Some of the faces in the audience at the Goa Jazz International Live Festival (GIJLF), which took place last month in Bogmalo, looked flummoxed on two occasions — once, when Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer took the stage with his jazz-influenced electronic music band, Nerve; and when Kefaya opened their set with voice samples from news clips, and Middle-eastern melodies quickly followed suit.
With a set-list of compositions laced with South American, Turkish, Afghani rhythms and other folk forms from the subcontinent, Kefaya’s music is hard to categorise. “We are a protest music outfit, researching folk songs from different parts of the world, regarding different struggles. And we work on interpreting this music in a jazz idiom,” says Italian guitarist and founder, Giuliano Modarelli, in a chat after their show at GIJLF, which brought the audience, sceptics and fans alike, to their feet.
Kefaya means ‘enough’ in Arabic, and the unofficial term used to describe the grassroots liberation movement in Egypt that led to the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. ‘Arab Spring’ is not a term Kefaya like to use, though. “The term was created by the Western media to describe the events as one, homogeneous movement. That helps them keep it at a superficial level,” says Modarelli, who formed Kefaya with British keyboard player, Al McSween, in 2010.
The two studied at the Leeds College of Music, but only came together after meeting in the city’s vibrant music scene. “What is inspiring about jazz is its sociopolitical-economic history, and its role in the civil rights movement in America,” says Modarelli, “The idea of Kefaya is to approach our music in a politically conscious way, and to engage with political movements through it.”
It is not just political events across the world that influence Kefaya’s music. Last year, they released a single, Nirbhaya, and donated the proceeds to Kranti, a Mumbai-based NGO. Loosely based on Raag Charukeshi, the track was a tribute to the protest movements that engulfed India after the horrific December 16 gangrape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. A few months later, they released their debut album, Radio International.
“The concept is that of an ‘international’ radio station, where radio samples are used across different musical styles. It was completed after years of playing, travelling and meeting with artists from many different musical backgrounds,” says Modarelli, who occasionally travels to Kolkata to train with sarod maestro, Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta. “I got involved with Hindustani classical music straight away. The first thing was the constant improvisation but also the complex melodic and rhythmic systems,” he says.
During their show at GIJLF, they denounced right-wing politics that is gathering strength in different countries, and used voice samples that talk of a world without borders. “Musicians and artists are becoming more political as a response to nationalistic and radical groups that are emerging everywhere. People like Donald Trump are not the only problem — they are simply the manifestation of what the majority of a population think power should look like,” says Modarelli.