‘Music across the Waters’ connects Indian music to Cantonese poetry
The Saath-Saath Project at Shoonya, ‘Music Across The Waters’ involves a set of cross-cultural collaborations between musicians and scholars on the cultural and melodic structures of China and India.
The Saath-Saath Project, started in 2016, attempts to understand native melodies and their manoeuvrability for collaborative explorations. “We have to keep stretching our contours of musical understanding and accommodate global facets,” says Tejaswini Niranjana, cultural theorist and curator of ‘Music Across the Waters’, which will be performed on June 15.
Three Hindustani vocalists, Omkarnath Havaldar, Rutuja Lad and Bindumalini Narayanswamy, interpret songs written by Chow Yiu-Fai, an award-winning lyricist from Hong Kong, and others. The experiment has already been demonstrated to an overwhelming response at the Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong last December.
Tejaswini, also a Hindustani vocalist, spoke with Metroplus about the project. Excerpts.
Could you elaborate on Saath-Saath ?
Saath-Saath plans to project two distinct streams of musical engagement — actual collaboration in producing music that draws on Indian and Chinese classical and contemporary music traditions and a series of public engagements, including art installations, concerts, workshops and symposia. The musical engagements in India, Hong Kong and mainland China include workshops, symposia, concerts and art installations that began with the 11th Shanghai Biennale in 2016, and concludes with a documentary film and a music album in late 2019.
How difficult or easy were the exchanges?
In my quest for collaborations, I met Chow Yiu-Fai, a renowned poet from Hong Kong, who has written words for famous Cantopop singers like Anthony Wong. He suggested that he could work with Indian singers. We spent several months on Skype and Whatsapp exchanging audio texts with the exact rendering of the lyrics in Cantonese, before the Indian singers felt confident about rendering the lyrics in Hindustani melodic forms. Chow Yiu-Fai was enchanted with their music, but worried that the Cantonese accent was not right, and therefore may not communicate to a Hong Kong audience. We then contacted Natalie Yuen, a singer, and she became the voice coach for the Indians. The main issue in Cantonese (spoken mostly in Southern China and Hong Kong) is that it is a language of at least nine tones, and to change the tone means to change the meaning of what is being said. So the most significant challenge was to match thesvara or note to the tone, to avoid any brazen mistakes.
Why did you choose China and Hong Kong?
I have been based in Hong Kong since 2016, teaching at Lingnan University. Since I am familiar with Chinese scholars and performers, I thought it would be stimulating to explore the possible connections between Indian and Chinese music. As to why Chinese music, you can say that it is simply a form of locating oneself in the place where one is currently. Many performers I have met have mentioned that Indian music had a strong impact on Chinese music several hundred years ago, but no one can say exactly how, when and where. Through my current project of exploring connections, I hope to invoke the past connections imaginatively, if not factually.
Have you been researching Hindustani music as well?
From 2011 onwards, I have been researching the emergence of Hindustani music in Mumbai through interviews with practitioners, students, organisers and collectors.
This research led to an exhibition in Mumbai in 2015, called ‘Making Music, Making Space’. One of the video installations from the exhibition was then re-crafted for display at the 11th Shanghai Biennale. Re-titledRiyaaz , co-authored by Surabhi Sharma, the documentary filmmaker, and me. Sharma will be involved in an artistic documentation of Saath-Saath too.
(The India-China collaboration will be held on June 15, at Shoonya – Centre for Art and Somatic Practices, Lalbagh Road, Bengaluru, between 7 pm and 8.30 pm)