I had been told about the Fireflies festival, an all-night event filled with music and gaiety. I had heard about the singers who come here and perform for 20-25 minutes but remain in the minds of the audience for the rest of the year. I had always wanted to go to Fireflies but could not do so due to various reasons. This time, on 22nd Feb, determination set the course and I made myself free for the event.
My friends and I packed our bags well as we were told that we’d need mattresses, cushions, blankets and whatever it took to remain awake and comfortable the whole night. We had to drive a long way, past busy traffic on Kanakapura Road and past the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ashram. About five to six kilometers from the ashram, there is a deviation to the right with a board indicating ‘Fireflies’. When we drove in at 7 PM, the festival had already started; we could hear folk music at the parking lot. Walking through dark paths, we ended up at the granite amphitheatre built around a banyan tree. Bagging a slightly off-centre seating, we settled down, cushions, blankets and all. Looking around, we saw the crowd was mostly young. But though the average age was 20-something, there was some 40 plus crowd, too. Some of the older people had attended a three-day seminar at Fireflies, the conclusion of which was this musical festival.
On stage was a folk group from Karnataka, playing the dholak, and singing about issues that affect villages – globalisation and neglect. This group of young singers, with their catchy lyrics and simple music, grabbed the crowd’s appreciation. Then it was time for Sufi music, this time inspired by the legendary dohas by Kabir Das. The singer, Shabnam Virmani, not only held the audience’s attention by explaining the literal meaning of the dohas and the depth the poet has touched but also talked about how it makes sense even in our time. She was accompanied by her friends on vocals, guitar and tabla.
I was waiting to see what would follow such a stirring performance, wondering whether it would be as good. The lady who walked onto the stage didn’t disappoint. She was Anasuya Kulkarni, the only woman in India to play the exotic angklung. Angklung is a musical instrument made out of two bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame. The tubes are carved so that they have a resonant pitch when struck. The base of the frame is held with one hand while the other hand shakes the instrument rapidly from side to side. Anasuya has adapted this instrument to Carnatic music and performs concerts with the angklung as the main instrument.
The maestro, Prakash Sonkatte, came next, playing the sliding guitar, also known as the Hawaiian guitar. He and his group created a fusion of Indian and Western music. Sonkatte holds a triple Masters degree in classical music – guitar, vocal and violin. The maestros sharing the stage with him were experts in their own fields, as well. The individual performances of the mrudangam, tabla, drums and the kanjira were truly breathtaking.
A young man from Bengal came in as a filler while the next group was preparing backstage. He was a folk singer who created songs about HIV and AIDS awareness in rural areas, depicting the various points as paintings on a scroll that he unveils as he goes from one point to the next. Though he was singing in Bengali and people couldn’t understand the language, this man had the entire crowd listening to him raptly. Combining two of the oldest ways of communication – pictures and music, it was a new yet effective way of spreading awareness.
Swarathma was up next. After an elaborate speaker test session, they started their own brand of magic. One of the most popular bands in this part of country, Swarathma is a group of musicians with passion for music of the soul. Given their lyrics and instruments, they have retained the ‘desi‘ flavour in their music. Among their songs, the numbers inspired by Kabir’s doha and a song on the river Cauvery was much appreciated. Swarathma floored the audience; the crowd could not get enough of their energy and performance. With its immense talent, this is a band that makes you proud.
After that, there was a bamboo instrument group called Vayali, from Thrissur in Kerala. This art is on the verge of extinction and the group is trying to keep it alive. Then the qawwali group from Nagpur that performed in true qawwali style with the harmonium and tabla. The lyrics were very interesting, bearing in mind that words written so many decades ago make people relate to them even now.
I left around a quarter past five in the morning, regretting the fact that I could not stay till 7 AM and witness the entire performance. But this is one musical festival that is a great experience, something that one must do. Fireflies will remain fresh in my mind for a long time to come.
Hamlet at the Habba
The Bengaluru Habba concluded in the city recently amidst much fanfare. An annual event that brings forth all things native and cultural to Bengaluru and the people who’ve made it their home, the Habba is the confluence of art, theatre, music, food and culture. And one of the main draws of this year’s line-up was the performance by the highly recommended theatre group from Chennai – Evam. I was a production volunteer backstage for this particular show.
Bringing their all-time favourite play, Hamlet – the original spoof, to Chowdiah Hall, Evam ensured that the packed audience got an evening they’d remember for quite some time. The fact that the hall was filled to the brim on a week day is testament enough of Evam’s fan following.
Those who dropped in to get a highbrow literary interpretation of one of William Shakespeare’s most reputed plays were in for a pleasant shock. The three-member cast seemed to have come with a mission that included making you smile, laugh and roar with delight. With references to pink chaddis, city traffic, moral policing and recession, the plot of Hamlet seemed to have been turned on its head to show us a perspective we’ve never seen before. Sometimes endearing, sometimes absurd, sometimes hilarious but totally involving – it was Hamlet like the Bard never imagined it. The play even incorporated the audience as actors, with each aisle echoing Ophelia’s thoughts. The fast forward version and the rewind version of Hamlet were utterly enjoyable too with Sunil Vishnu, Karthik Kumar and T M Karthik Srinivasan. It was an amazing cast working with great synchronisation and timing, so important in comedy.
And that seems to be where Evam’s strength lies, in their impeccable handling of comedy. The very fact that they managed to squeeze out so much humour from one of Shakespeare’s more morose plays shows their skill. Instead of merely re-enacting a work of literature, that through the decades has been interpreted and dissected in so many similar ways, here you get to see Hamlet as a bumbling, truly adorable fellow.
After a hard day’s work, horrible traffic and the current gloomy economic scenario, this would be just what the doctor ordered. Laughter, happiness and an evening that was well worth it.