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Sitting at a roadside tea stall (which ironically served only coffee) on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Kolkata International Music Festival, presented by Song of Soul (in association with KIT and KMDA) at Rabindra Sarobar, Melbourne-based musician David Bridie of the group Wantok Sing Sing poured his heart out to t2 about a form of music that goes back thousands of years but is still somewhat overlooked at world music festivals.

What is the primary objective of Wantok Sing Sing?

Sing-sing is a phrase from Papua New Guinea (which lies north of Australia), signifying a musical gathering, a gathering of cultures. The region, in fact, has a quarter of the world’s languages. It’s about going back to the oldest forms of music and simultaneously presenting contemporary takes on that music. It’s not pop.

How did you discover the music of this region?

I played in a band called Not Drowning Waving (which has released nine albums). We did a record in rebel Papua New Guinea. It’s a very interesting place, a place with a lot of war history. That record opened my eyes. Then I met a drummer called Airileke, who is quite a visionary. We decided to form a company to showcase the music of this region.

But this music is not popular in the West...

There are many world music festivals where you hear lots of African, Indian music. But the Pacific seems to be overlooked. It is actually a blessed place for the arts in general. There is the aboriginal, indigenous music in the northern part. Unfortunately, in the southern part a lot of the indigenous cultures are being killed off.

The connecting factor would be…

Well, since there are many languages here, there is something called Tok Pisin, which is a lingua franca. Wantok means “one talk”.

What do the songs speak about?

You will hear traditional music from West Papua, a province of Indonesia… under military rule. So, there is a political story. It has a strong culture that’s under political repression. But just across the border in Papua New Guinea, it’s a free country that’s a lot like India. Politics is not separate from music. For the West Papua people, each time you sing a song about their homeland it’s a political song. It’s not politics like ban-the-bomb. But there is politics when you say, “Our culture deserves respect.” By showcasing the different songs and dances of our region we are asking the world to learn about us, about what we are doing.

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This singer, composer and keyboard-player has changed the face of Israeli music by using Jewish and Arabic influences to create melodies that are at once intriguing, exotic and classy. Sporting a thick stylish band of hair (which he hasn’t clipped since his army days), Idan Raichel spoke to t2 after his Rabindra Sarobar performance at the 5th Kolkata International Music Festival, presented by Song of Soul, on Thursday.

Your previous visit to India was long before the Arab Spring...

The situation in the Middle East keeps changing all the time. In my country, Israel, social movements are constantly taking place. But our music doesn’t have a lot to do with across-the-border politics, it speaks more about social movements taking place internally. It’s important to present the voice of the minority on stage, on radio… and by touring the world. It’s equally important to highlight the beauty of our country.

In what ways has your music changed since the Idan Raichel Project started a decade ago?

Well, we have more musicians. But the DNA of our songs… the place where they come from remains the same (points to his heart). When the project started some 10 years ago, I simply wanted to record music with my friends; to record the soundtrack of the place I come from. Meanwhile, we recorded with Vieux Farka Touré (Malian singer and guitarist) and Grammy Award-winning singer India.Arie… so, more and more people are joining the project.

What’s more important –– lyrics or the sound?

For us, it’s, of course, the lyrics. We write in Hebrew but I’m happy that people can feel our music. While touring the world, it’s the vibe that puts our message across. The crowd in Calcutta could feel the vibe and that was important.

Your group features both young and old musicians. What do they contribute to the music?

A young man without dreams is like an old man without memories. I think young people are constantly bringing in new ideas and the elders bring wisdom.

Are you listening to a lot of Indian music? How is our music perceived in Israel?

This time I couldn’t listen to a lot of Indian music. But I’m happy that your music has become a global movement. Earlier, Ravi Shankar presented the soundtrack of India but from the present generation, A.R. Rahman has taken your music to a different audience… to the clubs. People love it. They listen to Rahman in the clubs, on the radio. It’s beautiful. After Slumdog Millionaire, people are checking out his back catalogue.

MP

If you want to listen to The Idan Raichel Project, just write in to irpgift@gmail.com and receive links to a few tracks. Offer valid for a week only