The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Good ol’ blues and a new beat

She had been to Ravi Shankar concerts with Jimmy Page in the Sixties. She toured with “old buddy” Bob Dylan in 1997, including a sell-out show at Wembley. She shared the same managers and made music with David Bowie, and even scored a hit with her own version of a Mohd Rafi song (she can’t remember the original anymore), calling it Move your body close to me.

From folk in the 1960s through the 70s, Bowie-esque glam-rock to the raunchy, in-your-face blues she performs today, Dana Gillespie has come full circle. And now, she is upon us with her rare repertory of “honest, straight from the heart music”, accompanied by the London Blues Band, courtesy the British Council and Taj Hotels.

After giving Calcuttans the first taste of her blues power at the Taj on Friday to a select audience, Dana is set to rock the Presidency College campus on Saturday (6 pm) with the five-piece band. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Calcutta’s youth to sample blues music of this calibre,” observes Ananda Lal, who teaches popular music at Jadavpur University.

Calibre indeed. Dana was voted top British female blues vocalist by the British Blues Connection and Blueprint Magazine between 1992 and 1996, and has now been elevated to their Hall of Fame. “Blues chooses you, you don’t choose blues,” smiles Dana, who has been travelling to India since the 80s, but is in Calcutta for the first time. “I have heard so much about Calcutta having been the nerve-centre of western music in India. It’s a bit of a paradox though and a shame that blues doesn’t happen here anymore,” she says.

“Perhaps, western musicians don’t really know what to expect here and who to co-ordinate with,” laments Dana, who wants to make a blues festival happen in India, on the lines of the Jazz Yatra. “Much of my music is from below the belt, with strong sexual innuendo, and a lot of humour. That’s how blues music is meant to be, to lift the mood, to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.”

The Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and the Acid Queen in The Who’s acclaimed rock opera Tommy, Dana “discovered” blues when she went to the American Folk Blues Fest in ’62 and to see Yardbirds at the Marquee Club. And she doesn’t mind “going broke for India” to preach her stuff.

— Subhro Saha

Friends Of Drums (FOD), the free-form musical movement conceptualised by percussion guru Sivamani, tabla exponent Subhen Chatterjee and veteran bassist Lew Hilt, was unveiled in Calcutta on Friday evening in a captivating world music concert at Lake Club, Rabindra Sarobar.

“FOD is an open platform based on lots of rhythm, world music elements and Indian taals. There will be a loose structure for every performance, but the mood will be inclusive so that any musician can come and join the movement,” says Siva. The flamboyant percussionist, who regaled the audience with his customary high-energy performance, tried out the octopan — a steel drum, which produces eight notes – for the first time at the Lake Club concert, presented by Support Act.

“Friends Of Drums, apart from breaking barriers in musical forms and genre, will also extend support to talented musicians who have fallen on hard times, through insurance policies and holding of hospital beds,” says Chatterjee, who, along with Hilt, had formed Calcutta’s first fusion band, Karma, in 1985.

“We will also give the youngsters the exposure they need,” says the tabla ace, who has collaborated with such international luminaries as David Crosby, Paul Horn, Peter Gabriel and L. Subramaniam. Friday’s show also featured Raghav on vocals, Debshankar on violin and Subhash on keyboards.

“In our music with FOD, spontaneity is the key. You can have all the synthesised music in the world, but there’s nothing like live music, where you play off each other,” smiles Hilt. Some of the standout numbers belted out by the band on Friday were Indian Coffee (based on the raga kafi), Sandstone (based on the Rajasthani Mand) and It’s a lovely day.

Siva, who is extremely excited about Friends, is keen to return to Calcutta at regular intervals to hold percussion workshops with local talent. “I also plan to bring 50 drummers picked from different parts of the country to Calcutta for the A.R. Rahman show,” says the percussion artiste who has recently formed Drums Of Siva with folk drummers from different schools of music.

He is also keen to collaborate with the bauls of Bengal. “Baul gaan has an enchanting rhythm and I can add interesting percussion elements to it,” Siva suggests.

Stupid theatre

Mime artists speak a language that breaks all barriers. Because they can speak without making a sound, expressing themselves only with eloquent gestures and facial expressions that speak volumes. This became evident at the sixth International Festival of Non-Verbal Arts, presented by the Body Language School and Creastana Relations, on December 15 and 16.

It began with a Korean artist, mainly clown mimes, revolving a dish on a stick, symbolising the cycle of life and its relations with the universe. It may have looked a very simple act but the artists must have taken years of disciplined practice to effortlessly express so philosophical a thought, as if in jest. He instantly transferred his skills in juggling and balancing acts to members of the audience. It literally became child’s play even for kids.

The scene-stealers were the Japanese who enacted stupid theatre interacting with the audience. One of them enacted the role of a robot that turns into a Frankenstein’s monster. A British artist depicted the relationship between a father and son. The latter becomes mature and their feelings for each other change accordingly. Another British artist walked around the grounds on stilts, shaking hands with everybody.

The only Indian participant was Ashok Chatterjee, a traditional mime, who enacted the non-verbal plays Child and Fisherman. He was the organiser and he is also director of Body Language School in Paikpara, the only Indian member school of Unesco in the non-verbal arts section. He was invited by Fifa to perform at World Cup 2002 in Korea.

When he was looking for a sponsor he was told that Non-verbal performances will find no takers in Calcutta. Even the state government turned him away. But last Sunday the response was so overwhelming, people had to be turned away. Chaterjee is thinking of holding the performance outside Bengal next time.

Poetic power

Poetry in motion. That is what Padatik will serve in its latest venture to be staged at the end of the month. The troupe has woven a tapestry of three of Shakti Chattopadhyay’s poems — Abani Bari Achho, Dhhangsho Dhhangsho Karo and Rakho Tomar Udyata Paa — through choreographed dance forms.

It all started with Basant Rungta of Srijan, an “avid Shakti fan”, who had translated a number of poems and wanted to do something with them. “About eight months ago, Joy (Goswami, the poet) and I approached Chetna (Jalan, of Padatik) with a proposal. Joy explained the poems so beautifully that Chetna became excited.”

It was the “difference” in the proposal that appealed to the choreographer and danseuse. Says Jalan: “When Joy suggested that I transcreate Chattopadhyay’s Brishti (Abani Bari Achho) into a dance form, I could feel the adrenaline rush. Initially, I tried to experiment with kathak on the pieces, but a select audience did not like it. Joy told me to improvise.” So a new form was born — using trapeze moves. The dancers trained over eight months to learn how to climb and slide down ropes. “There is an imagery that Shakti uses of a net swirling overhead before being cast in the water. To translate that into action, two rope swings have been added to the stage props,” Rungta explains.

The music, too, scores in terms of innovation and is integral to the translation process. Jalan has came up with a distinct ballad-like beat while young rockers Rahul Guha Roy of Cassini’s Division will provide voice and guitar strums to Baloo Dutta’s music. “A lot of hand and body movement is shown in the piece to depict the lines,” Jalan says.

While the tribute to the poet at Rabindra Sadan on December 29 will be a purely Padatik presentation, the roof-top preview at Srijan the evening before has a bonus lined up. Chattopadhyay’s friends, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Tarapada Roy and Utpal Kumar Basu, will share memories of their days together.

nCoffee break: ‘A lot can happen over coffee’ goes its catchline. And Café Coffee Day is geared up to serve up a heady brew in Calcutta. The Bangalore-based retail chain of cafes launched its city operations on Friday, with the first café on Rawdon Street at Express Towers. Spread across 600 sq. ft, the outlet seats 35. “Our café offers great coffee at affordable rates and a wonderful ambience packed with good music,” said Sudipta Mukherjee, marketing head. The chain, part of Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Company Ltd, owns and operates 65 cafes all over the country.

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