Does Margazhi 2017-18 strut about differently because of the “Creative City” tag? Who understands what it means to join the UNESCO network of Creative Cities?
Says UNESCO: “All Creative Cities commit to develop and exchange best innovative practices to promote creative industries, strengthen participation in cultural life and integrate culture into sustainable urban development policies.”
Confounding, to say the least. Possibly because it is Eurocentric. We do not think thus of the Arts. The idea of integrating culture into urban development policies is for us, literally, fantastic.
But Chennai knows creativity. Chandralekha was one of our very creative dancers — a Gujarati who tapped Bharatanatyam in boldly unique ways. Her home at Elliot’s Beach, called Spaces, included two performance spaces — sparse and beautiful — until Vardah reduced it to one.
A sultry Saturday morning this Margazhi attracted a full house there when Anita Ratnam, who too stretches her background in Bharatanatyam beyond its boundaries, presented Prasanna and Anil Srinivasan. A 90-minute, non-stop, seamless presentation of well-known songs from film music to Carnatic music to Blues to Bolero was held together by the strains of ‘Enna tavam seidanai.’
Surprise and delight
Oh, were they clever! How they slid from one song to the next, generating expectation, surprise, delight, even rapture. A gradual emergence of khagarajuni..., the charanam line of the evergreen ‘Nagumomu,’ from the fading strains of ‘Kannodu kaanbadellam,’ and other such unravelling of melodies nesting within other melodies; and they presented nuggets of improvisation, prodding each other in warm camaraderie that made that morning so memorable.
They strung the songs brilliantly, were great with their instruments, and above all, shared their love for the immense variety of music that Chennai has created. They transported the audience on a trip that fed as much on nostalgia as on musical excellence. The performance was a paean to the city and its creativity.
One of the songs they included was ‘Paadariyen padippariyen’ from Balachandar’s film, Sindhu Bhairavi , in which Sindhu challenges the Carnatic vocalist JKB for the inaccessibility and irrelevance of Carnatic music to many sections of the society. Vairamuthu’s lyrics and Ilaiyaraja’s music sing the very idea of inclusiveness that we hear today, and which the idea of Creative City also enunciates.
That morning, even though the fare was a medley of songs from various genres, composed by men from divergent backgrounds, the audience, the performers and the organisers largely belonged to one community. But then, is it wrong for people of one community to come together to celebrate music? Think Koodiyattom which until recently was practised only by one community.
In fact, is exclusivity not desirable in arts? Art is at its most intense when it is local, addressing a small group of cognoscenti as part of their unique ethos. Think Koodiyattam, again. The arguments for inclusiveness are many. Carnatic music is the “Classical” music of our region and has been historically nurtured by other communities. That is the argument for opening it up. And quite simply, it is the democratic thing to do.
Inclusiveness is the ideal that is realised when a Carnatic concert attracts an audience from all communities, as an Ilaiyaraja show does. It will never achieve that kind of popularity: by definition art music is not popular music. But will it attract equally members from all communities?
One of the tasks for a ‘Creative City’ is that it achieves participation, but the path to that is not clear in the case of Carnatic Music, not least because other sections of society do not exactly miss it. Is there a need or yearning for Carnatic Music among other communities? But, what if even one such person yearns for it? Even if Nandanar was the only person from the disenfranchised group yearning for Nataraja’s darshan, should that not be enabled? But, given that Carnatic Music is an entire ethos that has been nurtured for the past several decades by one community and the reality of the network of personal relations that drives the industry, the path to creating a level playing field for everyone seems difficult.
Chennai as a cultural city has unique strengths and problems. It would be interesting to see what, if anything, is impacted by its becoming a UNESCO Creative City!