The Western Railway Musical

Indie musicians liven up Mumbai’s Western Railway stations with a street-performance initiative.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: October 12, 2012 2:42 am

Indie musicians liven up Mumbai’s Western Railway stations with a street-performance initiative.

For the office-returning commuters at the Churchgate station on Monday,the routine travel met an unexpected interlude,filled with the sounds of saxophone,flute,trombone and guitars. Most of them,curious about what’s going on,formed a considerable crowd in front of its ticket counter. The inquisitive crowd was treated to a brass quartet jamming with a guitarist on a number of songs,as varied as Stevie Wonder and Bach to Kishore Kumar.

The debut of a series of street performances in public spaces,this may well become a part of the routine of daily travellers of Churchgate,Borivali and Bandra railway stations every Monday,Wednesday and Saturday respectively from now on. National Streets for Performing Arts (NSPA),an offshoot of HelpYourNgo.com intends to bring performing arts to the streets of Mumbai through a series of acts like these. The performances will take place twice on these days,from 9 am to 11am and 5.30pm to 7.30 pm.

“During the ’70s and ’80s,Mumbai had a thriving sub-culture of street performers — acrobats,magicians and musicians. They didn’t have real jobs but survived on money and food that people offered them. As the cost of living increased,these people gradually disappeared,” says Ajit Dayal,founder of NSPA. Through this body,he intends to revive the culture of street performances in Mumbai. “Our aim is to rekindle an atmosphere of street performances in urban India — starting with Mumbai,” he says.

NSPA intends to promote independent musicians,mostly those who are “less privileged” and struggle to pursue full-time music due to financial constraints. The organisation has fixed remunerations on a three-month contract. The guest performers,however,are paid on an hourly basis.

The collaboration with Mumbai’s Western Railway has enabled them to tap into the three most significant points of the city’s lifeline — Churchgate,Bandra and Borivali station. However,they have to follow certain rules during the acts,namely the bar on setting up a stage and the use of any kind of amplification.

The musicians have to adapt to the lack of amplification,which might make string instruments like guitar and violin inaudible beyond a limit. “Luckily,the space we’ve got in Churchgate station has scope for reverberation,” says Neeraj Arya,who performed Sufi poet Kabir’s songs in rock music style without using a mike on Monday morning. But the rewards of playing in an unpretentious public space have made up for it. “At club gigs a lot of people are there for reasons other than the music. Here,there were many who were unfamiliar with several instruments and genres but their interest was childlike and very genuine,” said Shirish Malhotra,flautist and saxophonist,whose brass quartet band Brass a Chaar played as guests on Monday evening.

In the shows lined up till the end of October,there will be a mix of genres — from Marathi folk and Carnatic classical to progressive rock and fusion. NSPA plans to have a new list of musicians every month.

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