Southbank Centre presents Darbar Festival 2014

Popular Indian classical music event, the Darbar Festival, returns to London’s Southbank Centre on 18th September 2014, for a weekend of music, food and culture.

Darbar Festival

"It is exciting to bring maestros and UK debut musicians from India together."

The popular Darbar Festival will return to the Southbank Centre in London for its 9th year on the 18th September 2014.

Attendees can expect classical Indian music performances, as well as informative talks and educational classes.

Originating in Leicester as a tribute to respected tabla player Bhai Gurmit Singh Ji Virdee who passed away in 2005, the festival has now moved to London and welcomed thousands of visitors in 2013.

Gurmit Virdee helped set up a music project at the Leicestershire School of Music, aimed at teaching classical Indian music to children. Sandeep Virdee, Gurmit’s son and founder of the festival explains:

Bhai Gurmit Singh Ji Virdee

“It is exciting to literally bring maestros and UK debut musicians from the different corners of India together.”

Darbar Festival, the biggest of its kind outside of India, is now a regular fixture in the national arts calendar.

A centuries-old classical Indian term, ‘darbar’ refers to the audience chambers that sat in the courts of the maharaja’s, during a time when music was openly enjoyed and celebrated.

The festival welcomes a diverse array of different styles, forms and traditions of classical music that still continue in India even today. These include Raga, Khayal, Dhrupad and Carnatic vs. Hindustani music. As Sandeep explains:

“All Indian classical music is raga based. A raga uses a series of musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. A raga also has an identity or persona, just like a person with various traits.”

Darbar Festival

The genre of Indian classical music is arguably under-represented in concert venues outside of India, and this is the first such festival to be featured as part of Southbank’s classical programme.

Keeping in tune with the rich history of Indian culture, Darbar will take place at the 21-acre site on the South Bank of the Thames stretches back to the 1951 Festival of Britain and is situated in the midst of London’s cultural hub.

In 2013, enthusiasts attended the internationally recognised event to see esteemed Indian classical music performers, including Debashish Bhattacharya.

This time around, the festival will welcome two UK debut performers who will open the show. Master of the sarangi, Goswami and tabla maestro Edouard, will play the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 18th September.

Zitar founder and music genius, Niladri Kumar will give a special talk about his musical journey from a child prodigy into one of South Asia’s most beloved talents.

Fellow UK debutant Jyoti Hegde will play the “Dhrupad and Shock of the New” concert on the evening of September 20th. The talented musician will play the rudra veena, an instrument regarded highly in Indian classical music.

Debashish Bhattacharya“Best Now, Better Then” will close the festival. The legendary Dr. Prabha Atre will perform in the UK for the first time in 20 years. Now in her 80s, the singer has a career spanning six generations, leading to her being heralded as one of India’s top female musicians.

Ticket prices vary from event to event. However a number of free events are available, including the “Heaven and Earth Installation Art” – “A multi-screen video installation exploring the rhythms of the tabla player” from visual artist, Hetain Patel.

The Southbank Centre will also be host to a number of educational classes that attendees can participate in. The Indian Classical Music Appreciation Course kicks off on the Wednesday before the festival for those interested in the theory behind the music.

The five part course beginning on Wednesday 17th preceding the main event is designed for beginners and ‘aims to demystify traditions and practices that are central to this most ancient of classical musical tradition’.

Award winning broadcaster, journalist and novelist Jameela Siddiqi will lead the course until it concludes in late October.

Niladri KumarThe event is also host to sessions where children can learn to play instruments and take part in vocal coaching with Tofail Ahmed; as well as the favoured Yoga Bliss sessions.

The popular classes were a hit last year and are now back by popular demand. Running from 3pm on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival, the sessions will last 60 minutes and cost £7.

Attendees can also visit the Roti Chai Chaat Snack Bar in the Festival Village. The popular street kitchen with a 4 star rating (based on Google reviews), is offering a special menu for the occasion including chaat, roti wraps and masala chai as well as cocktails such as the Dalchini Devil and Kovalam Beach Kick.

The festival follows President of India, Pranab Mukherjee’s release of stamps featuring portraits of legendary Indian classical music performers.


The one time release showcases headshots of artists including Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar – known for their sarod and sitar playing respectively.

The President heralded the performers as the greatest music maestros of contemporary India, saying: “These eight maestros are, without a doubt, among the tallest luminaries in the history of world music.”

Fans of the genre will hope the festival continues to showcase Indian classical music talent and increase its awareness.

Highlights of the festival will be broadcast on Sky Arts 2 on Saturday 20th September, at 8am for those unable to attend. The Darbar Festival begins on Thursday 18th September and will close on Sunday 21st September 2014.

Zak is an English Language and Journalism graduate with a passion for writing. He is an avid gamer, football fan and music critic. His life motto is “Out of many, one people.”