Fireflies Ashram is located around 20 kms outside the city limits of Bangalore on Kanakpura road. The place has been designed for various ecological and social initiatives, but probably is best known for its annual music festival that it hosts under the majestic Pipal tree every year. This Saturday I attended the festival for the first time, though it had been taking place for last 4 years. I am told that every year the festival has a theme and this year the theme was Adivasis or ‘Tribals’. The format followed is similar to Vasanthabba, i.e a dusk to dawn event that starts around 6:00 PM and goes on till 6:00 AM, just around the time when morning sun shines on.
If I have to sum up the festival in few words, it would be that it is not everyday that you get to hear such diverse and deep music everyday. There are musicians who create music, who have devoted themselves to music, who are keeping a lot of traditional music alive and others who are into a lot of new age experimental music. It’s the music that can keep you wide awake through the night and makes you resonate with nature that is spread wide around you in the space.
Look at the repertoire that we got to hear at this year’s festival that happened this Saturday. The beginning was done with Nadaswaram , and you could see some magical fingers playing the Shahnais. There was Padmanabha’s veena recital that left the audience asking for more. There was a Puje Kunita the folk dance of Karnataka that got the audience dancing to the traditional folk with Dhols. There was Australian Jazz completely enthralling the space. There was portugese guitar group that had interesting compositions on Adivasis and their development programs. There were fusion groups who left you in complete awe.
My most favourite performance was by Shabnam Virmani and Dipta Bhog, who sang the songs of Kabir in tradional Malwa style. Shabnam was enchanting and was equally well supported by Dipta. She explained the verses of Kabir in simple English before she sang each piece, and then both of them sang with such ease and I was amazed at the way they were able to bring every emotion in their voice. The simplicity of their folk singing actually made a huge connect with the audience, even those who did not understand the language. Somewhere saying that we are all simple human beings at the core and somewhere down the line we have complicated ourselves. I am not sure if their songs are available in the market, my google search did not yield anything. But if anyone knows where to source it, I would love to have it.
My next favorites were Bauls from Oikyotaan, with lead singers Kartik Das Baul and Bony Chakarborty. Bauls are supposed to be fakirs like Sufis, and hence the songs are about reaching out to that ultimate power. I particularly liked a song that was by Radha to Krishna, where she curses Krishna to be Radha in the next birth to understand what Radha went through for Krishna in this birth. All the performances were something you would to keep listening to and not get tired. Then there were Qawwals from Nagpur, who performed the regular and popular Qawwalis, and this is a tendency that I have seen in all the Qawwals who perform in Bangalore. Nevertheless they were able to infuse energy in the huge crowd at 5:00 AM when people had been awake the whole night.
All in all you would come back intoxicated from the festival and all your senses thank the organizers for putting the whole festival together. I am sure it must not be an easy task, especially in the beginning years of the festival. I want to point out a small irritant with an intent that organizers might want to look at avoiding it next year. There were small children selling cigarettes to the crowd, which can probably be avoided. Not to mention the fact that smokers around me were irritating enough and I had to keep reminding them that it is a public place and they are not supposed to smoke. May be a smoking / non-smoking area would help both the categories.
Nonetheless, congratulations to all those who organized, performed and participated. I am already looking forward to the next festival.