Blue Planet: Digital music event that blends Indian classical music with the country's rich ecology

Blue Planet is a four-month-long online musical organised by Mumbai-based First Edition Arts, that commenced on 17 December, 2021, and will continue till 27 March, 2022.

Arti Das January 16, 2022 12:46:36 IST
Blue Planet: Digital music event that blends Indian classical music with the country's rich ecology

TM Krishna's concert in Nagaland

An aerial view of the deep dark green forests with the sound of Veena in the background, followed by visuals of camera crew and musicians dressed in formal attire, trek and wade through the streams of Mollem forests in Goa.

One may not believe but all this is part of a musical concert by Dhrupad vocalist Uday Bhawalkar, where he is performing 'Raag Miyan Ki Todi,' sitting on a pebble stone floor along with his musicians amidst a riparian forest.

This is one of the 21 concerts of Carnatic and Indian classical music as part of the digital musical event ‘Blue Planet,’ which is set in natural settings like forests, tide pools, sacred groves, mangroves, riverbanks, and India’s endangered biodiversity zones.

Among the musicians are TM Krishna, Abhishek Raghuram, P Unnikrishnan, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Ramakrishnan Murthy, Malladi Brothers, and Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee. It also includes a jugalbandi between Ramana Balachandran on Veena and Abhishek Borkar on Sarod, and two specially commissioned, original Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam collaborations between Vignesh Ishwar and Christopher Gurusamy, and Rithvik Raja and Shweta Prachande respectively.

This four-month-long online musical is organised by Mumbai-based First Edition Arts, that commenced on 17 December, 2021, and will continue till 27 March, 2022. Some of these performances are now streaming online on Shaale.com worldwide.

It is an unusual musical concert as there is no stage, no audience, and it is completely open and exposed to the elements. However, that is what Devina Dutt, co-founder of First Edition Arts, envisioned around a year ago when she learned about the Save Mollem campaign of Goa.

It is a community-based campaign where people from different sections of society have come together to save the forests of Mollem (it is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world) from the three linear projects.

“The Amche Mollem (Save Mollem) campaign, which is a spontaneous people’s movement, had relied on the power of the image, and had used visual arts alongside science and legal arguments. To me, it seemed like the spark of a great idea,” says Devina Dutt, who aspired to bring in two worlds together — music and ecology, and initiate preliminary conversations with artists and groups to point at issues related to climate change, sustainability practices, and climate as well as social justice.

She further explains her conversation with Warren Senders, who is a Hindustani and Jazz musician, gave her the confidence to go ahead, when he said, “Don’t strain to make a connection. Just know that the connection is already there.”

Dutt then approached many environmentalists, climate change workers, and wildlife experts to finalise the venue, and make this whole project possible.

Wildlife biologist Nandini Velho, who was involved in the planning stage, says,

“It is from such concerts and initiatives that shared stories emerge. It also teaches us that collaborations are held from different ends, and are valued from different perspectives.”

The videos feature Mollem forests in Goa, Uksan village in Kamshet, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu’s Urur Olcott Kuppam fishing village, Ennore, Pulicat, Gurukula Sanctuary in Wayanad, Kerala, community afforestation project in Purulia, and the mangroves of Sunderbans in West Bengal, to name some.

The most challenging place was Angangba village, in Tuensang in Nagaland. It took them two days to reach Nagaland, and the journey was further challenged by bad roads. “I was immediately attracted to the remoteness of the location. We took 18 people from different parts of the country, and spent two days traveling. As I didn’t want to tire our artists, we spent around four days there. We just didn’t perform there but acquainted ourselves with the place, followed the community, and found out about the work of the NGO, Better Life Foundation, that works in areas like sustainable agricultural practices and conservation issues with the local communities,” says Dutt.

At this venue, renowned artists like Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna and Carnatic musician Aishwarya Vidhya Raghunath performed. She, while narrating her experience, elaborates that there were challenges on many folds —be it sitting and performing on a bamboo mat on the gravely ground, performing in the open without monitors for feedback, weather, and the audience as the locals had no idea about this form of music but were immensely curious about it. 

Blue Planet Digital music event that blends Indian classical music with the countrys rich ecology

TT M Krishna (centre) with Sethrichem Sangtam (right) who is the founder of Better Life Foundation who hosted the musicians and event ogrnisers, and a village elder (left) at Chungtor village

“However, the performance was greatly enhanced by these important factors. First, performing with the wonderfully experienced fellow musicians Brindha Manickavasakan, Vittal Rangan, Praveen Sparsh, and Chandrasekara Sharma meant that there was great musical and personal synergy through the concert. The location provided an inspiring backdrop for us to bring to the fore this important message of nature conservation in the remote yet important part of eastern India. Additionally, the warmth and love of the people of Nagaland as well as the hospitality of the family at Better Life Foundation motivated each one of us to take up responsibility for the cause of environmentalism. In all, my biggest takeaway has been that music, like all human endeavours, has the power to move people.”

For sarod player, Abhishek Borkar, who performed at The Valley School, KFI, Bangalore, this whole experience made him discover ecology more deeply. “I think the main challenge about a performance like this is that it isn’t just a performance anymore, it isn’t an act anymore. You’re thrown into the middle of nature, our natural ecosystem. It won’t adjust to you. You have to acclimatise to it, respect it, flatten any preconceived notions, let go of ego in a sense.”

Along with these challenges of performance the artists had to face other roadblocks. They experienced unseasonal rains in Goa while shooting a performance of Ramakrishnan Murthy at the tide pools of North Goa in Anjuna; cloud burst in Chennai, and now, the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Dutt is optimistic as they finished shooting 13 performances out of 21. The next set of performances will start in February.

One may argue that these eco-sensitive places may be reduced to pretty backdrops, and there may not be an engagement, per se. Dutt, who is well aware of this, maintains that it depends on the artists. “It depends on the musician as we didn’t want to force or make it look artificial. It’s also the first time for them. It is not their usual concert of four to five hours. They spend at least two days at the venue. So it is a slow and detailed engagement. We are trying to make a point (about conservation) in a gentle way.”

This event also includes a Bharatnatyam dance performance by Christopher Gurusamy in collaboration with Vignesh Ishwar shot at the BASE, a Centre for Yoga, Arts, and Nature on the edges of the reserve forest in Kodaikanal.

Gurusamy, who trained specifically for this project, says, “The natural setting made a huge impact on the presentation of the choreography. I did ‘jathis’ on top of rocks, did ‘abhinaya’ while walking through streams. Being outside, I think, has really added something to how we all performed, which I hope will translate on screen.”

Blue Planet Digital music event that blends Indian classical music with the countrys rich ecology

Ramakrishnan Murthy with other artistes during his performance

Along with these performances, Blue Planet has also highlighted environmental issues like industrial pollution in a place like Ennore, near Chennai. “Here, we have involved with children who are part of Chennai Climate Action Group. They speak about the effects of pollution in their life and the neighbourhood,” says Dutt.

They have also collaborated with the 22 visual artists who are part of the Save Mollem campaign. They have made 21 different posters based on 21 locations. These posters, in a very creative way, speak and highlight the ecology of that place.

Goa-based artist Nishant Saldanha, who is associated with Save Mollem, and who is also leading this art posters project, mentions, “This whole collaboration is interesting as the musicians were new to the issues related to the environment, and we were new to the world of Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. I think in this process of discovery from both ends, this artwork has emerged. I think that’s the energy which is carrying it forward.”

He is hoping that these artworks will help in making the audience aware of the ecological issues across India, and not just where these performances are shot.

These posters, which are released five per month, will be auctioned online. They are also planning to have a traveling exhibition of these posters in different parts of the country in times to come.

One of the highlights of this project is to draw analogies between the natural world and the ecosystem of the arts. It seeks to suggest that both ecosystems need to be cared for, understood, and respected. In harming them we only harm ourselves.

Dutt explains, “Arts are marginalised in contemporary India as an artistic statement, and as an art form, especially the classical art. The market economy is turning all forms of art, into a spectacle. Each art form needs to be nurtured by the audience, producers, patrons, writers, and artists themselves. Just like we care for our rivers and forests, we need to care for our diverse art forms.”

(Tickets of these performances are available online on Shaale.com. Once access is bought the films can be viewed multiple times till May 31, 2022.)

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