Just to re-cap and why I’m back in India?
This will be my third trip to India in as many years and this trip will see the fruition of three years of the development of ideas and creative head scratching between a brilliant team of artists headed up as artistic curator by electronic music pioneer Mark Fell working with Rian Treanor and young Indian composer Nakul Krishnamurthy.
The project began its life after a trip to India in 2015 when I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a part of a British Council scoping trip with a number of arts workers from Scotland to travel around three cities in India to meet people engaged in the Indian arts worlds. Of course prior to this at the Edinburgh festival while attending Creative Scotland and British Council’s initiative at Edinburgh Festival that allows delegates from all across the world to get the chance to meet colleagues from Scotland called Momentum, I had met the one and only Sonya Mazumdar. Sonya runs a fantastic organisation in Chennai called Earthsync. Sonya and I hit off straight away possibly because of her organisations beautiful film and project called Layla which is a project projecting a positive vision of the richness of the communities stretching around the Indian Ocean who were affected traumatically by the Tsunami that devastated the region in December 2004… but also because she is wonderful. As anyone that knows me will know one of the many reasons for me setting up Counterflows was to examine the idea of tradition in the context of the experimental contemporary music world. What does it mean to be performing traditional music in the 21st century and why do that? How does tradition inform experimentation in the arts and son on … Sonya and I hit it off and the result being I went to Chennai and met Sonya in her home turf and what I encountered there was the rich classical tradition of South India, Carnatic Music. Inspired by the wonderful violin playing of Nandini Muthuswamy I got thinking and after an amazing premier of the project at Counterflows 2017 here I find myself back in India. There are a whole load of characters that brought this story to here, at the starting point of stage 3, not least Varun Dsesai of Littlei – Kolkata, Adam Greig of KM Conservatory – Chennai and Issac Alexander of Pepper House who have shown complete trust and support in what we are doing and of course the intrepid artists who are building the project and the artists we are about to encounter across three cities of India.
Day 1 – Oh Kolkata on the speaker trail.
I first encountered the Bengali tradition of Baul in Kerela through Hanna Tuulikki who was exhibiting at the Kochi Biennale in 2016. Hanna had been working with Baul singer Pavarthy Baul and we got the chance to hear her in Kerela. My next way in and in preparation for coming to Bengal and Kolkata was listening to the wonderful voice of Farida Paveer who latest Lp Chant sde Lalon Shah keeps spinning around in my head. So I touch down in Kolkata and after a painless and dazed wander through Kolkata airport and after exchanging money at exorbitant rates grab a taxi into the heart of Kolkata. The Red Arrow Residency is not so easy to find. Almost hidden up a back lane of A.J.C Bose Road it is a extremely pleasant and welcome surprise. After quick shower and an emptying of clutter from my head and bag I meet up with Varun Desai. Hair longer that the last we met and tied back elegantly as it should be, Varun immediately whisks me of in to the DIY hi-fi market streets of old Kolkata. Rows and rows of electrical and mechanical things. An Electronic Wonderland. Of course we are here for a reason. We have to find speakers for the installation. After, how can I say this, an unfortunate lack of customer care between Air France’s partner Flybe Mark and Rian can’t bring their 8 Myer speakers across to India. This is not as easy as it sounds as monitor speakers are not hired out in Kolkata and just aren’t as common. Lots of foraging and chatting to sales people to no avail. Next we trundle along to the venue. The Harrington Arts Centre is delightfully located on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, hinting at Kolkata’s still radical politics and past. It is an old marble clad gallery space with an amazing old stair well in its entrance. Perfect for the project. After a quick Dosa (oh, the Dosa) lunch Varun takes me to Littlei HQ where there is a dub workshop taking place. Which after talking to the guys has transmogrified into some other production workshop the way things do.
Nakul arrives in Kolkata and we meet and embrace. Nakul has been pivotal in the development of the project. When we met last year in Chennai he had just graduated from KM Conservatory and was starting a journey exploring electronic music practice and the world of sound art. He is now hopefully going to travel to the UK to study for his masters combining fine art and sound/music. Mark has been a mentor for him across the project and he has developed a musical partnership with Rian that is extremely exciting but importantly he has also given us so much insight into the music of south India and more. After food at the crazy Barbecue Nation which turns out to be a lot better than it sounds and after a beer at one of the oldest cinemas in Kolkata where Varun is hosting a club night at The Vaults it’s time to sleep.