I’m at this cozy basement studio/theatre for a gig. It has a carpeted floor and cushions for seating, the walls of one end of the room are lined with strips of wood and its floor is raised slightly. The room is filled with some of the finest musicians in the city of Delhi, who are pretty much performing for each other tonight. Towards the end, there is a point in the concert when almost half of the audience rises up to join the singers’ choir. They dedicate this last song to a very special person in the room. There is a sense of warm excitement in the air. Just before starting, Chayan Adhikari (Advaita frontman and also the conductor of this choir) turns to the bassist (who is hidden behind this big bunch of singers) and says, “Zara saa toh doh!” (musician friends, help me translate this for the folks who are not familiar with Indian classical music!)
This is the Global Music Institute hosting their first Singers’ Night. Arguably, one of finest schools of music in Delhi, GMI also frequently turns into a venue that hosts spectacular music performances and jams usually with about forty people snugly sitting in as audience. Everyone in the room has come there pretty much just for good live music. However, what one experiences is much more than just music played live. There is the energy that emerges out of sincere playing and attentive, active listening.
The air that night was filled with little unspoken conversations happening on stage and in between, the exchanging of cues and glances, the changing body of language and expressions on when special moments were felt. And the air was filled with ease. I was happy to hear some of my most favourite musicians playing some of my favourite songs. But I was happier to have experienced live music the way I did that day, free of distractions, free of chatter and of food and drinks.
On little afterthought, I realized that even in the past, the gigs that I have absolutely loved the most have been free performances at public venues like the India Habitat Centre, especially the ones by the Balani brothers. Perhaps it was the comfortable scale of this GMI event that it took me a few weeks to completely get over that gig.
Last week, I went for the launch of singer song writer Shantanu Pandit’s EP, Skunk in the Cellar. Anyway in the heat of June, what one could safely assume as off season for the music scene in Delhi, I remember feeling a little repulsed with this whole deal about email pre registrations and this quiet (almost secretive) build up to the event. The gig started at 9 PM and there was a lady at the main entrance checking for registrations. In the narrow lobby were CDs and artwork posters but also a tray with glasses of water and a bowl of candy. Another polite lady at the door to the theatre told us at least 2 times to switch off our phones and remain very quiet.
The warnings, however, were well worth the final little walk through a dimly lit narrow passage into the heart of the very charming Akshara Theatre. One entered at the aisle between the steeply rising audience’s seating and the performers, who today were two lanky (for the lack of a better word) boys in their happy place (for the lack of a better phrase). I had heard the songs on the EP online for a couple of days before the event. But I remember having no memory of them once I heard them live. Of course, listening to them now takes me back to that rather tiny seat in the theatre and that good feeling.
Minimal but full sounding, the songs were melancholic but charming. And so was the tone of the night. The sound, the lighting, the setting seemed like they were all deliberately chosen to add to the experience of the music. One needed this setting for these songs to be heard. And one needed this audience.
Post gig conversations with musician friends tell me that more and more musicians have forever been craving for venues and event where they could be really heard and they could make conversation with their listeners. And it would also be true that this artiste-audience connection is easier to establish for singer songwriters, duos and trios whose music would sound better at venues of a smaller scale. What’s heartening is that Delhi is warming up to the idea of these intimate public performances, or perhaps just that I am waking up to them only now (and they’ve been happening all along, have they?).
On July 4, Delhi based artist, architect and singer-songwriter Aditi Veena will be sharing some of her work in progress on the her new solo project 'Mumblings on the impressioned interactions with four charming monsieurs in the life of ditty’. Through visuals and sound, her performance would explore the spatial and experiential relationships between the audience and artists. I am going because for this mostly because I am curious to know what this former sentence would mean in practice. You could find the details for the event here.