Rising Youth Take Center Stage at Jackfruit Festival

The stage was abuzz with anticipation for the evening’s show at the Jackfruit Festival. Thirty-seven talented children, armed with their musical instruments, youthful voices, and boundless curiosity, had arrived to participate. As the creative director made a call to the artiste manager, urging caution not to tire out the young performers, it became evident that it was the adults who needed to watch their own energy levels. Despite the concerns, the young musicians displayed unwavering stamina and enthusiasm.

Directed by tabla exponent Aneesh Pradhan, the performance titled “Kamaal Dhamaal” showcased captivating conversations between drummers, dancers, and singers, all of whom were children under the age of 17 hailing from different parts of India. This vibrant display of talent was just one of the many high-energy musical performances organized by the Bhoomija Trust at the Jackfruit Festival. Another highlight of the event was “Singing into the Future,” a show that brought together four child prodigies from diverse backgrounds and art forms, captivating the audience from the very first note.

In its fifth edition, following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the curator of this year’s Jackfruit Festival was the renowned Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal. Gayathri Krishna, the managing trustee of Bhoomija, praised Mudgal’s approach, describing it as “sensitive, meticulous, and no-nonsense.” Even during the festival’s planning phase, Mudgal emphasized the importance of adhering to guidelines regarding rehearsal duration, breaks, and the presence of chaperones for the young performers. The workshops for the festival were conducted at the Indian Music Experience Museum (IME), adding a special touch to the entire experience.

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Despite their different backgrounds, traditions, and social strata, all the child artists were provided equal opportunities to showcase their talents. Mudgal expressed her satisfaction in observing the camaraderie that developed among the young performers, both on and off the stage. She emphasized the importance of fostering a sense of equality and mutual inspiration among artists, highlighting the potential to break down existing hierarchies in the arts. By bringing together diverse styles and forms in a single performance, Mudgal believes that all artists can be presented with the same respect and pride, without perpetuating divisions.

The meticulous preparation and rigorous rehearsals paid off, leading to two vibrant performances that skillfully blended urban and rural elements, vocal and instrumental prowess, and classical and folk traditions. The seamless fusion of these distinct categories challenged conventional perceptions of music. Aneesh Pradhan, the director of “Kamaal Dhamaal,” explained that he carefully selected the drummers and forms to be showcased in the performance. He collaborated with music schools and artiste groups he had previously worked with, while also incorporating new talent. Pradhan expressed his eagerness to expand the stylistic and geographical scope of this percussion ensemble in the future. However, the current form of “Kamaal Dhamaal” was already a resounding success, as it transcended regional boundaries and captivated the audience with its rhythmic brilliance.

The evening commenced with the singers from Bengal engaging in a seamless conversation, showcasing their exemplary synchronization. The sounds of cymbals, tabla, kartaal, and dholak set a high starting point for the performance. The technical prowess of the drummers from Rajasthan and Goa was evident in their impeccable control of volume and their adeptness at sharing space on a single drum. The Karnataka artistes gradually introduced each layer of percussion, from mridangam, ghatam, kanjira, and morsing, ultimately leading into the mesmerizing konnakol. Each young artist commanded the performance space equally, showcasing the intricacies of their art and demanding the audience’s attention in their own unique ways. The awe-inspiring acrobatics displayed by the young Manipuri artistes left the audience spellbound, while the Bengal team’s rendition of Raag Khamaj provided a soothing interlude.

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Directed by Shubha Mudgal, “Singing into the Future” revolved around songs celebrating nature and exploring the impact of climate change. The concert began in darkness, with the soulful voices of Rahul Vellal and Dnyaneshwari Gadge inviting the audience into a realm of seeking and yearning for light. The four singers showcased their exceptional musicianship throughout the concert. Chotu Khan, a seven-year-old folk singer from Rajasthan, transported the audience to the landscapes of his region with his powerful vocals. Rohan Das enchanted the listeners with his dulcet Bengali songs, while Rahul Vellal demonstrated his mastery of structured Carnatic compositions. Dnyaneshwari’s expertise in complex raags was equally impressive. The contrasting approaches of folk and classical forms prompted reflections on spontaneity and self-consciousness, challenging traditional notions of performance.

Singing into the Future” served as a beacon of hope, blending various musical genres and cultural contexts in a harmonious and organic manner. The four child prodigies effortlessly transcended the differences presented by their cultural influences, delivering a captivating performance. Chotu Khan’s uninhibited rendition of a song about camels seamlessly harmonized with Rahul Vellal’s soul-stirring Ranjani ragamaalika, Dnyaneshwari Gadge’s expert exposition of Tilak Kamod, and Rohan Das’s lively ode to a bird. Despite their diverse styles and genres, the young artists shared smiles and encouraging nods with their accomplished accompanists, demonstrating the strong rapport they had developed.

In conclusion, the Jackfruit Festival, under the curatorship of Shubha Mudgal, brought together young talents from various backgrounds, transcending divisions and hierarchies in the arts. With meticulous planning and rigorous rehearsals, the festival showcased breathtaking musical performances that seamlessly blended urban and rural, classical and folk, and vocal and instrumental elements. The event exemplified the power of unity in diversity, inspiring young artists to listen, learn, and draw inspiration from one another. The audience was left enthralled, applauding the exceptional talents on display, and eagerly anticipating future editions of the festival that promise to push the boundaries of musical expression even further.

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