By Narendra Kusnur
Over two weekend nights, the audience at the Nesco Grounds, Goregaon East, was transported from the Himalayas, Kashmir and Punjab to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Goa, with a quick visit to Gujarat, Maharashtra and south India.
Quite literally, it was a musical tour held at the Paddy Fields festival, now in its third year. Organised by Nesco and curated by Turnkey Music Publishing’s Atul Churamani and his small team, its concept is to bring folk music from different parts of India and blend them with modern styles too. Hence, it is being marketed as a folk-fusion festival.
The theme this year was Jugalbandi or collaboration. And though the event was a resounding success, there were also a few snags, which we shall address eventually. What were impressive besides the consistent quality of the music were the spaciousness of the main auditorium, the arrangements for multi-cuisine food and beverages, excellent counter service, the hygiene standards and the easy parking facilities. No securitymen sniffing around.
Over to the programme. Saturday began with the amazing Manganiyar Classroom, comprising a group of some 30 children, mostly under 10 years old, singing Rajasthani folk music. The brainchild of Roysten Abel, it had perfect vocal coordination and some breathtaking percussion.
Sitar player Shujaat Khan, son of the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan, was joined by singer Malini Awasthi to portray music from Awadh, Uttar Pradesh. Khan is a fantastic singer too and his voice coordinated well with Awasthi’s, though one noticed at least two occasions when both were unsure who was to start the next stanza.
Lack of rehearsal time or just wanting to do things first? Both great artistes, of course. And they ended with the famous tunes ‘Chaap Tilak’ and ‘Hamari Atariya’ which had the crowd rocking.
Santoor player Rahul Sharma and singer Gulzar Ganie then took the audience through the valleys of Kashmir, beginning with the popular ‘Bhumro Bhumro’. A very tight set, with Sharma infusing new age and jazz elements too. But more magic was to come.
We all know Amit Trivedi as a film music director ever since he hit the big time with ‘Dev D’ in 2009. This time, he decided to take us on a nationwide folk fusion journey. Perfectly packaged and structured, with some great video footage, his performance as a singer and oke showman was hugely commendable. The guest vocals by Goutam Das Baul, Harshdeep Kaur, Kutle Khan, Divya Kumar and Zublee Baruah were fascinating. And his finale was ‘Iktara’ from ‘Wake Up Sid’. The Sids and Sudhas woke up
While the first day had many highs, a few things need to be pointed out. One understands that with such diverse acts, it takes a while to set up between performances, but the time taken was long. Audiences get distracted by long breaks and head for the bar or dinner stall. The mental musical flow is lost. Secondly, the drum mix was often high, drowning some of the other sounds. From experience of covering shows, I can promise that while some did a proper sound check, the others had lack of time. When there are four acts a day, everyone needs equal space in concert preparation.
While these are things that can be worked upon next year, the disaster at the beginning of Day 2 was just unbelievable. London-based Deepa Nair Rasiya had just got on stage with her group, when the sound went for a toss. They waited. For almost an hour the audience was waiting, albeit patiently. Technical glitches do happen, and some things are beyond human control, but this got to frustrating levels. They also put pressure on the artistes and delay the entire schedule. All later musicians have to adjust, no matter how valid the reasons.
It’s a different matter that Rasiya, in her first concert in India, handled it calmly and came up with a fantastic Sufi set, accompanied on some songs by her daughter Meera Kaur. Her repertoire included songs popularised by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, besides the poetry of Sachal Sarmast and other Sufi maestros. Wish she had sung a few from her album ‘Destination’.
Mohan veena exponent Vishwa Mohan Bhatt was joined by his son Salil and folk singer Anwar Khan to present a mix of Rajasthani, classical and world music, the highlight being the title song of the Grammy Award-winning 1994 album ‘A Meeting By The River’, featuring Bhatt and American guitarist Ry Cooder.
From Rajasthan we moved to the Himalayas, when composer Shantanu Moitra (‘3 Idiots’ fame, for those racking their brains) narrated his visits to the region in a musical soundscape. The Buddhist chanting by Ani Choying Drolma, classical vocal interludes by Kaushiki Chakraborty, sitar by Purbayan Chatterjee and flute by Ashwin Srinivasan all contributed to the grandeur and depth. The freezing AC matched the mood, though doubt it was deliberaily done.
The finale was a memorable experience, but here we would like to make a point. By the time pianist-keyboardist Merlin D’Souza and her troupe arrived on stage at 2 am to play Goan songs in Konkani and Portuguese, half the audience had left. Working day issues, of course. But what an incredible set, with great singing, dancing, costumes, energy, joy. My guess is that the investment made and effort taken for this performance didn’t get its ideal audience and return, but that’s a personal view.
In the end, despite the flaws, two nights of memorable music. Almost, almost perfect. Credit to Churamani and team as it requires real belief, dedication, vision and hard work. Some lessons to be learnt may be, but full marks for ideation and innovation, execution and the experience.
Narendra Kusnur is one of India’s best known music journalists. Born with a musical spoon (okay, doesn’t fit, but you get the drift), Naren, NK, Kusnur, Narender, Kaansen, Jahanpanna… however else many call him, is a late bloomer in music criticism. He was (is!) an aficionado first, and then strayed into writing on music. But in the last two decades, he has made up for most of what he didn’t do earlier. If ever there is an Ustad given for music writing, NK, would be among the first to receive one. Narendra Kusnur writes weekly on Xyngr. Don’t ask us when.