The stage was still not fully set for the evening’s show. The 37 children who were to participate had arrived with their various musical instruments, open-throated voices and wide-eyed curiosity. While the creative director of the show was calling the artiste manager telling him not to allow the children to tire themselves out, it was the adults who needed to watch out for exhaustion. Not for a moment did the little musicians show any signs of flagging energy.
’Kamaal Dhamaal’, directed by tabla exponent Aneesh Pradhan, featured conversations between drummers, dancers and some singers, all children under 17, from different parts of India. This was only one of the high-energy musical performances from Bhoomija Trust’s Jackfruit Festival. The other treat, ‘Singing into the Future,’ featured four child prodigies, who brought very different forms together in a show that had the audience enthralled from the very first note.
In its fifth edition (after a two-year pandemic induced break), the curator of this year’s Jackfruit Festival was well-known Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal. Gayathri Krishna, Bhoomija’s managing trustee, describes how Shubha Mudgal’s “sensitive, meticulous and no-nonsense” approach drew out the festival’s unique flavour. “Even as the festival was being designed, she read out the rule book on how long children can be in rehearsal, how many breaks and chaperons would be needed and how they need to be treated,” says Gayathri.
“The fact that the Festival workshops were held in the Indian Music Experience Museum (IME) made them more special,” she says.
“Though the child artistes were from different backgrounds, traditions and social strata they were all given equal opportunities,” says Shubha Mudgal, adding that it was rewarding to see the camaraderie they developed that reflected on stage too. She observes that the young artistes learned to listen and even be inspired by each other. “I feel it is possible to do away with the many existing hierarchies in the arts when you bring together diverse styles and forms in the same performance, and present them all with the same respect and pride,” says Shubha.
The meticulous preparation and rehearsal resulted in two vibrant performances that wove together urban and rural, voice and instrument, classical and folk — to mention just a few categories that have divided our perception of music. Speaking about how he selected the drummers and forms to be showcased in ‘Kamaal Dhamaal’, Aneesh says he chose to work with music schools and artiste groups he had previously worked with, and some new ones too. He welcomes the possibility of expanding the stylistic and geographical scope of this percussion ensemble in future. Yet, Kamaal Dhamaal in its current form was a huge success going by how it demolished barriers of region, while holding the audience in its rhythmic embrace.
The singers from Bengal opened the evening with a conversation that didn’t miss a beat. The sound of the cymbals, tabla, kartaal and dholak set the start point on a high note. The technical prowess of the Rajasthani and Goan drummers was evident in the next pieces — not only by how they modulated the volume of the drums but also in how they shared space — playing two to a single drum.
It was fascinating how each layer of percussion was introduced separately and then brought together, especially when the Karnataka artistes performed on the mridangam, ghatam, kanjira and morsing, slowly leading into the konnakol. Interestingly, all the young artistes occupied the performance space equally, displaying the intricacies of their art and training while demanding the audience’s attention in their own ways. While the improbable angles that the young Manipuri artistes spun around in left the audience spellbound, Raag Khamaj presented by the Bengal team seemed to soothe them.
‘Singing into the Future,’ directed by Shubha Mudgal, was themed around songs on Nature and seasons. It sought the earth’s benediction in the context of climate change. The soulful voices of Rahul Vellal and Dnyaneshwari Gadge opened the concert in darkness, inviting the audience into a space of seeking and searching for light. The four singers displayed fine musicianship during the concert that followed.
While seven-year-old Chotu Khan, a folk singer from Rajasthan, brought alive the landscapes of his region through powerful singing, Rohan Das won hearts with his soaked-in-sweetness Bengali songs and voice. The structured Carnatic compositions presented by Rahul Vellal spoke of his grip over the form while Dnyaneshwari’s fine delineation of complex raags was impressive too. The contrasting approaches of folk and classical forms, the heartfulness of one versus the cerebral formations of the other brought up questions on spontaneity and self-consciousness (or the deliberate discarding of it).
‘Singing into the Future’ was a slice of hope in many flavours. The four child prodigies overstepped the differences presented by their cultural milieus and musical genres ever so organically. Chotu Khan’s unfettered song on camels comfortably sat with Rahul Vellal’s soulful Ranjani ragamaalika, Dnyaneshwari Gadge’s masterly exposition of Tilak Kamod and Rohan Das’s sprightly song about a bird.
Their smiles and encouraging nods to each other notwithstanding, the rapport they shared with their accomplished accompanists was reassuring to witness.
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