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News |  25 Jun 2016 20:05 |  By Suhas Thobbi

Return to roots: Siblings return to resurrect dying Indian music forms

MUMBAI: How far would one go beyond the comfort zone to achieve a rather ambitious task of rekindling a lost art?

Two brothers have stepped out on a selfless journey, away from their plush shelters in London, consciously escaping the snug environment temporarily to sleep in tribal huts in the remote areas of some of the most musically inclined communities of India. Indeed, the introduction does seem like the script of yet another small production banner's larger-than-life project, and the Datta brothers' effort contains necessary elements to grab filmmakers' eyeballs.

So far, the ambitious effort ‘Tuning 2 You’ has managed to find space on the leading UK publication ‘The Guardian’ and created a buzz among certain sections of the music community. Soumik and Souvid Datta – professional sarod player and photo journalist respectively – left the country at the ages of ten and four. The Kolkata-born siblings “as part of the human and artist’s duties to educate about those whose art have a value” created a team for the purpose and entered the lives of several folk music communities hidden behind the noise of mainstream music and the pace of the rapid urbanisation and modernity as well as dark sheet of entrenched social prejudices. From the dance groups based in South India to the practitioners of Jumur (traditionally performed by young girls from the Assam-Bengal stretch), Soumik and Souvid captured the lives of several musicians continuing with the tradition despite several adversities and complications that restrict them from several opportunistic displays of respective arts.



“There’s no grand concept, to be honest. It’s the documentation of a personal journey,” informed Soumik, the host, presenter and the music collaborator for the entire project. Soumik will be seen collaborating with these musicians, adding the classical element to the sounds thus providing a unique twist to the output executed mostly outdoors. Soumik reminded that lack of money turned out to be the only obstacle, but the purpose to intrude into personal community spaces and produce music sure would need a lot of convincing, right? “Not really,” he quickly adds, “Most of the communities we visited had broken houses, and no basic amenities. However, that did not stop these musicians from letting us sleep in their homes, and eat the home-made foods.” The team of six people, including the Datta brothers, began the Indian music chronicle with West Bengal where Soumik collaborated with the Baul and Kirtan musicians, practitioners of Jumur and the formidable Chow dancers. The team later moved to Goa only to discover young artistes’ struggle to marry up their Indian identities with the quite different ‘Goan’ traditions fascinating enough to be translated into a story.


 
“In Nagaland, we saw the youngest members of the Rengma tribe perform; teenagers with smart phones and impressive modern educations who nonetheless identified with their ancient Naga-heritage and chose to participate and maintain their fading tribal cultures. In Goa, the legacy of Portuguese rule stills lives and breathes through the Catholic church, even Mando and Fado music,” educated Souvid, the man-behind-the-camera with the background of reportage photography and foreign correspondence. Souvid’s experience comes from extensive reporting about post-conflict zones, social and environmental issues inviting him to regions such as Afghanistan, Central Africa and Nepal. His latest journey was unique in its own ways, as the ‘director of photography’ led a team focusing primarily on filming for the first time.

‘Tuning 2 You’ – that began as a personal journey to highlight or rediscover the lesser heard sounds of India – enlightened the two brothers with the inevitable that arrives with visiting the rural regions of India. “Caste-discrimination is still such a prevalent issue in the hinterlands of India,” observed Soumik on how certain communities were denied access to water or temples just on the basis of their backgrounds, and the factor led to another purpose of ‘Tuning 2 You’. “We have tried to highlight social issues through this journey. The issue does not only belong to one state, it appears in some form or another in all the six states where we stayed.”



To understand Qawwali music, one needs to dive into the depths of Sufism, and the approach extends to understanding the caste systems to learn the traditions of Kunitha dances from Karnataka. These musicians’ way of teaching and learning through varying instruments, on a daily basis, motivated the team of six people to wake up to the sunrise and continue to exploration further instead of the unpredictable challenges faced. “It was a trial by fire and I quickly had to adapt to working in a team, learning to direct and come up with solutions for the inevitable - yet unpredictable - onslaught of problems we face on shoots: what to do when a gust of wind crashes your drone into a cliff side; when the police threaten to arbitrarily arrest you; when you stupidly turn up to a Winter night shoot in the desert thinking it'll be warm because you're in Rajasthan,” informed the 26-year-old photographer. The universally relevant messages of social empathy, self-awareness, discipline and creativity ensures ‘Tuning 2 You’ would strike a chord with regions beyond these six states and Souvid Datta’s brilliant photography work stands as a proof to that.



Caught up in the histories, environments and socio-economic contexts that underlie these traditions, the two brothers took away few unforgettable lessons with the conclusion of filming. “When I went to Karnataka, I used other senses to understand that the artistes do not consider dance and music as two separate elements. Everything works in a rhythm, hand-in-hand. These artistes’ fitness also helped me realise how underrated physical fitness continues to be for the musicians worldwide,” replied Soumik about instances that taught him lessons as a musician.



Souvid’s observations remained a bit more on the philosophical and spiritual front. Drawn to the people on the fringes of society, to stories of a quite resilience that challenge mainstream orthodoxies, Souvid Datta’s life revolved around the rat race of London and the consistent international news-based work, and thus the four-month-long filming had been sort of an eye-opener for him. “It's been really easy to lose sight of the simple wonder and peace-of-mind that music and dedication to one's craft can bring. The musicians we met bravely and kindly shared these aspects of their lives with us. They reaffirmed to me the importance of discipline, of striving - even against the odds - and the power of art to so positively transcend all the social, economic and religious barriers that too often divide our society. This is part of the message behind Tuning 2 You, and one that I hope our audiences will come to see too.”

Soumik summed up his experience through a self-revelation of a question that bothers every artist at some stage of his/her life. “This (Tuning 2 You) answered – What does it mean to be an artist?”

The idea (as a result of brainstorming that began over a year ago) has eventually resulted into six episodes (each thirty-minute long), and although the brothers insist the filming did not attract several obstacles so far, the project has reached its most crucial phase this week. Soumik arrived in India, last week, in order to create awareness about the project’s crowd-sourcing initiative that will run for three weeks. “For the post-production and marketing purposes, we need to raise about a million rupees. Contributors will obviously be rewarded with CDs and DVDs of ‘Tuning 2 You’, perhaps access to some of the musical classes and so on and so forth. A lot of money and time has been invested, and through the journey across six states, involving forty collaborations and six episodes (one for each state), we realised the dire necessity to showcase these talents, traditions and practices to the people of the world.”

‘Tuning 2 You’ also seeks an international distributor, and the word-of-mouth has garnered attention of musicians like Anoushka Shankar, and several international portals. The crowd-funding kick-starter campaign has gone live and contributions can be forwarded to the following link - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/162498392/tuning-2-you-lost-musicians-of-india

With support from Bagri Foundation, Soumik Datta Art, Weavers Studio Censor For The Arts, the Datta brothers have knocked on your doors for support. Either one can turn a blind eye to an honest effort and continue to indulge in oblivion or support the cause that could potentially lead to Season 2 – another effort to collaborate Indian and international musicians on similar lines.