Are online initiatives compensating for live performances?
While 2020 ended with a lot of gloom [for artistes] and doom [for event organisers], nevertheless there remained sufficient resilience to show a glow of light at the end of the tunnel, which can only get brighter as we move into the new year.
The online musical initiatives could be bucketed into essentially three categories: one, those who were musically off [for publication purposes, I am keeping the names of the defaulters to myself!]; two, others that were off-the-centre [for instance, Turnkey’s Atul Churamani curating the #jimbeamoriginals series; most definitely a sensitive concept for musical purists as it focused on senior musicians/singers pan-India taking on performing renditions of popular songs from established international artistes]; and, finally, a category that I will term as oft [short for “often”], which focused on singers/series that, even without much or any promotional backing, yet regularly went online and created their own faithful fan base.
Some highlights of the latter category, in 2020, occurred due to the effective usage of the digital space in showcasing not only individual talents but, equally important, leading to select promoters supporting musical heritage by imparting both education and entertainment in the same breath for viewers. In the individual category, those that stood out included three Mumbai-based talents: singers Samantha Noella and Ritika Sahni, and DJ Russel.
Russel, who held the dance floor together at Door no.1, was also performing live on his non-working days as it were, on the mixcloud platform from 8pm onwards, regaling audiences – entry open to all – with theme-based sessions focusing on Bollywood or on international music. Listening in was time well spent with interaction available through chats, ensuring that you could also provide your choices and have them played…live!
Then there was Ritika Sahni, whose support for charitable causes including for NGO Trinayani, also involved her being associated with the ‘Kolkata Calling’ online event in July 2020, raising funds for Cyclone Amphan. Then there was her deploying a recording of her ‘Roof Concert’ online, and the performance of “Tum Mano Ya Na Mano”, in December, backed by a fine video in support of her original composition.
Another pleasant surprise arrived via Samantha Noella, whose immense talent of strong and controlled vocals focused on her periodical performances to minus one tracks on Facebook, but her musical gift was raised to another level as she also turned composer/lyricist through four songs that she released from October onwards: “5 minute fudge”, “Won’t back down”, “Wonderland”, and “Mistletoe”, some of which certainly require to move beyond the realms of a mere independent launch.
August saw NCPA Mumbai promoting jazz through the knowledge of host Narendra Kusnur. While jazz has always had a select though devoted following in India, through the years, the ‘Let’s Talk’ series was an ideal initiative to introduce non-listeners and casual listeners alike to the charms of jazz. These sessions covered a description of jazz, legends to be followed, the contemporary jazz environment, and jazz in India, every Friday at 5:30pm, each one ending with Kusnur answering questions.
The other event was season one of ShowCase Studio’s In Conversation which concluded in December after witnessing 13 artistes performing across genres and often beyond conventional instrumentation and creativity, by displaying select pieces from their burgeoning repertoire while speaking about the history of their respective art forms, a tryst of faith, the genesis behind their career, and describing a journey from passion to a profession.
Hosted by the omnipresent Kusnur, his being acquainted with several of the artistes interviewed and/or their respective genre, immediately added credibility to the conversation for not only the viewer, but also as an added comfort for the artistes as they shared details way beyond what was already available on the net. With a few episodes hosted by ShowCase promoter Nanni Singh herself, In Conversation quickly established itself as a property quite without precedent in India.
Spread over Sundays with the 14th episode being a culmination of the 13 earlier ones with the interviewees reappearing either live or through video recordings for the fitting finale, which included Ambi Subramaniam, who presented Indian Classical violin. This was aptly followed by a pre-recorded piece by talented flautist and singer Rasika Shekar. Next, to further enliven proceedings, Ustad Fazal Qureshi presented the magic of his fingers while playing tabla. The dance form was effectively exhibited with exponent Sohini Roychowdhury performing Bharatnatyam to the international hit, “I Am Woman”, originally sung by Helen Reddy, which also became a fitting tribute to the singer who passed away in September 2020. This was followed by Delna Mody’s message on musical theatre, followed by Mercy Tetseo of Naga folk group Tetseo Sisters who, through a video recording with her siblings, displayed a call-and-response song not unlike the manner in which blues are frequently performed. Utsav Lal performed ragas on piano, followed by violinist Sunita Bhuyan, who performed an amalgamation of sounds, live. Nathulal Solanki, the popular Nagara living legend, provided just the appropriate beat through percussion with his son and grandson in support. Continuing in the vein of family performers, the Niazi Nizami Brothers from the Nizamuddin Dargah, shared a glimpse of their Sufi legacy by performing their brand of Qawwali. Sonam Kalra, of the Sufi Gospel Project, performed a rendition of her ever-popular “Alfat”. Dhruv Sangari, or Bilal Chishty as he is also known, shared a delightful Qawwali piece thereafter, with the final episode closing with a gorgeous thumri sung by the amazingly talented vocalist, Dhanashree Pandit-Rai. A memorable and historic end to season one.
Thankfully, season two is already work in process, with each of the episodes being made available, much like the debut season, on a pay per view basis, with the only change occurring with the offer of a season pass.
So, as we enter the new year, not without the same worries from the previous year, the one standout cheer appears to focus on the music industry making best efforts to ring in further changes by not only spotlighting good sounds, but ensuring that they sound good to listeners too!