“Women in Arts” at Milapfest
“Unite Hearts through Arts “ is the vision of Milapfest: Britain’s leading Indian art development trust with its home in the Northwest. And boy did the first performance of new season “Women in Arts” at Liverpool’s Capstone Theatre deliver on that!
It’s the last Saturday in January; the artists sit on a raised platform in front of a light-spangled curtain, smoke curling around them. Indian violinist and composer Jyotsna Srikanth, flanked by percussionists R N Prakash playing the Mridangam (a double-ended drum) on the left and Pujenthan Sivagurunathan on the right with the Khanjira (a type of tambourine), gives a quick introduction to Carnatic music: the classical tradition of music played in southern India, composed for voice with the instruments imitating the singing.
The performance begins with a beautiful improvisation on the violin; once the percussion joins in, the music evokes powerful images of a thunderstorm on a sweltering night. We learn that the “trump card” of the violin played the Indian way, sitting cross-legged with the scroll placed on the ankle, is the “sliding” of the middle and index fingers on the neck of the violin, which makes the instrument sound so enchantingly exotic.
Immensely accomplished Jyotsna comes across as a very warm and approachable person. A practising pathologist and married with 2 children, she only started to concentrate on her music when she moved to England from Bangalore 12 years ago. How she’s able to fit it all in is beyond me.
Three pieces into the performance, the percussionists get to improvise and we’re blown away by the intensity and complexity of the solos. The improvisations culminate in vocal percussion, an art in itself creating sounds that imitate percussion: fast, almost birdsong-like beatbox.
The first part of this mesmerising performance culminates in a piece played on a 7-string viola, which, in Jyotsna’s words, is “like a tightrope walk on two separate ropes”. It’s a wonderful folk tune and you’re almost tricked into looking around for the second violinist.
When we return to our seats after the interval, the stage set has changed and now hosts three standing mikes and a gigantic double bass. At the start of the performance we were promised a surprise and here we go: Israeli composer and musician Daphna Sadeh joins R N Prakash and Jyotsna in what is a world premiere (they only rehearsed the same morning!) and an “east-meets-east” feast of the senses! The second half of the performance sees the trio alternately play Daphna’s and Jyotsna’s compositions: telling their own stories with inspiration from other musicians, fusing “Balkan jazz” with violin and khanjira.
Jyotsna’s “Haunting Thoughts”, expressing her longing for Bangalore when she came to England, is probably my favourite piece of the afternoon. Daphna’s “Middle Eastern Tango” is a powerful plea for peace. The haunting “Longing for home”, a song originating in Tadzhikistan, concludes this outstandingly beautiful and exciting performance. We rise from our seats, beaming smiles on our faces, to give a standing ovation.
We’ve been part of something special, experiencing music’s unifying powers first-hand. I for my part can’t wait to get my senses round more of the “Women in Arts” programme. For full programme please see http://www.milapfest.com/home/whats-on/