Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society’s 10th Annual Festival, Alangkar, will be a unique addition to the December season in Chennai
Riduan Zalani has just unsheathed his rebana, a Malaysian drum, as we catch up with him for a brief chat. Along with a host of other musicians, he is preparing to travel to Chennai on behalf of their institution, the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (SIFAS). But they won’t just be spectators this Margazhi: instead, they’ll be one of the most unique additions to this year’s music season. It is also an added feature of a festival that celebrates a decade in Chennai this year.
âThis is my first time coming to Chennai, and I couldn’t be more nervous and excited,â he tells us. Under the direction of guru and mridangist Tripunithura Sreekanth and alongside four other accomplished percussionists, they will perform Laya Sangamam, a ratnavalli, as part of the three-day festival. It is sponsored by the Consulate General of the Republic of Singapore, Chennai, as part of a first partnership.
âWhen we started the festival, we showcased some of Chennai’s most prominent artists. Over the past few years, we have chosen to introduce our students and faculty members to help them promote themselves and expand their artistic reach beyond Singapore, âsaid Shankar Rajan, Director of SIFAS.
And this is not the only development. For the first time, due to popular demand and what Rajan calls greater openness to all music, the Festival is welcoming some of SIFAS ‘leading Hindustani artists and teachers. âIt’s an honor,â says artist Kathak Jyotika Joshi. Originally from Delhi and a student of the Jaipur gharana, she has something special planned for her return to the Chennai scene.
âUsually we dance on the bowls of the tabla. But this time, I will dance on the jathis of the mridangam and I will be accompanied by many other instruments such as the transverse flute, the sitar, Chinese and Malay drums, âshe continues. Featuring a Vishnu stotram followed by a pallavi, this is one of the many performances that will break convention boundaries during the festival.
âFor many of us, this is an unprecedented experience. As a jazz bassist who has been studying mridangam for seven years at SIFAS, just being part of a rhythm ensemble is a challenge in itself, âsays Tony Makrome. A participant in Sreekanth’s Laya Sangamam, he says the process of collaborating through konnakol has brought artists closer together.
The attempt to curate something different begins long before the ideation phase. Instead, it starts with the auditions, a very rigorous process that allows only a fraction of the entries to have the chance to be part of the prestigious festival.
âWe invite a judge from Chennai to audition our candidates every year. This year it was KN Renganatha Sharma. Seeing its musicality, our candidates are immediately inspired to work hard and present their best, âexplains Narayanan Balasubramaniam, Vice President, Performing Arts, SIFAS. Overseeing the auditions, he calls them a potential âlaunching padâ for the many budding artists who are at SIFAS.
Of course, not all performance is a complete break from the norm. Take, for example, the presentation of Hindustani singer and sitar player Susanta Choudhury. While he will join other artists to present both a mallari and the aforementioned pallavi, he proudly calls his contributions “reflecting Hindustani classical music amidst many Carnatic performances”.
Commenting on SIFAS ‘decision to host the festival during one of Chennai’s busiest arts months, Rajan said, âGetting an audience is actually not a problem. We have always had a high participation rate. Chennai is the most beautiful in December – from the weather to the ambiance, with a multitude of concerts around every corner. It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn and improve their listening and performance skills.
The partnership with the Kalakshetra Foundation is the result of the association of more than 35 years of SIFAS with the first institute. While Rajan and Balasubramaniam agree that many of these young artists may or may not pursue music or dance as a profession, the holistic growth they are experiencing through the arts is reason enough to get involved. “We are attracting the interest of young people, slowly and surely,” says Rajan. It is a gradual process with major benefits, and the administration knows it. âWe’re not just a place to build careers. We are making better people, more creative minds, through music and dance in all its forms.
The festival will be held from December 7 to 9.