Masterminded by Birmingham-born British Pakistani Artistic Director Iqbal Khan, the Opening Ceremony of Commonwealth Games 2022 was a celebration of the rich and diverse history, culture and identity of the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The theatrical production featured musicians and performers from across the diverse region who represented a wide range of cultures and global musical styles brought together by Music Director Joshua ‘RTKal’ Holness.
With the best of Birmingham’s creative minds at its helm and its best-loved talent at its heart, this ceremony was a major moment for the region with Iqbal Khan showcasing the incredible heritage and influence of South Asian culture in this vibrant city.
We spoke to Iqbal about it.
What is it like showcasing diverse cultures at an event as humungous as the Commonwealth Games? What does it take to put this show together?
It’s a challenge to ensure that one is not simply box-ticking. The principle of inclusion is important. Also, important that we go beyond the way certain art forms are represented. Go beyond complacent stereotyping. And we can do this by telling a big, generous story. Putting a show like this together takes humility, listening carefully to others who’ve done this sort of scale of shows previously, BUT also trusting the ambition of what we are trying to do. Particularly if it’s breaking the mould. Resist the anxiety of others to smooth the edges and make its content less surprising. Ultimately, it requires clarity as to the non-negotiable arc of the story, while imagination about how to respond to inevitable adaptations/ compromises.
As a British Pakistani, what does this mean to you culturally – to have a unique voice at such a prestigious event?
I’m not sure British-Pakistanis have ever led an event on this scale, that tells the story of this place and this nation. It is a remarkable privilege. I absolutely have a specific range of experiences, that make my perspectives unique. And I also am a commonwealth child like so many others, proud of the way this city and country continues to develop. There is much to critique and a lot more to be excited about. This is my home and I, like many others, feel sufficient ownership to both challenge and celebrate.
What are your expectations from the event? What does it mean for the arts and culture sector?
My expectations were that we would create a show that felt totally inclusive. A big and immersive story. An unselfconsciously passionate and witty show, that celebrated the language and feel of this place. Poets were at the centre of it, dancers, circus artists, volunteers and musicians from all forms helped tell it. I hoped lasting legacies of engagement would survive. That we would create shows on broadcast and live that complemented each other. That all the world would feel it concretely even if you missed details. It’s the greatest opportunity for us to celebrate the arts and culture scene of Birmingham and the midlands to the world. We are world-beating.
Why do you think music and theatricals are still the backbones of entertainment?
Music and the theatrical help us tell stories, and share truths with the world. It’s our experience but these are truths about what it is to be human. We can go beyond words and connect everyone, anywhere, to what is most important to us all. Music and stories make us feel less alone, they excite and challenge us to think in new ways. I hope we did all this.