“Music, Meaning & Memory” cultural event aims to open up conversations and combat stigma around memory problems and dementia in the UK’s South Asian community


On 26 June 2023, Dr Naaheed Mukadam (Principal Research Fellow, Mental Health of Older People, Division of Psychiatry, University College London) hosted and performed in a cultural event to open up conversations around memory problems and dementia in the South Asian community and combat stigma. The show was titled “Music, Meaning & Memory” and used song, instrumental music and kathak dance to explore the experience of having memory symptoms or caring for someone who has dementia. Dr Mukadam partnered with Akademi (a dance organisation) and Soumik Datta, an award winning sarod artist, to create this event. Through music and movement workshops in a care home and day centre, and conversations with participants, Dr Mukadam, dance artist Jesal Patel and Soumik Datta were able to observe how music sparks connections and memories and to listen to personal experiences of attendees. All professionals also spoke to each other throughout the process, reflecting on Dr Mukadam’s clinical experience in speaking to patients with dementia and their families.

These conversations and themes were used to create pieces of music and dance to express them in art form:

• Dr Mukadam composed a song in Urdu, “to show the disorientation experienced when a loved one’s memory varies day to day, leaving their family feeling as though they catch glimpses of their loved one, only for them to be swept away again”. Similarly, another song in Bengali “described the feeling of trying to connect and keep your loved one with you, while they are swept away by the ravages of memory loss”.

• Soumik Datta performed pieces which included musical fragments and echoes. In his words, “the musical equivalent of a memory is an echo, a partial fragment of the original”.

• Jesal Patel composed an original dance piece with a partner, using different coloured scarves to represent different emotions and playing with themes of time and disorientation.

The show was performed at the Bloomsbury theatre at UCL and the audience was a mix of academics, students, people with experience of dementia and those with an enthusiasm for South Asian music. The event was a huge success, raising almost GBP 900 (EUR 1,040) for Alzheimer’s Society and sparking plans for future workshops and events. You can view the full event, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ0Djoly-Ns