Rani Dey, Shibani Singh, Rakesh Singh, Shambhu Thakur and Sudipto Saha had never dreamt of sharing the stage with Cactus, a band they have grown up admiring.
The children from Khela-Ghar and Soma Memorial Girls Home, two homes run by New Light, performed with the Bangla band at the ICCR auditorium on February 1.
The concert was the grand finale of project #BeBand #musicwithoutprejudice: A concert for a cause, a collaborative effort of Urmi Basu of New Light and Cactus to spot talent and nurture and mentor them.
Cactus members and Urmi Basu with the kids. (Arnab Mondal)
"They were confident and they owned the stage. I saw them enjoying their time and I was astounded to see their calm demeanour. There was no trace of nervousness. The kids behaved like veteran," beamed Basu. "All of them are children of sex workers and aged between 13 and 17."
For Cactus, this journey has been all about reaching out. "As artistes, we believe it is our art that we leave behind. Art needs to percolate across generations. And music has no prejudice. These kids come from a very different upbringing. They are not exposed to anything but bathroom singing," said Mainak 'Bumpy' Nag Chowdhury, guitarist for Cactus.
When the band met Rani for the first time, she would look at the floor when she spoke. "I think on the fourth day she looked me in the eye and now she smiles and laughs. That has been the level of our progress. We have given them around three years' worth of training in few months," said Bumpy, who also taught the kids how to stand and behave on stage.
The kids are just as happy to be able to sing. Sudipto Saha, 17, wants to become a singer and is making the most of this opportunity. "I love listening to Hindi songs and also classical songs. I love the rehearsals. Especially when Sidhu sir starts singing Holud Pakhi," said the young singer who adores Sonu Nigam. Rani, too, wants to be a singer when she grows up. "I want to be a playback singer," she said.
For Shibani, though, singing is a hobby. Her real passion is fashion designing and Cactus and Basu have requested fashion designer Sayon Mitra to mentor her. For the concert, she wore a red gown that she designed herself.
Also part of the show was Rohitaswa Gupta, a student of Adamas International School. "I made some good friends," said the young musician who plays the guitar. The band has also made a documentary on the kids. It was screened on the day of the concert.