet so glad to be a part of the showcase:

“We need to have more of a representation of what we do. We have performed for the University Dance Society but we have not performed on such a large scale for our community. This was more than just about dancing; it was about presenting the audience with a dance form that is so rare to see in York and a method of teaching them about our culture”.

After the show was closed by Rohan, everybody had the opportunity to sign up to the stem cell register through York Marrow student group, who were giving out leaflets and merch in the effort to spread the word. Hannah, a member of York Marrow said: “We targeted this event in particular because it is urgent we have more people from ethnic minority backgrounds to sign up to the stem cell register so there are equal opportunities for everyone”. She urged how “All it takes is completing a short online form and a 30 second cheek swab to get on the register and potentially saving somebody’s life”. It was amazing to see so many people sign up, especially so many BAME individuals looking to assist in promoting racial equality within the medical sphere.

‘I feel proud to be a part of the BAME community’

Overall, the showcase was phenomenal in all aspects, and particularly successful given it was new project. Nadia, one of the audience members, said that “As a British Asian person, I really identified with the issues that were discussed by Rohan regarding the lack of space for people from ethnic minority backgrounds in York.

“The event inspired me to embrace by Asian background rather than feel the need to disguise or ignore it, something I am ashamed to admit I have often felt the need to do from a young age, and instead I feel proud to be a part of the BAME community”. This outlines just how important the impact of showcase was on the audience as well as on the performers.

Emilia and Anna have both stated how “having this event as a one off is not the plan”. Anna added that “The event showed the need to raise the voices of BAME individuals and show not only the talent of the individual but how much BAME students have to offer as a whole, despite the fact that they have continuously been ignored”.

The Showcase was an amazing example of how BAME talent can be celebrated and the scale of the showcase highlighted the skill of the University’s BAME committee. This was a great step forward in the fight for racial equality by the University of York and it would be amazing to see the continuation of this progress, hopefully at an excelled rate.

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