Compassion, Collaboration & Acceptance: How Music Collectives In South Asia Are Forging New Paths For Artistes
The creation and nurturing of a ‘community’ through music collectives have given rise to some of the most powerful social and cultural movements in South Asia. While some strived to construct a space for artists beyond the conventions of mainstream culture, others offered a safe space for dialogue on prevalent issues including discrimination, social injustice and cultural diversity. Such collectives have played a crucial role in organising artists from diverse backgrounds by offering a ground where varied artistic explorations could co-exist. We strike a conversation with some of the collectives in the region and understand in depth how their journey helped pave the way forward for a generation of artists.…
Image of Sunara playing at Pettah Interchange in Colombo. Image credit Malaka MP
Old-timey incarnations of record labels — glitz, glamour, big money and big exploitation — are great to watch in movies, but their relevance has diminished over the past two decades. The music industry, internationally, is in a perpetual state of rebuild. And so new ways forward emerge from time to time.
In South Asia, the young, independent, non-film music communities — the ones with roots in traditional western sounds — remain on the fringes of the mainstream, if at all. They’ve grown almost as countercultures, gradually finding some footing in the culture space of the region over the past decade or so, through dedicated ground work by artists and industry-persons. In such an environment, record labels no longer play traditional roles. Instead, there’s a coexistence of multiple bespoke approaches. What we get, really, are collectives — organisations that, depending on their scale and the interests of the people involved — work within loosely defined capacities within the industry. …
Final Fieldlines performance on day 3 of Magnetic Fields Festival 2019 / Image credit – Avirat Sundra
In his exploration of Panchatattva (five elements) — fire, earth, sky, wind and water, and its concepts within a socio-cultural and folkloric context, Komal Kothari wondered how the interpretation of these elements (albeit not from a philosophical or metaphysical perspective) varied amongst folk musicians of Rajasthan. “Throughout my research, I focused on what people had to say about the elements and not what has been written about them in Sanskrit treatises,” he said in conversation to Rustom Barucha as they discussed the significance of water and drought in fables and folklore in ‘Rajasthan: An Oral History’. “On getting to know some singers of devotional music from the Bavari Tribe, I asked one of the musicians: ‘What is akash (the sky)? How do you explain it? And, he said: ‘Have you ever seen a ghara (earthen pot)? Move your hand inside it but don’t touch its periphery. That is akash: A space with no boundaries.”
I Want To Be Able To Hold Sound, Throw It Around, Play With The Invisible & Make It Tangible: Arushi Jain
Image: Ose opening for Suzanne Ciani – image curtesy of the artist
“I compose in ragas. In the simplest form, a raga is a compositional philosophy with a certain set of rules within which one could improvise,” explains Arushi Jain , sound synthesist, singer, producer and academician who is also the founder of Ghunghru — a radio series and label based out of San Francisco, “Ragas are embedded in opinions — in what rhythm, at what tempo and with which words — on how to play them. It has its own scale, its own set of allowed and forbidden notes, of accidentals and note clusters. Each raga comes with its own emotional cocoon in which I sit and absorb the sentiment before starting to sing and create. I rely on this heavily to help control my own emotional spectrum. I truly believe I’ve discovered an art form that I will be working with for the rest of my life.”
Image Credit – Cloat Gerold
“I think music creates safe spaces outside the ‘norm’ where people can be themselves and think freely. For music values individuality more than conformism. Art and music bring people from all walks of life together. In my opinion, art is leading everything farther than science. Science works on tomorrow while art shapes the day after thereby influencing scientists, politicians, designers, engineers and everyone building the world. However, art must be more open to anyone who needs to access it,” says Manuel Jesus, Berlin-based producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter who has just begun his residency in India as part of the Border Movement Residency program — a joint project conceptualized by the Goethe-Institut, Musicboard Berlin, Wild City and Ableton.
Image credit: Ali Bharmal
Is Shoumik Biswas growing old? He’s definitely growing up, if his new Disco Puppet album, ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, is anything to go by. Disco Puppet’s past works have been defined by unpredictability, perhaps even a kind of designed recklessness. In his own words, his songs have always been “disconnected” from each other, serving largely as a “collection of things put together”. Here, Biswas ditches his yo-yo tendencies in service of a unified sonic narrative, a kind of sameness tying all the songs off ‘Aranyer Dinratri’ together. …
Left – Pulpy Shilpy (image credit -Ron Bezbaruah) / right – no_name_face (image credit – Nafis Ahmed)
The Border Movement Residency project has worked with over 15 producers and musicians since its launch in 2015 – creating unique experiences tailored around the individual needs of the participating artists. The aim of the program has always been to create meaningful and relevant creative exchanges between musicians in South Asia and Germany.
Image Credit – Siddharth Kumar
Aditi Veena and Lakshya Dhungana were travelling around Nepal a couple of years ago, setting up impromptu audio-video busking performances for strangers. One of those happened to be outside a small shop selling momos. Veena, aka singer-songwriter Ditty, was playing songs from her new album, ‘Poetry Ceylon’, using not much more than a mic, a guitar, and an amp. Dhungana, a filmmaker, would put up a bedsheet and use her projector to show movies about Sri Lanka that she had made. This was Streets For Us, a project the two started back in 2016 when they were both living in Sri Lanka. Dhungana originally wanted to make a film about catcalling, but further conversations between the two led to this instead. …
Image Credit – Peter Cat Recording Co.
I began my career as a music journalist with a gig review of Peter Cat Recording Co. something that is best left buried in the tumultuous sands of time. It is my dying wish that no one ever finds it. To say that it was flattering to the band would be an understatement. When I first caught PCRC in BlueFROG Mumbai I was taken by a contagious compulsion to let go. Anyone who has followed frontman Suryakant Sawhney’s work over the years, will tell you of the distinct flavour his visual aesthetic leaves on your tongue. You can’t really taste his music without imagining it.
Image Credit – Ron Bezbaruah
Pune-based musician, Gowri Jayakumar, is a woman who wears many hats, switching effortlessly from one avatar to the next one. From being in a pop/jazz/folk band, Run Pussy Run, to starting a platform meets record label focused on minority voices in India, she’s constantly innovating and reinventing herself.
“I feel like this is the first time I’m going to stick to something”, she says, when we talk about her foray into the world of electronic music under the moniker Pulpy Shilpy, whose 4 track EP, ‘Slough’, is a dark and brooding dance record that has received praise from both critics and listeners.