Celebrating the melody of art, life
The universal language of music created a memorable sonic experience with folk, Indian classical, rap and even popular tunes from Bollywood’s 80s and 90s, at Art is Life: SoundFrames. The recent three-day festival was organised virtually by the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, and had a spectacular line-up of concerts, talks and workshops by 65 artistes globally.
In its second edition, it saw vocalist Vidya Shah tracing the evolution of Thumri via the digital format. “The pandemic has made the online space a reality to live with. In some ways it has changed the mindset of the audiences. It has also, by default opened up the possibilities of reaching out to audiences across the world... I feel to enjoy an online concert or experience, the theme is important,” says Shah, whose session saw a contemporary context to Kabir’s poery.
Adding a global touch to the event were performers from Berklee Indian Ensemble and vocal quartet Women of the World. They performed as part of the museum’s collaboration with Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and left the viewers asking for more. Also resulting from a collaboration was Sounds of the City, where music inspired by the sounds of cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Delhi, took centre stage.
Women of the World, in their concert, shared music from Bulgaria, Japan, Haiti, Italy, New Orleans, and Appalachia in genres ranging from jazz, gospel, blues, to traditional folkloric music, and chants from around the world. Their music narrated stories about the moon, grape harvesting seasons, village tales, as well as Bread and Roses, a powerful anthem used by activists fighting for equality at work and home. “Collaboration is one of the primary ways I grow as an artist,” says Annette Philip, a Berkee faculty member and vocalist at Women of the World, adding, “In this digital age, peer-to-peer sharing through social media is not only how new art forms evolve and get created. It’s also the key to bringing fading or oft overlooked art forms back into the public sphere. The coolest thing about music is that no matter what language your lyrics are in, audiences from any part of the world can still relate to the emotion and energy propelling your sound.”
Also part of the event were sessions and masterclass, such the one that had Philip, who feels: “Besides talking about vocal anatomy, breath management, warm ups, and exercises to create seamlessness throughout our vocal range, was my main goal. I wanted to remind the singers to love, fully accept, and really take care of their physical, mental, and emotional health, because as singers our body is our instrument.”
At the festival, Grammy awardee Ricky Kej curated a pastiche of 12-14 voices and sounds across genres and cultures, including Reggae, rap, beatboxing, baul, jazz, folk and even tribal sounds. Kej says, “It worked really well for a virtual audience who would have been expecting more than just somebody sitting in front of a camera with a microphone. The way that it was curated, it did not appear like a live performance in the traditional sense. It framed all the musicians in their natural habitats. Like for instance, the tribal musicians from the Araku valley were featured within their farmland, and the mizo singers were on the hills of Mizoram.”
The two virtual exhibitions as part of this event, were also curated on the theme of music. The one titled Sights and Sounds had sonic interpretations of six works in MAP’s collection, and encouraged people to listen to a painting. The other, named Rock City, captured the loyalty and love for rock and pop concerts in Indian metros in the early 2000s. It also featured concert videos, autographed frames and a personal collection of guitars signed by leading bands.
Among other musicians who performed, were Ambi and Bindu Subramaniam, musical talents from IndianRaga, Hindustani maestro Pandit Sanjeev Abhyankar and the Durbari Qawwals of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah.
Kamini Sawhney, Director, MAP, shares, “Music as an art form is a powerful way to bring people together, beyond cultures and languages. The idea behind this festival was that art is not just something you find on the walls of a gallery or museum, but is very much a part of the way we live. In this edition of the event, we looked at interconnectedness through music, which is a universal art. We drew a constant link between music and the visual arts. For instance, in our programme Sonic Cinema: Picture Abhi Baaki Hai, we looked at how some popular Bollywood songs are based on Hindustani Classical ragas.”
Author tweets @siddhijainn