Faint music reaching out in an hour past twilight; the night sky, clear. We walk following dimly lit paths along the rustic mud road to reach the open air amphitheatre. People are arriving and in small groups are walking along. The night is pleasant. The lake is completely submerged in darkness; to get a look at it, we would have to wait till morning I told myself. There were two other people with me this year, a motley crew it was that walked up; Vineet, my brother-in-law who joined us at the last minute and Shilpa a newly made friend.
As we climbed up the slope and reached the top of the semi-circular arena we could hear the music more distinctly. It sounded a little like a prayer song and it was in Kannada. All the stone steps with the best views were already taken. We sampled a few spots before settling on a really good one in the left half of the semi-circlular arena. A kannada street folk composition was going on. This year’s theme was ‘Climate Change’.
Not understanding much of what was being sung we gazed at the people walking in, equipped for the night out ahead. People coming in with mattresses, sheets, cushions, cameras and what not. We spotted one with an emergency light 🙂 What was he thinking??!! I wondered aloud and indulged ourselves to some amusement.
Cigarette and weed smoke rising into the night air and disintegrating in lazy drifts before disappearing into the blackness. Nothing seemed out of place, you inhale all in peace, even these otherwise derided poisons. There were two guys who seemed to have settled down for good, utterly peacefully in the steps in front of us. They were smoking and taking ocassional sips from their drinks. One had a camera that looked professional and a demeanour that said he could be a serious photographer.
The view of the Banyan tree was not as grand as the one I had last year; still, it was glowing golden with a patch of purple-pink forming a strip across its trunk. The folk song group switched to a composition around dot coms and I found myself listening intently. Though I could not understand all the lyrics I could grasp enough to catch the parody. “You ask for something, it, the search, will give you results, if you ask for food will it give you food?” The way it was sung, the innocent questions, the ridiculing of this absurd reality was poignant. They were Bhumi Thayi Balaga (Folk).
A sweet familiar fragrance brings a smile, a remembrance from last year’s visit here, its from one of the shrubs or trees around; It wafts in much later when time gets more into the night. My personal favourite, Shabnam Virmani and troupe were on next. Judging by the reaction from the crowd she seemed to have quite a few fans. Their specialisation is Kabir’s poetry sung in the sufi style. I get drawn into the seering pitches of her passionate rendition and to unknown, intense levels of veneration. I cannot explain this; you cannot explain another’s passion to somebody else; you just get engulfed in it. You have to be there to experience the spell-binding magic of her singing.
Prakash who??, I remember asking when the next troupe was announced. Prakash Sontakke and group(Hawaiian guitar fusion). They had better be good to do a follow-up after Shabnam Virmani and troupe I mused out aloud! A no airs, no frills bunch of men, dressed in traditional kurtas, mostly white, walked in and started settling down A rather heavy-set man, their lead singer quipped – ‘that was us warming up’, after delivering a rather brilliant introductory piece ! We laughed, totally caught off guard by the humour and judging by the audience’s reaction he had everybody’s attention and respect. They went on , one brilliant piece after the other, interspersed with the dry and catchy wit of the lead singer. Their last piece was based on the impact the terrorist attack on Mumbai had on him personally, he spoke briefly about it and went on to deliver a hauntingly poignant number. We didn’t want these guys to stop.
Some people came dressed to leave an image; like Swaratma (Folk rock) whose outfits were loud costumes that screamed and shouted ‘loud entertainers’. Most songs were repeats from the previous year at Fireflies. On the whole neither their music nor lyrics sounded mature or deep enough to me this time, they sounded a little out of place; a lot of commotion and striking costumes minus the music is how they are going to remain in my memory.
There was this lanky young guy in a pair of faded jeans and a bluish-grey T-shirt dancing what could have been behind the scenes, if the stage were enclosed; at the far end of where the troupes performed. There were many others dancing and moving to the music around him but his natural and unique movements made all others around him look like extras. He seemed to catch the rhythms from the musicians and turn it into extremely fluid movements; a tribute of an expression to the music being played ending each song with an artistic pause joining his plams in a namaste along with a dramatic bow and a grin of sheer joy on his face.
Closer to where we were sitting, along the same semi circle , there was one more guy, dancing in a very minimalistic yet stylish way. Totally oblivious to the crowd, there he was, standing where everybody around him was seated and moving almost trance like, possibly high on something else other than the music! It is a pleasure to watch people like these, like that kid dancing away with sheer energy behind the artists on the stage and this guy here, slow and elegant; no effected movements, not putting on a show; to be able to so totally respond to the music and the atmosphere, quiet liberating !
A kerala folk group (Vayali) came to sing some earthy songs – pure, simple and vibrating with superb energy. They made it all seem like one, the hand that tills the soil, the soil that gets tilled, the soul of one singing to the soul of the other.
Mr. Siddharth, the founder of “Fireflies” came to speak more than a few words about the relevance of the event and introduced a friend of his Gustav and requested him to sing a few songs. Gustav, an old cheerful man obliged and sang ‘La bamba’ and another spanish number. It was a lively performance that got the whole audience dancing and joining along for the chorus. Then to make sure that the young folks out here wouldn’t forget about climate change after they step out of this beautiful retreat, Mr. Siddharth made us promise that we would do our best to save this world and broke into “We shall overcame” urging us to sing along.
What happened next was something very spontaneous and beautiful, something that could be called the soul moment for the evening. As Siddharth and Gustav bowed down to the audience after the song and started to walk away from the stage, from the audience came the hindi version of the same song – ‘Hum honge kamiyab’. The night air filled with this heartfelt rendering -no instruments, no microphone. On the stage too everybody had halted midway and were standing in silence. After we finished there was pause…something left all of us without words and then came the applause :).
The qawali was unremarkable and lacked last year’s passion. When dawn broke, the fusion band, ‘Moon Arra’, was playin jazz fusion with classical veena; ‘Mahaganapatim’ welcomed the dawn and it was truly divine…Their music was beautiful. Some other pieces that were beautiful in their own sweet way were Anusuya Kulkari playing classical Indian Carnatic music on an Indonesian Anklung and Solviteur Canendo (Acapella). Acapella is an all vocal peformance style where there is no musical intrument used at all…I found
them highly creative and inncocently original. They would go bo-bop-bop….la-de-la .. hope you getting the drift? 🙂 They got booed out though until one young guy from the troupe came back on stage and delivered a stunning piece of brilliant drumming using just his mouth and hands in the acapella style…the audience bowed down to the genuis and gave them a huge round of much deserved applause.
Sometimes sitting, sipping on breezers, quietly biting into our dinner of vada-pav, sometimes lying down on the same stone steps and watching the stars in the sky, watching dawn break, driving the miles between the Fireflies ashram on Kanakpura road and Bangalore and listening to music all night long – It was yet another refreshingly beautiful experience that still lives with me as a vivid and passionate tapestry of sound, light and music woven into a magical night.