The 10th of August saw a protest, amid much publicity, by the entire musical fraternity of Bangalore, accompanied by some of the most famous Bangaloreans and owners of commercial establishments hit hard by the recent ban on live music and dancing in places that serve alcohol. But there was another protest by the musicians of the city that took place on the 13th of August for a cause that wasn’t publicised as much as the former was.
As a background for this particular protest, we have to travel back in time to the mid 80s when Bangalore was fully deserving of the ‘Garden City’ tag, and was not yet faced with the IT boom that was to change the face of the city in the next decade. At that time, a few musicians would gather on a regular basis at the big rock a few meters away from the aquarium entrance at Cubbon Park and perform for a small but appreciative audience.
The ‘Music Strip’, as it popularly came to be known, was later relegated to oblivion as other commercial venues, musical halls and other locations started attracting performances from these artists. Somewhere along the way, Bangalore was witness to the birth of the Freedom Jam and Sunday Jam movements (http://www.freedomjam.net), which encouraged upcoming musical talent in the city and provided them with a platform to perform. The only rules that one had to follow to be a part of this was to be aware that the Jams were free as artists did not get paid for performing, and the audience did not have to pay to watch the performances. Original music was given preference over covering other artists.
While the Freedom Jam has become a huge annual event that is staged around Independence Day each year, the Sunday Jams would take place on the first Sunday of every month at a venue that would be zeroed in on. Chitrakala Parishat, Guru Nanak Bhavan, Shankara Foundation, Samsa Open Air Theatre at Ravindra Kalakshetra have been some of the venues where the Sunday Jams have been staged.
This movement has been instrumental in providing a platform for many new artists who are now names that are familiar to most people in Bangalore, such as Raghu Dixit, Kryptos, Slain and Lounge Pirhana. Corporate sponsorship from a leading brand was providing the Sunday Jam movement with the funding to rent a location and a good sound system. All hopefuls would make a beeline for these jams religiously on the first Sunday of each month, with the time between successive Jams spent towards practicing hard and improving their act.
Gopal and Geeta Navale, residents of Malleswaram, have been two of the main people behind the origin and sustenance of these jams. Along with a few volunteers, it is their resourcefulness and diligence that has seen this musical venture grow over the past decade, and with each month, witness a growth in the number of bands and their enthusiasm towards the performances.
Hitting a discordant note
It had been smooth sailing all along until June 2008, after which the corporate sponsor decided to divest itself from the Sunday Jams, thereby raising questions over their very existence. In the absence of sponsorship on a continued basis, it would not be possible to arrange for a musical venue and a sound system (collecting a token fee for performance from the participating bands being out of question as it would go against the tenets on which this movement was founded).
As an alternative, the Sunday Jam for July 2008 was held at Guruskool, a farm owned by Gopal and Geeta at Nelamangala towards the north of the city. Once a pleasant drive away, the farm is now on a route that is permanently choked by heavy traffic, rendering the trip an ordeal. If things are to continue along these lines, the Sunday Jams will most certainly face the threat of perishing.
In order have a place within the city where musicians could perform, without being under corporate mercy, the Sunday Jam movement staged a protest near the MG Road statue on the 13th of August. They wanted their music strip at Cubbon Park back, to make it a place where musicians could gather on a regular basis and perform, just like in the 80s.
The musicians and volunteers had originally gathered on Sunday, August 3rd at the Music Strip for the protest march. A few bands staged impromptu performances at the strip in front of a small audience before being disbanded by the police. The protest march was to take place that same evening, but as permission for the same had not been granted, it was instead held on 13th August. Musicians with placards stating ‘Music is my birth right and I will have it’, ‘We are a live band too!’ among others played a few songs and gathered the attention of a few curious onlookers.
A memorandum requesting for permission to begin using the music strip once again was then submitted to the concerned authorities at Cubbon Park, while copies of the same were also sent to the Police Commissioner and the Governor of Karnataka, among others.
Should the Sunday Jam movement get the much needed permission for staging performances, it will provide a new lease of life to a musical movement that is close to being tuned out. There has been enough and more attention heaped on the protest against the 11.30 PM closing time and the ban on live music and dancing in pubs and discotheques; it is time we shift focus and also stand behind those who are protesting for promoting music, for music’s sake.