Street singers (Image taken from https://youtu.be/mmBfKetfzFY)

The Streets as Performing Spaces


On the 4th of August, 2014 a public meeting to discuss issues associated with street performers has been initiated in Delhi by Ishamuddin, a magician from Kathputli Colony in the capital, which so recently faced and survived the imminent threat of demolition. As spaces and agencies that support the arts continue to shrink at an alarming pace, streets too become increasingly unwelcoming for street performers. With relentless traffic choking the streets of many town and cities, and security issues making it difficult for street performers to gather an audience to witness their talents and skills, the breed of street performers is fast becoming a vanishing tribe. In the complex ebb and flow of changing trends and patterns, street performers find themselves unable to avail of the performance space conventionally associated with them, while on the other hand event managers and PR agencies try to stage performances with flash mobs in public spaces. Other not for profit groups like the Mumbai based National Streets for Performing Arts (http://www.nspa.in/) also attempt to bring the arts into public spaces, but it remains to be seen whether communities of traditional street performers will be included in their programming, which for the moment seems to be leaning more towards the more fashionable pop-rock-fusion busker. Only time will tell whether traditional street performers will be able to reclaim street spaces for performances, or find new spaces and strategies for their art. But it might be just the right time to view some performances of street singers and performers shared by enthusiasts on YouTube.

Posted by YouTube user Aastha Maggu, this video (http://youtu.be/mmBfKetfzFY) of street performers from Karnataka was shot in Pune, and features two street performers presenting Baaje re muraliya baaje, a bhajan composed by acclaimed composer Shrinivas Khale and recorded in the voices of two Bharat Ratna awardees, namely Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar. The musicians render a robust version of the bhajan at a bit of a gallop, performing with their instruments slung on their shoulders and balanced on the hip. On request, they move on to render Natha ghari naache maajha sakha Pandurang, a devotional verse by the Saint Chokhamela recorded in the voice of singer-composer Jitendra Abhisheki. The impact of classical music and musicians is evident in the renderings of these two performers, who display a certain competence that leaves the listener wondering why they should have to perform in the streets of Pune and not in a formal concert space.

Of the many videos of singers and musicians who perform on trains, my all time favorite is this 2005 black and white video (http://youtu.be/NbM5VrwRMcw) of a young Punjabi singer on a train from Delhi to Ferozepur, posted by one Kanwal Dhaliwal. The young singer plays a ravanhatha, more often seen and heard in the folk music of Rajasthan, and sings a melodramatic Punjabi song recorded originally by popular singer from the state, Master Saleem. Ki hoya tere lag gayi mehndi, assi vi sehre laavange, biraha pindon gham di dulhan de sang vyaah karvavange ! So what if you already have mehndi on your hands, I too will don a groom’s sehraa. In a village called Melancholy, I will wed a bride named Sadness. The unusual catch in the young singer’s unbridled voice, the brilliant, quicksilver twists and turns of voice that come so naturally to singers from the Punjab, leave one marveling at the range and depth of musical talent in the country. And yet, we choose to neglect the arts and music in a country where street performers alone can move listeners to tears with just one effortlessly sung refrain.

This article was first published in my column Music Matters for Lounge, Mint in August, 2014:http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/zapY9rZqvtsZFBSoIxvwAK/Songs-of-the-street.html

Shubha Mudgal

Shubha Mudgal

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