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Gig Preview: ‘Salaam Soli’ – A Jazz Tribute

New Delhi-based non-profit cultural organization Kaladharmi has organized an online event on March 5th and 6th to pay homage to the late Soli Sorabjee

David Britto Mar 03, 2022

Artists (clockwise from top) Adrian D'Souza, Vinay Kaushal, Sonia Saigal, Rahul Wadhwani and more are on the bill for Salaam Soli. Photos: Courtesy of the artists

While the late Padma Vibhushan awardee Soli Sorabjee – who passed away last year at 91 – was known as one of India’s most distinguished lawyers, he was also quite well known as a jazz aficionado. Sorabjee was the first president of the Jazz India Association which started the famous Jazz Yatra shows in the Seventies. Now, to honor Sorabjee as well as his love for jazz, New Delhi-based non-profit cultural organization Kaladharmi has put together an online event called Salaam Soli on March 5th and 6th, with a stellar lineup of musicians.

The artists scheduled to perform include the likes of guitarists Vinay Kaushal and Sanjay Divecha, drummers Shreyas Iyengar and Adrian D’Souza, pianist Rahul Wadhwani as well as singers Pratika Gopinath and Sonia Saigal among other musicians. Spread across three sets over the two days, each performance – shot by filmmaker Yudhajit Basu – will run for 30 minutes.

We caught up with Kaladharmi’s mother-daughter duo Rita Ganguly and Meghna Kothari, as well as former Rolling Stone India editor Lalitha Suhasini (who helped curate the lineup) and discussed how they went about putting together Salaam Soli. Read excerpts:

Ms. Ganguly, I’m aware it was you who conceptualized Salaam Soli. I would like to know how Kaladharmi decided on paying homage to Mr. Soli Sorabjee this year?

Ganguly: You see, after the COVID period, it was very bad for us. We finished all the major activities of promoting youngsters. In our country, it’s important to not just work hard on your technique or your work but also, you must get promoted. It’s not possible for youngsters to sell among themselves. There are people who helped youngsters and we should remember them and show our gratitude. I thought that this time Soli needs to be celebrated and that we should pay our respect to him through this and get some of the most upstanding artists who have been personally associated, some of them with Soli, so they know their contribution.

Lalitha, you helped curate the lineup for this festival. How did you go about choosing the artists who’d play at this event?

Suhasini: The one thing that I thought was important to mention here is that no one understands the nuances of artistry, and the trials that an artist goes through to not only create art, but to find a platform for it better than an artist. Rita ji, in that sense this event Salaam Soli, is unique because she is an artist and she is driving this event, so that I felt was important to put out.

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So when she reached out to me, I was honored and it was a great opportunity. During the pandemic, we saw Instagram lives of so many artists, whether it was indie-pop, whether it was rock, whether it was fusion, but there was not a peep about jazz. So when an event like Salaam Soli was being planned, it was easy to think of these names because these are some of the finest artists in jazz in the country today. Adrian (D’Souza), of course, I have watched him perform decades ago in Bombay. Vinay (Kaushal) is from Pune and I have watched him perform as a trio and, of course, Sonia Saigal I have also watched at a Jazz Yatra in Mumbai. I think my part was not as tough, I was just connecting the dots and I was super happy to do so. Meghna and Rita ji were the ones who were really sort of pushing this to ensure that everything happened on time and it got shot, artists were contacted, all of those things.

Meghna, we’ve been in this world of online gigs for over two years. So, from an organizer’s point of view, what were some of the logistics that had to come together to make this even happen?

Kothari: Ever since I was born, I’ve been watching my mother do this work of Kaladharmi, which is completely selfless work. Ma with her style, she’s always got the best, but now is the time as an organizer, the organization has to move on to the newer mediums of events. Even though nothing can replace a live performance, we have to expand to online where the reach is more now. So, I think for me to do this, this is the first time and I thought it is extremely important that Kaladharmi’s work also goes into the digital world and is accessible to everyone and that is what my challenge is and I hope it all goes well. We are very happy to be starting with this.

Suhasini: Meghna put this whole thing together within a matter of a month. We started ideating about it roughly in January, February things started rolling because we realized it was Soli Sorabjee’s birthday on March 9th. Kudos to her for having pulled this off.

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Ms. Ganguly, I was made aware that you knew Mr. Sorabjee well. What are some of your fondest memories of him?

Ganguly: I used to sing very often in many programs at IIC (India International Centre). So, invariably you can be rest assured at the end of the program he’s there. He would say to me, ‘I like your voice. You should be in jazz performances.’ I was very scared and said, ‘I can do only what I know [laughs].’ It was great fun, it was really grand.

For folks tuning into the event, what can you tell them to expect and also what do you hope that they take away from it?

Suhasini: I think there is a huge following if platforms exist. Now that the internet and pandemic have changed things around, hopefully, the following for jazz is going to be bigger. It’s not as if 300 people are attending a jazz concert. I’m hoping that people from across the world will be able to look at this and understand that we have some of the finest artists in our country. Takeaways would be to encourage everyone to platform jazz. We have upcoming artists who need support and if they look at what Kaladharmi is doing and follow cue, that would be great. Now that venues are up and running, I’ve been talking to jazz artists who tell me that it’s been really hard. It’s been hard for rock musicians as well, but for jazz it’s been even harder. So, I’m hoping that this is what people will take away that we have some of the finest jazz artists in the country.

Now that Kaladharmi is heading more into the digital world, what plans do you have for the organization to grow further?

Kothari: One main thing is I want to make Salaam Soli an annual event. Learning from this, I will see how we can shoot our other events and how that can be done better. In today’s time everyone expects a finished product with lighting, a multi-camera setup and an edit of the event, I’ll try next time to have all that on board because people have gotten used to that. I’m hoping to improve every time and every year. I have to digitize the previous content that I have too. 

Click here to subscribe to Kaladharmi’s YouTube channel to watch Salaam Soli.

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