Vancouver’s Indian Summer Festival aims to cross cultural boundaries

Published: July 3, 2013

Vikram Vij. Submitted photo.


Vancouver’s third annual Indian Summer Festival isn’t just a cultural celebration — it’s a conversation.

“Very often what people consider a festival is it’s purely celebratory, or it’s purely performative, it’s usually dance or theatre or music,” said Sirish Rao, festival organizer and artistic director of the Indian Summer Arts Society.

And while Indian Summer Festival includes many of those attributes — like its bhangra and Bollywood dance lessons, yoga, food and musical performances — it’s more about “an exchange of ideas.”

“What we really want … is the audience gets up, they’re engaged, they have questions to ask, they want to be part of the dialogue and it’s about ideas,” Rao explained. “It’s more about the dialogue.”

Indian Summer Festival kicks off Thursday night with an opening gala, a culinary tour of South Asia hosted by Vancouver’s Vikram Vij, of Vij’s Restaurant. The tour will feature food from well-known local South Asian restaurants at Carrall Street’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

The festival runs until July 13 with a range of events celebrating arts, ideas and diversity through Vancouver, Canadian and international South Asian talent across music, dance, literature, film, visual arts, food, yoga and wellness.

The events vary from a free movie in Gastown’s Victory Square Park, to a wellness weekend with two days of back-to-back yoga classes, to a discussion about where South Asia is heading, led by Sudeep Chakravarti, a member of the World Future Society, and award-winning Global Television reporter Jas Johal.

The goal of the festival is to cross boundaries — to have that “dialogue” across cultures and traditions to experience something new — hence the festival’s tag line, “Where worlds meet.”

According to Rao, the idea very much stems from his relationship with wife and fellow festival organizer Laura Byspalko — Rao from Bangalore, India, and Byspalko from Ontario. The pair met in India, married and settled in Vancouver. Rather than becoming a cultural “hybrid,” the pair instead embrace their cultural differences.

“We wanted to share that with a bigger audience,” said Byspalko. “It’s celebrating the differences, being comfortable with something being different.”

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Local musician and festival performer Tarun Nayar encompasses this with his Vancouver-based Celtic-Punjabi electronic group, Delhi2Dublin.

According to Nayar, his musical tastes are like his background, which is “half-and-half” — his mother from New Brunswick and his father from Punjab.

“I now spend my life using those two sides of myself together on stage,” he said. “It gives it meaning.

“If I’m coming up with music, if it doesn’t somehow express my reality — and my reality is a mix — then it doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning to me.”

“It just happens automatically, those are the sounds that make sense to me.”

Nayar’s performance on Saturday at Indian Summer Festival will take that mix even further as he collaborates with Rajasthan Josh, a group of traditional Rajasthani musicians from northern India.

And this kind of collaboration is what Rao is hoping the festival will spark across Vancouver.

“We’re looking at contemporary Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and we’re looking at contemporary India,” said Rao. “Vancouver especially is kind of really that gateway to Asia.

“Look at who we’re surrounded by from India, from China — we find that really important. We must look at our surroundings and look at the great minds we have here and who we are linked to across the seas.”

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