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Manchester International Festival – It’s here!

July 6, 2019

Last month I queued up for a number of hours to bag Mohs and I a couple of cheap tickets to the Book of Mormon at the Palace theatre. It was worth every second spent in the rain as the performance absolutely blew us away with its ingenuity, humour and fantastic acting. One of the things I commented on when I tweeted about it later was the audience at the show was like no other I had seen, engaged, lively and compared to normal theatre audiences, pretty wild.

But hey if I thought they were wild, I really hadn’t seen nothing yet…

Many of you have heard me bang on about Manchester International Festival, on social media, on the radio, in conversation… I’ve even surprised myself how much I’ve been going on about it. Mo and I consider ourselves to be quite artsy, creatives if you will and we LOVE exploring new performances in spoken word, dance, new art styles, theatre performances… we’re always up for experiencing something really quite different. What we love about MIF is that it brings together artists from a variety of backgrounds and cultures both in and off the scenes to create new pieces and showcase them across a variety of venues in Greater Manchester.

It’s perfect for people, like us, wanting to discover new things… visit new places in a city we know so well… and also meet some new people. There are other festivals that do this too I suppose, maybe not on this scale, but why have I been harping on about this so much. Well after last nights performance I now have the answer!



On recommendation from a number of MIF curators, we went to see Abida Parveen and Nahid Siddiqui at the Lowry theatre in Salford last night. Nahid is a karnak dancer and in this world premiere would perform part of the show alongside Abida Parveen, who has been dubbed the ‘Queen of Sufi Music’ with a huge fan base across the world, and endless selection of YouTube videos, but we purposely didn’t listen to anything before the show, so we could remain surprised.


I never thought of myself as a theatre snob, but we regularly visit the theatre and I have to say, I felt a bit like one last night. As we had followed all our instructions, sat down at the right time, chatting at a normal level as people walked in… only to be surrounded by kids screaming, people shouting across to each other, a gazillion people walking around streaming live on instagram (I’ll be checking the hashtag out this morning and see how many we feature in!) it was quite unusual and I could feel myself thinking ‘seriously? Is this really appropriate?’ as the Director of MIF gave his introduction to a roaring crowd.

All of these quite rude thoughts of mine melted away the minute the show started… the audience gave nothing but respect to the performers and consistently applauded and encouraged them throughout. In fact there was not a moment of silence because as soon as Abida stopped singing, the crowd piped up… one person would start… another would respond… a group would then join and it just escalated until she started that new song and silenced all with her enchanting voice.

All of a sudden it didn’t matter that people may have been taking pictures (not sure MIF would feel the same about that?), it didn’t matter that people were being loud and getting up every so often to clap and cheer, it just added to the ambience and made the whole theatre electric.

As a Muslim woman, to think that one of the top recommended shows, one of my best audience experiences was here at the grand Lowry theatre and all for a Pakistani Muslim Female singer, in an industry dominated by men, in a world where Muslims are thought of quite frankly as lesser people, I felt an undeniable warmth in my heart.

I was mesmerised by Abida who sat there in traditional clothes, on the floor, centre stage, her big hair curly, wild and fabulous and when she smiled back at the audience her face glowed and it was infectious. Apart from Johns introduction, not a single word of English was spoken on that stage. I don’t speak Urdu and I’m sure a number of other people in the audience didn’t too, but it didn’t matter. The Queen of Sufi music held and captivated each and every one of us.

She epitomises what this festival is all about. And she reminded me why I got excited about it in the first place.

Back in March Mohs and I had attended a tile workshop, where we got stuck in and made tiles that would then be used at Festival Square. It was a small workshop at Mayfield Manchester with tile expert from Standard Practice studio and not only was it something we’d never done before, we spoke to people from different parts of Manchester, sharing stories about the city, about our lives and enjoying the company of people we may never have come across had it not been for this experience. oh and they kindly kept us topped up with tea and biscuits 😉 as we got to work and carried on our conversations.



I was lucky enough to attend the MIF preview night at Festival Square last Monday, where said tiles have been used to decorate some of the bar areas, not that I could figure out which were mine, will need to go back and investigate properly. The weather was glorious, the square looked fantastic and what a great hangout spot to kick off the Manchester Summer. I was also privileged enough to watch the Directors preview of Invisible Cities, I didn’t see the full show but the parts I saw were enough for me to come home and book tickets for the full performance next week, and entice others to join – I’ll be back to see it on Thursday.



There are so many great free and ticketed events as part of the programme, I really do encourage you to check out what’s on. Some time ago I interviewed Manchester band LIINES on my Friday show – they were finalists at a Glastonbury competition, have done some amazing things (all whilst holding down full time jobs?!?) and will be performing at MIF as part of BBC Introducing selection of artists.

Charity extraordinaires Heart and Parcel are also taking part in School of Integration being held at Manchester Art Gallery – I’ve been seeing some of the pics already and it looks fab!!


As part of BBC Radio Manchesters festival season – we’ll be recording the Dead Good Show from Festival Square this week! Phil Trow covered the opening last Thursday and Friday but us DGS presenters will be holding the fort weeknights from 7pm – Simone is on tonight – so be sure to check it out. And if you want to catch up – you know we’re all on the BBC Sounds App 😉

Me? Well I can’t wait to catch some more events this week and then of course to record live from the heart of the festival this Friday.

It’s really hard to explain what makes Manchester so great, but when we have events like this taking over the city, it’s really hard to think of how it could be anything BUT the greatest.


Have you checked out any of the Festival events yet? Let me know any recommendations!


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