Fireflies Festival of Music
I had a good time last weekend and actually, it wasn't just a good time, it was a super-duper time, a sheer joy, lots of simple expressions on show, etc, etc. And the best part was that, this whirl of joy started at 6:00 PM on 14th April and concluded the following day at 6:00 AM, a full night of events being staged under a banyan tree. How often do we see such a festival like Fireflies Festival of Music, an exciting mix of the traditional and the modern that touches the innermost strains of simplicity, which somehow gets diluted in the humdrum of our routined life.
Fireflies Festival of Music was conducted at Inter-cultural Centre, off Kanakapura road in Bangalore on 14th April in association with the Alliance Francaise. This fest is modeled after the World Sacred Music Festival, held annually at the mystical city of Fes, in Morocco. The most interesting facet of this event is that artists from round the globe perform under a large Banyan Tree, with its roots providing the natural background screen. The open-air amphitheatre amidst a splendid variety of lush native trees, was the sitting arena for a thousand odd nocturnal music aficionados. There was an eye-opening cross section of Bangalore society, starting from Indians to French to Greek to Serbian all sitting in the dark together and watching a story unfold with pace, energy, clarity and playfulness.
Since I was late and reached there by 8PM, I had missed two performances and the Tremolos (A three member band accompanied by a guitarist) were on stage then. Accordion, was their paint brush and they were mesmerizing the crowd with numbers like tango, polka dance, their fingers jogging effortlessly over the keys. The musical instrument Accordion and Raj Kapoor are intricately linked, with the song, 'Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan' from 'Mera Naam Joker' defining this confluence. As a tribute to Raj Kapoor, the Tremolos played this much to the delight of the crowd.
Bernard Wacheux, a French Violinist and professor at the Conservatory of Lille had flown from Paris to perform exclusively at this fest. Dressed in a T-shirt and beige color pant, he looked like any other man, till the time the bow touched the magical cord and produced some soaring melodies. Since European classical music, with its 700 years of history and inconceivable technical and emotional range was almost well outside the scope of the audience, Bernard offered some information before each of his performance. The best from his quiver was the 'Swan' song, a cringingly sub-grim melodrama of love.
A group of percussionists from the Karnataka School of Percussion, intoxicated the crowd with their reverberations from the Mridangam, Kanjeera, Ghatam, Morsing, Rhythm drums, Dhol and Tabla. The team of seven, each playing one instrument each, even sang for a while mixing their vocal voices with jugalbandi beats from the instruments. The hallmark of this presentation being flawless synchronization and the crowd asked for more, even after its last performance on stage. Their execution was a world of colors, of sounds, of images, of sublime, crazy or inspired artistic creations, where ethnic and modern electronics, and young and old age blended effortlessly.
The night was getting dark and few people were feeling sleepy, only to return back to their senses, once the 'Dollu Kunita' folk artists took stage. This unique folk art form from the Malnad region is generally performed during jatras, social occasions but these days it is regular event in cultural festivals to preserve this dying art. The trademarks of this dance form are tremendous physical stamina, rustic acrobatic movements and concentration by artistes. The artistes were dressed in faux animal skin costume with elaborate plumage, their foreheads smeared with colored chalk powder. My simple word, 'you-need-to-be-there' to experience what I am telling here.
Hardly, before the energetic sound from the "Dollu" (drums) had subsided, preparations were going on stage for the next performance, which was by Clio Karabelia. Clio is a harpist, singer, from France, of Greek origin and is trained in western and Indian classical music, Greek and French songs. She has made India, her home for now because of the appealing driving power of Indian classical music. Clio is a lecturer of French language in the Univ of Dharwad and shuttles her free time between Indian classical music, which she is learning under the guidance of Ustad Hamid Khan and her first love, the harp. The Ustad’s sitar and Clio’s pedal harp, created some magical fusion music, slow in pace, seductive in taste. When the piece began, the interweaving of the instruments and the chordal assonance slowly unfolded and enveloped the musical lines of each one of us.
Jazz Revival, a team of eight senior musicians from Bangalore led by Dr.Thomas Chandy of HOSMAT performed some Latin jazz and blues to create the party mode, making the audience feel dressed in gypsy skirts and spaghetti strapped tops. A feeling of dreaminess stole over the evening when the band played numbers like the Canadian song, 'Moon Dance', 'Georgia on my mind' and 'Since I met you baby'. Colonel Tom John on the piano was the most energetic and his childlike care freeness was something to watch out for. Uncle Dom, the eldest member in the band would be 75+ but he was at ease with his Tenor Sax with Chandy on the vocals. There were other members in the team, whose names I am not aware of but they for sure entertained others with their sheer passion for music.
Next on stage was a band, named 'Oikyotaan' [Oikyo meaning "harmony" in Bengali and taan meaning "one universal melody" in Sanskrit.]that played Baul music fusion, which was a potpourri of Bengali folk, Sufi, Baul and traditional Rajasthani music. Bonnie, the founder of the band initially spoke about the philosophy of their songs, which celebrates the joy of love, true devotion, freedom from the bondages, etc. When his explanation about their songs drew obscure connections to human body, which they consider no more than a pile of bones and flesh, the crowd was lost in this high-funda description and wanted music instead of all this gyan. Bonnie hemmed some peppy numbers in Bengali like 'Goriya Aaabaiyeere','Kaulankini Radha' but the center of attraction was Kartick Das Baul [in the pic] who lended his rustic and tremulous voice to some percussion compositions with the ektaara, mridangam and electric guitar. Kartick was dressed in colorful gypsy-like costume, and is a traditional Baul singer from Santhiniketan. His latest road to fame is his songs sung for Mira Nair’s movie 'Namesake'.
The excitement in the air reached its crescendo, when Shafiq Pervez and group from Nagpur next set the mehfil for 'Qawali' performance. Opening its Pandora box with a series of 'sheeirs' which were received with motley of 'waah-waahs', the artists slowly entered into the deep waters of 'Qawali'. One after the other they played all popular numbers requested by the crowd like 'Dhamadam Mastkalandar', 'Pardah hai Pardah', 'Chadta Suraj', etc. Following the guidelines of 'Qawali', any line or musical mode that touched the audience was repeated with renewed fervor to induce trance. Few in the crowd were so hypnotized that they expressed their appreciation by offering money when the performers were in full swing.
When Nemanja Rebic from Serbia took stage he first spoke a lot about India, its rich culture and tradition and what drove him to learn Carnatic classical vocal and also Mridangam in Bangalore. Rebic who is trained in Jazz guitar and classical guitar since he was 12, displayed his prowess during the jugalbandi session. This easy going and charming chap showered kisses to the crowd and was always smiling, while playing some numbers from Serbia and Balkan lands. His last number was a love song from Serbia and he said he played it because 'love is so simple and easy and so it was easy playing it too'. His music was brilliant but his beatific smile added that extra something.
Covered in shawls, with a full moon sky and fireflies dancing in the dim electric bulb light, young and old people sat on the low stone steps, on rocks swinging to the music, as the various bands/groups sang of live, love, nature, devotion and personal relationships. By this the time the sojourn had lasted for ten hours and it was early morning. The next two performances were from a team of Caribbean drummers and a morning Alap on Sitar by Hindol Deb.
It was early morning, 6 AM then. I was present there physically, but had gone weary after spending a full night, without missing a single event and my shutter was also active all the while. Su, Ni and few others from my engineering school who had joined for this show, were awake the full night and it was fun reliving the good old college days.
The thousand odd audience who spent Rs.200 for each ticket, and did a night out for music, to me proved that though tinsel music, has its advocates, serious music, even if all is not comprehensible, will also fill the seats, if it fulfils at least the needs of the ear and the mind. All that matters is the ripeness - where the music, musician and listener cohere in self-forgetful joy.
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