New Delhi, Jan 5: The new performing arts of contemporary India are chanting the mantra of social angst and the slow transformation the country is going through on the road to a new order.
This has inspired Scott Moses Murray, who brings the sounds of Nashville folk, to speak about gory Indian realities in his progressive ballads.
For the musician, who is working on two new international albums in his seven-month-old adopted home in Dehra Dun, capital of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, the outrage over the brutal Delhi gang-rape has influenced a new track he composed this week for a solo concert here to remember slain political activist and street theatre actor Safdar Hashmi.
Honour is the essence of Murray’s new track, “Sun Angel”. “They did not take your honour/They could not break you/A new day is in the corner/Her sun is rising…,” Murray’s rich voice fills the space.
The musician says he looks at politics, democracy and social churning in his songs. “As a human being, I have to be specific. My music is politically influenced in an age when the economy is influenced by money,” Murray explained while talking to IANS.
The American, who has been a musician for more than two decades, draws his inspiration from fellow progressive Sushmit Bose, an urban folk vocalist who sings of life, everyday blues, politics and peace.
Bose says he was caught in the spiralling wave of emotions that the 1960s and 1970s brought in the midst of growing campaign “against blatant consumerism and the crumbling traditional lifestyles”.
His album “Songs of Eternal Universe” and “Songs of Dharma: The Story of Mahabharata” combine contemporary folk with devotional and western musical sensibilities.
“Many of us in late school and college at that time knew in our painful bones that it was only a matter of time before India would need its own Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan to sing about the angst of urbanisation,” Bose says.
Music and performing arts in our country have always held a mirror to the changing society, says contemporary dancer Astaad Debo.
The dancer has choreographed a new “body act” around Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story “Toba Tek Singh” as a tribute to the maverick genius on his birth centenary.
The choreography uses traditional dancing genres like Kathakali, Kalaripayattu and Kathak to portray the agony of a lunatic torn apart by Partition.
“I worked with my think-tank Sunil Shanbag on the choreography inspired by one of our early compositions, ‘Asylum’, about a mad man’s fantasy. We composed a creative soundtrack to make the work more theatre-dance based,” Debo told IANS.
The dancer is exploring the idea of a full-length “evening of Manto’s work” together with “dastango” (Islamic story-telling) artists Danish Hussain and Mehmood Farooqui.
Manto was known for his poignant insights into the burning social issues of his time like Partition and repression of women.
“The movement to connect to people with performing arts began in the middle ages with the spread of the Bhakti cult. The earliest performers – the “kathakars” – or the religious story-tellers travelled in groups in the countryside to preach religion. In the last two centuries, performing arts became voices for embodying the blues and joys of a “sovereign India”.
The watershed arrived in the early 1940s with the birth of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) – a platform for progressive arts in 1942 which began to see a movement across artistic genres. It was followed by a flood of meaningful performance arts, and music over decades.
“Artists have always been using their art to make social commentary. Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s association with IPTA was a very socially-conscious phase in his life. Two of the movies he worked on ‘Neecha Nagar’ and ‘Dharti ka Laal’ had a deep social conscience,” photographer and progressive intellectual Ram Rahman of SAHMAT told IANS.
Rahman says Indian music has always been connected to texts because of which “popular songs have a strong social and political content.”
Noted Hindi poetess Subha, whose poetry has been adapted and performed as plays, says “she writes about Gujarat violence, communal politics, rape and abuse”.
“My poetry is full of imagery that is easy to enact,” the poetess said.
An emerging Delhi-based Indo-British ensemble Ska Vengers-Delhi Sultanate that releases an album this year sings of the Naxalism in Chhattisgarh, rallies for crusader Binayak Sen and speaks for the Dongria Kond and the Adivasi tribes through its music.
They tweak their sounds from the rebel soul of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bob Marley and the American civil rights minstrels with Indian musical cadences and global beats, a genre that typifies the new brand of performing art in India.
The trend echoes in the contemporary wave of reality in the visual arts as well.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)