When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And instead of pressing the brakes at a time when the live music industry is changing gears to adapt to the pandemic, vocalist Shubha Mudgal and tabla maestro Aneesh Pradhan have pushed the pedal to help affected artistes. The duo has started a venture called Gift a Concert; taken part in a protest festival called Justice Rocks; and in the meantime, even picked up accolades for a cross-border musical collaboration, Bridge of Dreams. Here, they open up about these projects and emphasise how music can be used to raise a voice against oppression. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is the nature of the work that you do with Gift a Concert?
Shubha Mudgal (SM): We are concerned about the uncertain future facing all artistes and performers. Currently, virtual concerts remain the only available option for artistes, but many of these opportunities are unpaid for or, at best, poorly paid. We felt that it may be a good idea for us to work on an initiative that provides opportunities for all music lovers to organise a concert or performance at a date and time of their choice, and offer it as a gift for a special occasion or just for friends.
Aneesh Pradhan (AP): During the early days of the lockdown, we felt that it was necessary to help raise funds for marginalised performers. But as the days went by, we decided that it was time to work towards building an atmosphere where performers were recompensed for their artistic work. We have always felt that the arts are vital for society to retain a sense of sensitivity and empathy, and our endeavour with Gift a Concert is to share this idea with people, particularly in these troubled times.
What are some of the reasons why you were a part of the Justice Rocks concert in September?
SM: Our participation in the Justice Rocks festival was a symbolic protest against brutality and violence. We used the medium of music to register our protest, and have done so in the past too.
What is it that ails artistes in India from speaking out against societal injustices on a more regular basis?
AP: It is not just artistes who do not raise their voices against injustice. How many people in society generally do this? How many people in the media do this? I think it is important for every individual to consider their contribution to society seriously. It would indeed be unrealistic to expect everyone to not pursue their individual dreams and aspirations, but we need to think of ourselves as members of a larger fraternity.
SM: Really speaking, artistes appear to be far more vocal than ever before in recent times. They are voicing their opinions on every subject — murder, suicide, drug dealing, drug use, conspiracy, patriotism and much more!
How did the Bridge of Dreams project come about?
AP: Bridge of Dreams was a project initiated by Sandy Evans, the eminent saxophonist and composer from Australia. She has trained in Carnatic music, and we had interacted with her in the past too.
A few years ago, she came to India on a fellowship and we worked together briefly. That set off ideas for a more long-term project. Eventually, the Sirens Big Band also came on board and Sandy Evans, Shubha Mudgal and I composed for this project that also featured the band and us as performers. After almost two years of exchanging ideas across continents and in person, we did an album called Bridge of Dreams.
SM: Our first workshop sessions with Sandy in Mumbai started off a dialogue and collaboration that culminated in our recording the album, Bridge of Dreams, and after a prolonged period of working over phone calls, Skype sessions, as well as meetings in person. That our first performance in Sydney won Performance of the Year at the APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards 2020 is incredibly encouraging for all of us.
What are your plans in the near future? Do you have anything else planned on the lines of Gift a Concert?
SM: We have been working on ticketed online concerts with artistes who have registered with the Gift a Concert project, and have so far organised three such performances. We are also learning and experimenting with teaching online, delivering online lectures, doing online workshops and in the process adapting to the unprecedented times through which music continues to keep us happy and cheerful, if a trifle restless and perturbed on many an occasion.
AP: Fortunately, each of the three concerts was supported to an extent by ardent music lovers and this gave us the strength to go ahead even though we were not certain of revenues from ticket sales. We hope for the continued support of individual music lovers.
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