Hundreds of pupils from 27 Norfolk primary schools came together in February to perform Bengali music with a Norfolk twist to sell-out audiences at OPEN, Norwich, as part of the CASMA South Asian Fusion Project.

CASMA (Central Area Schools’ Music Association) is an annual festival that gives pupils an opportunity to perform high quality music in a venue and circumstance beyond the school setting. For the 30th anniversary of CASMA performances, mass choirs made up of primary school pupils have collaborated in an exciting, world premiere of a musical work representing the 6 South Asian seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Monsoon & Harvest.

The music was specially commissioned by Norfolk Music Hub for this project, to celebrate the fusion of Western and South Asian culture in our local community, and was arranged by Oliver Weeks, a British composer, guitarist, pianist and arranger, and his band, Khiyo, a London-based six-piece band who specialise in radical, modern interpretations of Bengali heritage music.

The pieces fuse Western and South Asian music, with traditional Indian songs through to Bollywood style, with influences from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The lyrics of the songs are in English, Tamil and Bengali. This commission did not seek to ‘teach’ pupils about South Asian Culture; instead it was intended to give pupils in Norfolk the opportunity to be part of a different culture, and to gain an insight and understanding through a shared musical experience.

The performances also featured an appearance by Shadows, an Indian band based in Norwich, who perform a variety of genres of Indian music including Indian Classical, Indian Jazz, Indian Folk and Indian Film scores.

Leading up to the performances, all schools had the chance to work with the band Khiyo and their critically acclaimed British-Bangladeshi vocalist, Sohini Alam, alongside The Come and Sing Company. There were also workshops for children to get involved in, including South Asian dance and art, which brought the project to life. The local business Namaste India Restaurant also provided some authentic Indian food for the young singers to try before the performances.

Choreographer and dancer, Arunima Kumar, performing at the CASMA South Asian Fusion performance on 5 February

Alison Corfield, Norfolk Music Hub Lead, said: “We have had an absolutely phenomenal three nights showcasing the achievements of our county’s pupils and offering them the opportunity to become fully immersed in the South Asian genre. The support from schools and parents for this project has been overwhelming and the results utterly mesmerising. The audience packed out OPEN each night and at one stage we even had the entire audience up on their feet dancing, which exemplified the true joy that we were all experiencing through this awesome musical fusion journey. Events such as this really make me so very proud to work with such a receptive and diverse group of young people: astounding!”

Audience enjoying the finale of the performance

The schools involved in this project were:

Edward Worlledge Ormiston Academy
Rockland St Mary Primary School
Fakenham Junior School
Hillside Avenue Primary School
Mile Cross Community Primary School
North Denes Primary School
St William’s Primary School
Surlingham Primary School
Worstead CE VC Primary School
Cringleford CE VA Primary School
Drayton CE VC Junior School
Loddon Junior School
Mulbarton Primary School
Preston CE VC Primary School
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School
Saxlingham Nethergate CE VC Primary School
Seething & Mundham Primary School
Hempnall Primary School
Attleborough Primary School
Colman Junior School
East Harling Primary School
Eaton Primary School
Old Buckenham Primary School
Spooner Row Primary School
Stoke Holy Cross Primary School
Neatishead VC Primary School
Wreningham VC Primary School

Pupil’s comments:

“It was a really exciting experience to go on stage and sing with an orchestra!”

“It was such an amazing experience to sing with Sohini and the band – I loved it!”

“I was amazing singing with the class and other schools”.

“I really enjoyed the lights and special effects”.

“I really enjoyed the awesome songs, I sang my heart out!”

“This has been the best day ever!”

“I can’t believe that we are singing on a stage with loads of children and two orchestras. I love it!”

“That singer is so cool. I want to learn to sing like her.”

“It was one of my favourite things I’ve ever done.”

“The orchestra, band, singer and dancer were amazing. I wish I could go again.”