Minhal Hasan, Executive Director Teamworks Arts Pvt. Ltd, specializes in curating experiential music festivals like the Mahindra Kabira Festival in Varanasi, The Sacred Festival in Pushkar, an experiential monthly music series – ‘Friends of Music‘ and ‘Under the Banyan Tree On A Full Moon Night’ and many more.
Hasan brings to light the company’s journey in the past decade, how it has established itself as a brand to reckon with Indian traditional music, arts, and literature, thereby creating a presence for Indian arts and artists globally in an interesting conversation with Loudest.in.
Hasan began with the core idea behind experimenting with traditional Indian art forms in the times when Bollywoodization has taken over the entertainment industry by storm, “The idea is to relive the live non-electronic music performance era of the 90s, when live Classical Music, Ghazal concerts and Baithaks formats were in vogue. We want the youngsters and the audience of today to explore the experiential side of music in the midst of the present Bollywood and electronic music hustle-bustle.”
“Today, we do five experiential festivals like the ‘Kabira Festival’ in Varanasi which focuses on the Saint Kabir, the ‘The Sacred Pushkar Festival’ to a full series of heritage and cultural evenings – ‘Friends of Music’ to ‘Under the Banyan Tree On A Full Moon Night’, to the Jaipur Literature Festival now going global. Last year we started the monthly concert series, wherein the idea was to create something for the music community that we do in specific cities and look forward to spread to cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune,” Hasan added.
On creating musical experiences, Hasan cited with an example, “Last year we conceptualized something like ‘Under the Banyan Tree’ around the full moon, as we felt that the ambiance of doing something musical under the full moon is extremely magical. We curated it by putting the music across genres together which added the overall experience of the show. We are just trying to create concepts and go back to the basics to keep Indian ambiance and explore the talent of India be it Hindustani Classical, Carnatic, Folk to Jazz, to celebrate Indian music in all possible forms.“
Talking about the key partners and supporters in their journey, Hasan said,“Well, the first thing is getting support for the idea and the second is the venue. For example Pushkar for the Sacred Festival, Jaipur for its exotic Amer fort for JLF, Varanasi for Kabir Fest. In case of Kabir we thought that Kabir is celebrated all over the world, but has not been celebrated in India enough, so approached corporates like Mahindra who came on board for the Mahindra Kabira Music Festival and the Theatre Festival. There has been a tremendous support from the government and tourism boards such as Rajasthan tourism which also supported in curating things around culture and pushing it to take beyond to international markets as well.”
When asked about the process of festival curation, Hasan said, “For us more than just curating, it is more of having a dialogue with the artists to tell them the act and see what more can be possibly done. We have this format for each of the festivals, wherein for each slot of the program, we have our wishlist of musicians, out of which some are available, some are not. Mostly all the established artists are very supportive and most of the time they are ready with their set of songs. We tell them the theme of the festivals and they send us their pieces and videos on it and that’s how we finalize them. From ‘Moralala’ who comes from Kutch to ‘Malini Awasthi’ and ‘Shubha Mudgal’ to ‘Daler Mehendi’ who curated his entire Sufi set singing Bulleh Shah at the Sacred Pushkar festival. All the artists are very supportive in incorporating their thoughts with the themes. While sometimes the artists also come up with brilliant ideas, so as to merge the theme suggesting a particular artist collaborate with them, which works very well. We also work with a lot of music institutes in India and outside India, who also suggest to us international artists for collaborative acts with them.”’
Talking about the time it takes to curate a show, “We keep 6 months locking period for a festival to decide on the final set of top 4 artists, and every year we try to give the platform to one young artist, who performs with one known artists on the same platform. We work with a whole community of artists be it veterans, young or independent.“
On providing an opportunity to newcomers, Hasan said,“In fact many young artists like Pavithra Chari who’s Shubha Mudgal’s disciple, Nirali Kartik with her solo set and her band ‘Maati Baani’ performed a collaboration, Aditi Ramesh, Anirudh Verma, Shruti Vishwanathan, Chinmayi Tripathi, Sonam Kalra and many more newcomers who have performed with us along with ‘The Revisit Project’ who started as paying tribute to Indian music through their shows.”
On transcending international boundaries popularising Indian genres, art, and artists he said,“We do 17 international festivals across the globe across Australia, London, USA, Singapore, Hongkong, Egypt, Turkey. We worked with Dr. L Subramaniam and showcased his Bharat Symphony in London where we collaborated with London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).We also do collaborative gala events to take Indian artists to collaborate with the artists of different countries wherever we travel, like we did a similar show at the London Opera House. While at the Sydney Opera House we did a 2-3 days’ workshop with South Australian artists which was followed by a gala event with around 250 musicians and 350 dancers along with the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. L Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sonam Kalra collaborated for the main show. We did a similar collaboration with the Sydney Philharmonic Choir as well.”
Explaining the idea behind the festival – ‘Sounds of Freedom’, “Well this is our dream project, which brings in artists who talk about the freedom of expression and other human rights. The festival basically talks about freedom of expression through music, lyrics, poetry, installations, and artists who believe in it. We got some Egyptian rappers who display their thoughts through their songs about the revolution in Egypt, as they performed on the streets. We got Sir Bob Geldof who collaborated with the Indian Ocean, Kailash Kher and musicians of Rajasthan like Chugge Khan. The idea was to spread the message that music has no boundaries, so we tried to express freedom through music and whoever performed presented their version of a freedom song. The festival was stopped for some time and we will revive it soon.”
When asked about contributing to social movements, Hasan said “We believe that ‘Art Connects Hearts’, so if you talk about any social subjects be it women empowerment, water preservation or Swachh Bharat Campaign, all of them have been very eagerly and comfortably given a message through music, for example, we are trying to work with the underprivileged folk musicians in Amritsar to do some workshops with them. Our festivals always support social causes like reducing plastic use, environment cleanliness and basic hygiene, which people are forgetting.”
Explaining the kahani behind Kahani festival,“So the idea behind Kahani is to bring back and relive the age-old art of storytelling that we heard from our grandmothers to our present generation, at the time when technology has taken over. We collaborated with storytellers, dancers, musicians, puppeteer’s, magicians, clay pottery makers and integrated them to create a dialogue and sessions about storytelling on current issues like reducing plastic use through puppet plays like ‘Small blue planet’. It aims to raise awareness about the environmental conservation, which is relevant to today’s youngsters.”
With Jaipur Literature Festival, and many literature festivals happening, how they have helped upcoming authors and writers, and also in generating demand for books in this digital age,”We started the literature festival 12 years ago to help people in the field of literature. The festival has numerous exciting activities for the literature community to participate like the ‘Book reading club’, ‘Young Book Awards’ and likes. Also, we started working with a lot of publication houses which revived overtime, who found JLF a great platform and also offered to bring young authors, like the Penguin, Harper, Yatra Books and many publications who came together and collaborated with us in some way of the other.”
“Eventually, we also partnered with many international organizations and libraries like the British Library where a literature festival is happening. The publications also started incorporating speakers to talk on many subjects ranging from women issues, IT, science, history, languages, along with concurrent issues on Indian and global politics, all have been picked up with a relevant subject, book, and a speaker. The need was to have a dialogue around the books and in the last 10-12 years people who had stopped reading books and had become digital savvy also have started purchasing and reading books after visiting JLF. Thus, all the great entities and energies have come together to create the Jaipur Literature Festival a success. We are now open to explore global boundaries and have expanded to America, Canada, London, and Dubai. Today, we have 114 literature festivals happening every year.”, he added.
Discussing live events and digital partnerships, “We do partner with digital partners as we feel that using technology will help us from reaching out to 10000 people on the ground in a live event to 10 million people globally, so that the content is basically, live with an amplification of the digital media which is the need of the hour. We do podcasts, live videos and we have partnered with digital mediums like Saavn too.”
Hasan concluded the talk with his experience at Music Inc. as a platform,”Well it is a great platform and an idea to create a dialogue between like-minded people, but I think we need to be more inclined towards what do we achieve out of it. Our topic ‘Music in Tourism‘ was very important as we need to have dialogues and build more properties around tourism and another way around, like to make tourism accessible to people to do music festivals around it, as we tried to do it with Varanasi and it worked very well for us.”
“I think we all need to put together a plan so that the whole music community needs to reach out to the government and the tourism boards collectively to present what exactly and where we want the government to help. They will be happy to help in any the state as far as my experience has been, like in case of JLF, the government itself came ahead to extend support and help us!” – Minhal Hasan