Singer Pam Craine, British Council’s Leah Zakks and tabla player Bikram Ghosh at the interface. Picture by Aranya Sen
What do musicians in Calcutta want' And what can their counterparts in the UK do for them'
That was the subject of an afternoon’s interaction at the British Council on Friday. An interface with Leah Zakks, head of the performing arts department, music, British Council, gave city-based artistes the chance to come up with suggestions about how the skills of young musicians can be enhanced, and cross-continental understanding in musical culture developed.
It all ended with a commitment from British Council, Calcutta, to launch a music festival for students, along the lines of the hugely popular annual School Drama Competition. The suggestion came from Anjum Katyal, a jazz ’n’ blues singer, and British Council director Sujata Sen was quick to snap it up. “I like the suggestion so much that I am committing right now that the British Council will organise this,” smiled Sen.
Musicians, critics, music lovers and those associated with the field came together for the first leg of Zakks’ visit to Calcutta, part of an India tour to find out how greater synergy can be developed. Showcasing the best of UK music is also part of the Council’s agenda. Contemporary music, whether classical or cutting edge, which fits into the existing scene, can display the up-to-date trends and talent in the UK.
So, whether it is living composers or cross art form projects, bringing more performers to India is on the cards. This spread isn’t likely to include mainstream artistes because, as Zakks pointed out, commercial considerations work in their favour. Workshops and training could also be a part of the relationship, designed to be “mutually beneficial”, targeted at audiences in the age group of 18 to 35.
The feedback from the group of around 20 artistes made clear that one of the pressing requirements of the hour was to improve standards of training in the city. Teachers are fearful of approaching complicated material. This hesitance is caused, in part, by a lack of teaching aids, such as a sheet music or CD library. The approach of the ICSE to the music syllabus is theory-driven. There is no move to inculcate the spirit in students that music can be fun.
Tabla exponent Bikram Ghosh also recommended a workshop for music listeners. “The audiences of today are very poor listeners. They have unreasonable expectations from performers and then they expect us to give 100 per cent,” said Ghosh. Channelling of musical interest from teen “garage bands” was what teacher Jyotishka Dasgupta called for.
Zakks also disclosed plans in the offing to set up placement schemes with BBC Radio to develop alternative opportunities in music. In fact, she paid a visit to a Hindi radio station in the city to sound them out about playing different kinds of western music. Unfortunately, it did not take to the concept driven by the belief that there isn’t an audience here. Commercially, she observed, anything apart from film music in India was playing to a “niche” audience.
But as one of the members from rock gig Skinny Alley observed, in a country of one billion, even a “niche” market is a huge one.
Staying with music, here’s calling all melody lovers for a festival that’s just for you. From July 15, the month-long event at all MusicWorld outlets is the golden opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and load up on nostalgia. HMV Saregama’s Golden Collection is a compilation on CDs and cassettes of “unforgettable film melodies” composed and voiced by legends in the industry, from rare to popular tunes. The festival includes a buy-four-get-one-free offer. Listen in to the golden hour everyday, when some of these songs will be aired in the stores, and enter the contests to win exciting prizes.
And it’s all about jazz at Quasimodo, Germany’s oldest jazz club, in Berlin. But making music this time will be Calcutta’s own Tanmoy Bose. On July 17, the tabla exponent will perform in Inward Journey, live on the hallowed stage of the 100-year-old club, with German musicians. Indian taal will hold the audience of 350 captive for the night, with Bose playing the tabla, accompanied by a saxophone player, guitarists and a percussionist. The ‘underground’ club has hosted and been the start-off point for many an international star since the 70s, from blues and world music, to Latin, rock, pop, funk, soul, and now Hindustani.
Brush with Bengal
If it’s a Calcuttan in Berlin when it comes to music, there’ll be a mini-Bengal invasion in Mumbai, on canvas and cloth, this weekend. Beginning July 13, art lovers in Mumbai will have a rare chance to catch a grand collection of paintings by artists of Bengali origin from the prized collection of Harsh Goenka, chairman, RPG Group. The RPG Collection of Contemporary Bengal Art, on at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) through July, comprises a selection of more than 150 works by nearly 35 artists. The showpiece: 35 paintings of Bikash Bhattacharjee, and the works of Ganesh Pyne and Sanjay Bhattacharya.
The curtains will go up on the Bengal art show with a grand showcase of Bengal fashion. Also at NGMA, on July 12, Stylefile — an initiative of Preeti Goenka and Sumedha Saraogi of Calcutta — will present an artistic statement in textiles, featuring “three of Bengal’s best” when it comes to fashion — Sharbari Dutta, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Darshan Seth.
Ballet for bonding
The month-long activities to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which started with a gay-pride march on June 29 is concluding on a cultural note on July 24. The Alien Flower, billed as the “country’s first full-length ballet on same-gender love” is making a comeback to the Calcutta stage. After the Sapphire Dance Creations performance premiered here in 1996, it has also been showcased at the India International Centre, New Delhi, the fifth Asia Pacific AIDS Conference in Kuala Lumpur and the Asia Pacific AIDS Conference at Melbourne, in 2001. The piece is based on eight English poems by Sanjay Vasa and the Canada-based Rakesh Ratti, following a homosexual man’s journey from birth through life.
Before the performance on July 24 at Gyan Manch, Kinaaraa, an audio play about male bonding will be presented.
| Actresses Debashree Roy and Manjushree at a party to mark the launch of the film Alo Chhaya. Debashree plays a double role in the film. Picture by Aranya Sen
Come July 19 and Calcutta will soak in the strains of classical western concert at its best. Atelier de Musique, the 20-year-old city orchestra, will perform in the evening at Sandre Hall, Calcutta School of Music. The piece de resistance of the evening will be a Tagore song that has been arranged for the string orchestra in a western classical format. “Students of Rabichakra will sing Amar Poran Jaha Chay to our accompaniment,” said Atelier founder and conducter Abraham Mazumder, who “holds Beethoven and Tagore equally close to heart”. Another number to be played, Chhayaghera ankabanka path, is an unrecorded number from the repertoire of Mohiner Ghoraguli, the former member of Bengal’s pioneering band added.
Rehearsals are on with about 60 members, many of whom are students of leading city schools. “We have been devising this show for close to eight months now,” the ace violinist said. The two-hour show will be in two parts. While Tagore and Mohiner... will be part of the second half, the first will feature Haydn’s Piano Concerto, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as well as select compositions of Henry Purcell and Bela Bartok.