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Striking the right notes - Sur Jahan 2017

Sometimes clichés are indispensible since they are so apt. So we start with the cliché ‘Music transcends borders!’ This is what we witness every year at our World Peace Music festival, Sur Jahan, earlier known as Sufi Sutra. The festival in its 7th year was no different.

Sur Jahan celebrates universal love and brotherhood. It celebrates cultural plurality. Since its inception, it has showcased traditional music from more than 24 countries, presenting a wide variety of music genres ranging from the Mawlawiyah tradition of the whirling dervishes of Egypt to the pathos of Flamenco from Spain to the folks of Tajikistan and the Afro-Brazilian ritualistic traditions to the ever appreciative audiences of multi-cultural Kolkata and Goa.

The music connects the hearts, pulls its strings, strumming the core deep within for audiences and participating musicians alike. The phenomenon manifests itself in incidents like an emotional Benjamin Abbras from the Brazil team of Sufi Sutra 2014 upon witnessing the Sidi Gomas of Gujrat playing a Berimbau at the daytime exchange workshop, stirring his childhood memories, of his African origin. And we continue to witness such phenomena year after year.

Even for us, as the organizers, these are the high points for which we work for the whole year preparing to surround ourselves with joie de vivre, happy meetings, smiling faces and, above all, nonstop music that flows from the concert and workshop stages to the hotel rooms and lobby, and even the terrace. Sometimes, as for Sur Jahan 2017 in Goa, a moonlit sky with the glittering Mandovi river right across providing the perfect setting for the pure joy that we all witnessed that night and all the other nights of the festival. And here we witness the real impact of the words of Mr Alle Moller, the seven-time Grammy winning world music stalwart from Sweden, when he said on stage that this festival is a melting pot of cultures, creating opportunities for musicians, both local and international, to meet each other. You witness the musicians and the organizing team-members alike breaking into traditional Danish dance led by Mia Gulhammer of Virelai, on the rhythm from Mexico and the Czech Republic. You experience what might be called a dance challenge of the opposite genders, as per the Viking tradition, led by Mia and Jacob Lund. Incapable of resisting, you give in to the craziness of the moment and laugh your heart out, sweating profusely, especially to the challenges of none other than Moller himself. And while we took a break to relax our tired feet, the maestro randomly picked up a water pipe from the terrace and made it play the tunes in his head.

No less magical has been witnessing the impromptu jamming session between Tarak Khyapa from Joydeb, Kenduli, Birbhum and members of the Ale Moller Quartet. It was sheer joy for the audience to hear Tarak strumming on his Dotara, giving cue and encouraging Ale Moller to join him with his Mandola. The Khyapa (mad man) then picks up his Khamak and goes to Ole, the Swedish Folk Academy elite percussionist, and eggs him on to join his beats.

And these are such moments for which, we the organizers strive for. To create platforms for our ever so talented rural traditional musicians to connect to the world, share the stage to bask in the glory that they truly deserve.  It is heartening for us to see the fruits of our labour shape into bookings for the traditional folk artists of Bengal by our visiting international guests like Mr Ken Day of the respected Urkult festival. It makes it all worth it. Being in the audience and hearing Dr Zougbhi from the UN, who came all the way from Palestine to attend Sur Jahan in Kolkata, saying on stage that the festival has warmed his heart and given him hope as he hailed our year-long work with the marginalized communities for improvement of their lives and strengthening their identities using culture, it was the true validation of what, as a tribe, we believe in and practice.

We wish to continue on this path. And while at it, we continue to search for the tunes that Sur Jahan 2017 kept us all humming. We hope to pick up in Sur Jahan 2018 what was initiated by Sur Jahan 2017. Till then, let music do the talking and strive to make the world a better place!


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