Sunday, 14 June 2009, 2 – 7pm, Bernie Spain Gardens, Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 (next to Oxo Tower Wharf), train/tube: Blackfriars, Southwark, Waterloo, ADMISSION FREE.

Banned in Iran, but winners of last month’s Immigrant Song Contest on BBC2’s Newsnight here in the UK, FONT join the line-up of this year’s Celebrating Sanctuary, the totally unique, free, annual event which celebrates the art of refugee communities in the UK. FONT is the sound of Iranian Indie – think Radiohead meets Ultravox – a five-piece band formed in Tehran, capital of the Iranian Islamic Republic. They started playing together in 2006 and soon gained major recognition in the small music community of Iran, playing legendary shows in universities and small underground venues.

On 1 August 2007, the band opened a new chapter in the history of Iran’s music and headlined an underground rock concert with some other bands in Karaj, a suburb of Tehran. Of course things like that happen rarely in a country such as Iran, so hundreds gathered around for the first world-class open air concert since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. It also attracted the attention of the police who crashed in with their Mercedes cars skidding and helicopters whirring. Founding member Ash recalls: “People were trying to escape through the fences, screaming and running. I was just lying on the grass, numb, shocked and so unable to make a move. Escaping was a thought that briefly swept through my mind… but staying and sticking with my brother and friends and our instruments was the driving force at that moment. After all, all we were doing was playing music!”

Nearly 250 people were arrested that day, accused of attending a satanic party and disrupting morals. All the band members were sentenced to prison for 21 days. After they had done their time, they left Tehran and, here in the UK, developed their style from rock and roll band to a more minimal Indie Pop sound, influenced by bands such as Bloc Party, The Foals, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Check their two EPs, “A lovely day to kill a moment” (2007) and “A free world isn’t it?” (2008).

Other highlights of the tenth Celebrating Sanctuary on the Sanctuary Stage include headliners Kal, the wild Serbian Roma Roots Rockers who have been described by The Observer as the Gypsy Clash, prejudice-busting UK female Hip-Hop act Poetic Pilgrimage. The huge Yurt at the heart of the festival is the home of the festival’s edition of BookSlam, London’s most sexily cerebral club night, featuring cutting-edge literature and acoustic music presented by award-winning novelist Patrick Neate. And the third stage, in the Sunken Gardens, is filled with vibrant, beguiling dance from around the globe.

The Sanctuary stage, hosted by DJ Ritu from BBC London 94.9 FM, kicks off with The Téa Hodzic Trio. Once a child star on Yugoslav TV, and in the years since here in the UK, vocalist with Szapora and Penguin Café Orchestra, Téa brings her unique trio to this year’s festival, with Oliver Wilson-Dickson on fiddle and Luke Carver Doss on accordion. Especially for the festival, she’s been leading some songwriting workshops with pupils at the local Charles Dickens Primary School and will be joined by them on stage to perform the songs in public for the first time. (“I found a knot of people entranced by Téa Hodzic, a Bosnian singer-guitarist who was performing…an architecture graduate who came to this country as a refugee…her voice haunted me for the rest of the day.” – Clive Davis of The Times)

Kal enshrine the story of Roma and refugees in the Balkans. Band leader Dragan Ristic fled Milosevic’s Serbia in 1999 – at the time all males of military age were being conscripted to the army so to fight Nato and oppress the Albanian population of Kosovo – and took refuge in Budapest. When Milosevic was overthrown he returned, having already started developing the idea of a band that mixed Balkan Gypsy folk flavours with electronic elements. Kal was built in Belgrade out of their own Roma community and has become a dynamic musical and political outfit that aims to speak for the Roma people of former Yugoslavia.

Patrick Neate will be hosting BookSlam @ Celebrating Sanctuary in the amazing yurt. For over a decade Whitbread award winner Patrick Neate’s novels (Twelve Bar Blues, City of Tiny Lights etc) have been dazzling us. And he’s also invented London’s coolest most sexually cerebral club night – BookSlam. His latest novel, Jerusalem, is just about to hit the shelves and he’s tipped us the literary wink that identity, flight and refuge swirl within its covers.

Bea Green was liberated from a terrible fate on the Kindertransport trains that brought children of Jewish and other families at threat from the Nazis to England, 70 years ago, just before the outbreak of World War 2. In the BookSlam tent, she will tell us how it was for a 14 year old German-speaking Jew to arrive on these shores back then … and how it is to be an 84 year old survivor today. Also in the BookSlam @ Celebrating Sanctuary Yurt: Chris Cleave, whose novel about Nigerian refugee Little Bee,
The Other Hand, has achieved international acclaim
and been shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the UK’s most celebrated columnists and a refugee herself from Uganda in the 1970’s, who will be reading from her new book The Settler’s Cookbook, a memoir of love, migration and food.

Celebrating Sanctuary is part of Refugee Week (15 – 21 June) and the Coin Street Festival.

%d bloggers like this: