NEARLY 15 years ago,Raghu Dixit formed a band called Antaragni while living in Bangalore. Until they disbanded in 2004,Antaragni played an interesting mix of folk,Indian classical,and various forms of Western music including rock and pop. The band gained Dixit,a Masters degree holder in Microbiology,recognition. It was,however,when he formed The Raghu Dixit Project with a primary focus on folk-rock in multiple languages that Dixit became one of the countrys foremost contemporary folk musicians.
At a time when new genres are being introduced to music lovers in India by the dozens,the more traditional ones,so to speak,arent being given quite as much importance. Folk music,for instance,although still played by a number of musicians,is only being heard by the masses through musicians such as Dixit and Angaraag Mahanta,better known as Papon,in its contemporary form. Consequently,the British Council has launched an extensive three-year programme,Folk Nations,to take the focus back to this form of music. The initiative will involve musicians from South Asia and the UK. There are a number of countries involved with great folk traditions and a fantastic heritage that is not appreciated enough, says Tasneem Vahanvaty,head of business development with the British Council in Mumbai.
The most recent of the events held under this umbrella was a showcase of 10 folk acts at Blue Frog,Lower Parel,on Friday. Among these were Dixit and Papon,of course,but also acts that a majority of the audience were not likely to have heard before,including the Tetseo Sisters from Nagaland,Manipuri singer Akhu Chingangbam,and Saurav Moni and Tajdar Junaid from Kolkata. This particular line-up reflects the entire programmes intention of balancing out the contemporary acts with the traditional and the well-known with the lesser-known.
The Tetseo Sisters,for instance,are a very well-known group in their hometown,but not as much in the rest of the country. The four girls Mütsevelü (Mercy),Azine (Azi),Kuvelü (Kuku) and Alüne (Lulu) sing primarily in Chokri,their local dialect,and have played at the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland for many years,among other places. Says Mercy Tetseo. We have performed at Mumbai,Chennai,Bangalore,Ahmedabad,Kolkata,Guwahati,Mussoorie,Chandigarh,Tura,Delhi and two times in Bangkok.
Such an extensive touring calendar might suggest hordes of fans everywhere they go,but since it is for most non-contemporary folk music today,theres only a niche audience. Dixit,however,believes that every genre has its audience. Today,it has become the bands and the promoters prerogative to find the audience, he says. Each type of music needs specific promotion and marketing,and that should help with finding such an audience.
Being so closely involved with music in the country,the 38-year-old musician has worked with some extraordinary,but relatively undiscovered,musicians himself,both folk and other genres. In the recent past,Ive worked with Guru Rewben Mashangwa,who I think is a truly undiscovered talent,at least by most mainstream music in India. He lives and breathes folk music and has dedicated his life to it, he says.
As a part of Folk Nations,Dixit is doing some interesting work,including a collaboration with Bellowhead,a contemporary folk band from the UK and dancers Gauri Sharma Tripathi and Sumeet Nagdev,for a musical theatre show based on Girish Karnads play Hayavadana. We have worked on Karnads Hayavadana and given it a brand new score. We have also put together a musical book for this and are looking to develop it further into a full-fledged stage production, he says.
Having begun earlier this year at the Kala Ghoda Festival,Folk Nations will continue for two more years and involve a number of more musicians and special initiatives. Were going to have a programme with a special focus around Northeast India and its musicians, says Vahanvaty. Well take artistes from the UK to the Northeast where they can have residencies with the local musicians. We want to shift the focus from Mumbai and Delhi to other areas.