A note-worthy initiative

Updated: Sep 18, 2019, 08:03 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A project that involves bringing independent English music closer to listeners who don't have access to it celebrates one year today

American drummer Greg Ellis (centre, seated) performs at Happy Feet Home, a children’s hospice
American drummer Greg Ellis (centre, seated) performs at Happy Feet Home, a children’s hospice

There’s an incident that took place in the now-shuttered AntiSocial in 2016 that reveals a sense of deep classism that prevails in certain sections of the Indian independent music scene.

musicEmmanuelle de Decker

Naezy and Divine were playing a gig there, after the two rappers had broken through the ranks recently. The duo had invited some of their lesser-privileged friends from the gullies of Dharavi. But when the latter arrived there, the bouncers wouldn’t let them enter, even though it was a free event. "They don’t have IDs," was the flimsy excuse offered when it was all too evident that the real reason was that the kids didn’t fit the profile of the upscale establishment. So, around 150 of them stood outside the venue straining their ears to catch the music, wondering what the environment was like inside, where 300 of their more privileged counterparts jumped around waving their hands in the air, mouthing the lyrics to tracks that ironically speak about the struggle of the slums.

"It’s a fact that only people who can afford to go to clubs and festivals have the opportunity to attend live gigs, which I don’t think is right. Everyone should, because it’s therapeutic and benefits your health and mood. And at the end of the day, music is not something that’s only for the privileged. You know, if you give paper and coloured pencils to any kid, they will draw on it. That’s also art, and the same holds true for music," says Emmanuelle de Decker of music management company Gatecrash, ahead of the next edition of Music Mulakatein, a property that bridges the gap between artistes who make western music and people who don’t have easy access to it.

musicCity musician Samantha Edwards  (in yellow) hosts Music Mulakatein 

The idea is thus to invite such performers to old-age homes, hospital wards and to NGOs associated with disadvantaged people. Decker tells us about a certain edition for which they joined hands with Apnalaya, whose members work with marginalised people in Govandi, where the average life expectancy is only 39 years given its unhealthy proximity to the Deonar dumping ground. There, there were some Muslim women in burkhas grooving to songs they wouldn’t be able to dream of listening to since they are usually played at clubs that serve alcohol, a strict no-no for these ladies. Then there have been instances where impoverished children have initially stared at Decker, a French national, as if she were "a UFO". "But 20 minutes into the music and they were grabbing my arm and asking me to dance with them," she says, alluding to how powerful a tool music is to break down cultural boundaries.

That last bit is further reinforced by the fact that a number of international acts have also performed at Music Mulakatein, before an audience of around 60 people. There have been jazz bands from France like Supergombo and Oxyd. American percussionist Greg Ellis hosted the previous edition earlier this month. And today’s event, which also marks the initiative’s first anniversary, will see Italian live electronic duo Shine play at Navi Mumbai’s Prerana Naunihal Children’s Home, meant for girls rescued from sex trafficking. There have of course been a number of local artistes who have also benefited from their involvement. Ankur Tewari and Sidd Coutto took part in the debut edition and the former tells us that Coutto was so overwhelmed by the experience that he was in tears while returning from the performance. He adds, "It was the most honest response I have ever had for my songs. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to take my music there."

musicShine

Which goes to show that it isn’t just a one-way street. There are takeaways for the musicians, too. Decker tells us that they can perform for and get feedback from an audience that’s far removed from the elite, uni-dimensional crowds they usually play for, which also creates a whole new fan base for them. And that really is the whole point behind this exercise — to make the independent music circuit in India more democratic. Because ask yourself: why, for instance, should the friends of two upcoming gully rappers have been denied entry to their free gig just because of the way they carried themselves?

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