ARTS Alive is up and running across Joburg with dance, poetry, theatre, art, comedy, music and schools’ drama all part of the spectrum.

One of the special sideshows of the festival is the participation for the 8th year of the Shared History Festival – The Indian Experience in South Africa. This is not only a celebration of Indian culture but also a wonderful catalyst to find similarities and connections in the shared history of both countries.

In many ways the programme is a continuation of the celebration of Women’s Month, featuring as it does, significant woman performers and content:

• Women On Record with Vidya Shah (tonight and tomorrow at 8.15pm): The season opens with a work that recreates the era of the gramophone and pays musical tribute to the pioneering and gifted South Asian women singers who were the voices captured on gramophone records in early 20th century India.

Fearing that history had not archived their contribution sufficiently, Shah researched and unearthed a wealth of these early recordings and in the process has created a rich and fascinating tribute to these stars of yesteryear.

“Those were the times when the Indian sub-continent was one musically,” Shah says.

“There were many women in the era who sang beautifully, but their talents were restricted to their homes.

“The invention of the gramophone was a boon for them. Women didn’t have to be seen; they could follow their passion by recording their music and not have to come out into the limelight.”

Although Shah is a researcher, writer and social activist, “singing is closest to my heart. It’s the way to express myself best”.

• 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo with Ira Dubey directed by Lillete Dubey (Friday and Saturday at 8.15): This play features one of India’s most promising young actresses, Ira Dube (pictured). It has been described as a passionate portrayal of love and survival.

It is a portrait of the extraordinary and ordinary lives of a cross-section of Iraqi women in the decades between the two Gulf wars and examines what it is to be a woman overshadowed by war.

It is a timeous look at the ancient, the modern and the feminine in a war-torn world.

Raffo – as the daughter of an Iraqi father and an American mother – has the DNA to tell a very compelling story.

“I intended to write a piece about the Iraqi psyche, something that would inform and enlighten the images we see on TV. However, the play is equally about the American or the Western psyche. It is a dialogue between East and West.”

The characters are deeply engaged in circumstances unique to them as Iraqis and yet through their passions seem to answer the concerns of the West. The audience plays a vital role in the show with each Iraqi character speaking directly to them in English as if they were a trusted Western friend.

“I wanted the audience to see these women not as the “other” but much more like themselves than they would initially have thought.

“I felt it was important to create a safe environment to experience horror and humour, but ultimately to see the play as a celebration of life,” says Raffo.

• Tickets are R100 at the theatre call 011 883 8606, through Strictly Tickets on 082 553 5901 or visit Enquire about group booking discounts with the theatre at 011 883 8606.