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Indian Artists Go Busking

Or try to at least. Musicians perform during rush-hour; public gigs to take place at Churchgate, Borivali and Bandra stations every week

Megha Mahindru Oct 08, 2012
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Brass Achaar performing at Churchgate station. Photo: Siddharth Dugha

This morning, Mumbai commuters rushing to work found a reason to pause. Folk rock artist, Neeraj Arya, and a group of Hindustani classical musicians including KK Singh on the tabla and vocalist Smit Dharia, seated close to the ticket counter at Churchgate station, were attempting busking for the first time.

The public performance, organized by National Streets for Performing Arts, a non-profit organization set up in June this year, hopes to reclaim public spaces for street performances. NSPA will organize similar public performances at Churchgate, Borivali and Bandra station every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday respectively. “We started work on this in June with a pilot gig at Churchgate featuring Jishnu ‘Shortround’ Guha, a licensed busker from UK. The founder, Ajit Dayal wanted to do this for a while”” bring independent, street art to Mumbai. So we approached multiple institutes, but when they weren’t sure, Ajit decided to jump into it on his own,” says Anisha George, Project Coordinator at NSPA.

However, unlike buskers in the West who show up with their instruments and a hat to collect the day’s earnings, these artists follows a no tipping rule. “It’s not as organic as busking. For now, we are hoping to introduce busking through our organization and pay the artist independently. Once we scale up, we will look at funding,” says George.

Imli Imchen

As office goers return home today, Churchgate will transform into a jam zone once again. Between 5.30 to 7.30 pm, singer-songwriter Imli Imchen will play an hour-long set followed by a performance by newly formed brass quartet, Brass Achaar. Comprising saxophonists Shirish Malhotra, Ryan Sadri (Something Relevant) and Amar Sukhi along with Ramon Ibrahim on the trombone, Brass Achaar will also feature guest performances by trumpeter Robin Fargose, Nakul Mehta on tenor sax and Aalok Padhya on the conga.  Like their varied music influences, their setlist too will feature everything from Bach to Stevie Wonder and Sting to even a bit of Bollywood classics. “I’ve always believed that our subways and skywalks are underutilized. These spaces are ideal for public performance arts. I was looking forward to putting together a brass band and it all came together at the perfect time. Unlike an acoustic guitar, brass is something that can’t be ignored. It works well in uncontrolled spaces like a train station and doesn’t struggle to be heard,” says Malhotra.

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While artists have always lamented the lack of public art in the city, there’s been little interest to bring performance art into the public space. George feels the answer lies in the problem itself. “Public performance needs public spaces and Mumbai has very few of them.” With NSPA, the idea is to organize gigs during rush hours (from 9 to 11 am and 5.30 to 7.30 pm) to “facilitate an open and stimulating interaction and turn the street space into a pulsating arena of synergy.”

Unlike popular conception, George insists that getting permissions was an easy task. “The Railway authorities were very supportive. They absolutely loved the idea.” The problem, however, came from local artists. It is no surprise in our country where the only street musicians are those found singing cringe-worthy covers on the local train, hoping to earn some loose change in exchange.  “A lot of artists were apprehensive to come on board since they found singing at a train station quite absurd,” says George.

However, she’s hopeful that all this will change once both audiences and artists understand the concept. George is happy with how passers by reacted to their show today. “Though it was office timing, people stopped by to listen to a track. They asked artists for their visiting cards and asked us why they were doing this,” she adds.

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National Streets for Performing Arts will organize gigs at Churchgate station on 8th October,  Borivali station on 10th October and Bandra station on 13th October.

For more information, log on to http://nspa.in



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