Q&A: Jaipur Lit Fest Organizer Sanjoy Roy On His New Festival, Bob Geldof And His Favorite Indian Bands
The Sounds of Freedom, which takes place in Gurgaon this month, includes performances by activist-musician Bob Geldof, Malayalam rock band Avial, pop rock band Kailasa and more
Starting off in 1989, Sanjoy Roy founded TeamWork productions to organize Friends of Music, an annual event to promote music in Delhi. Friends of Music completed 25 years on February 2nd and featuring performances by singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, alt rock band Menwhopause and Latin flamenco band Negra Pradera, among others. Says Roy, “It started informally in our home and grew to where it is today. It led to creation of groups like Mrigya. After Friends of Freedom, we did theater shows but in the late Nineties, we realized there were no tours and no events to showcase them.”
Roy and TeamWork now organize literature festivals such as The Hay Festival and the Jaipur Literature Festival and take another step into the world of music festivals with the Sounds of Freedom, which takes place on February 23rd in Gurgaon. The day-long event will include performances by Irish activist-musician Bob Geldof and the Band, Malayalam rock band Avial, dub/ska act The Ska Vengers, pop rock band Kailasa and folk singer-songwriter Winit Tikoo, among others.
What was the idea behind getting someone like Bob Geldof to headline the Sounds of Freedom Festival?
Sanjoy Roy: We wanted to populate the general perception that freedom of expression is something that’s critical for the development of any society and take forward that expression of interest. That led to the whole issue of creating a different platform to appeal to young people who would in turn bring about change. In a sense, historically, Bob sort of represents that particular movement in the Eighties and Nineties. He had set that historical precedent.
There have been at least 20 festivals across India in the last year. What makes the Sounds of Freedom festival different?
We’re going to have stories of people who have been able to fight for their different freedoms. They’re going to be there, through the festival, [to] give people something to take back and think about. As a lead up to it, for the last four months we’ve been doing workshops across universities and schools, primarily in Delhi, which looks at the issue of freedom. We get them to come up with their own songs of freedom through these workshops, among other things. The concert itself epitomizes the issue of freedom and how we’ll be able to sign up people to volunteer to fight for these issues.
Over the next few years, it won’t just be restricted to Delhi, we’ll take it to a number of cities and get people to buy into the issue of freedom. For us, it’s really important ”“ we have a number of well-publicized cases in the country when it comes to freedom of expression.
You also organize the Jaipur Literature Festival. How do you program music for a festival that’s not really about music?
The funny thing is that a couple of years ago, The Guardian listed the Jaipur Literature Festival as being one of the 10 best world music festivals. But for us, it’s about the holistic experience. We start with music right in the morning, from the first day. Last year, the theme was Buddhism, this year it was women. We don’t see music as a stand-alone element. Music, at the end of the day, with lyrics, raise an involvement in every sense of the word out of all the other arts. I know a lot of people will break it down and say, ”˜Oh, this is a theater festival’ or ”˜Oh, this is a literature festival’, but it really is a experiential festival. Music has the sense of celebration and ”˜the other’ kind of music ”“ not populist genres but more like world music.
Do you think there are too many festivals now? An increasing amount of people just attend festivals to be seen.
Let me give you an example ”“ if you look at the UK, where every town has a literature festival of its own. There is an incredible need for this kind of dialog. In India, especially. I remember last year we [Jaipur Literature Festival] got in a lot of trouble when [theorist] Ashis Nandy was not allowed to leave the city. In retrospect, I kept thinking, ”˜Why have we become the focus of solving all the problems of society?’ The problem is that we do not have enough platforms to share or voice our opinions and ideas. It’s really about the ideas.
One of the successes of the Jaipur Literature Festival and the reason it grows larger and larger is because we have people’s experiences. It’s not just didactic experiences and listening to someone’s speech being delivered across television.
My opinion is, ”˜The more the merrier’. Even with music, India is vast and has some kind of talent ”“ after all it’s some billion people. In India, the arts are alive and kicking not because it’s subsidized but because it’s part of our system from the time we’re born until the time we die. That’s why the more platforms we’re able to have the much more we’ll have the potential of creating an opportunity for the incredible wealth of talent we have across the country. It’s imperative that every A, B, C, D, E town has a festival of its own. Even if you look at the Ram Leela or the Ganesh festivals ”“ they happen in every corner of the country. There are these opportunities, so why not with the mainstream arts?
A lot of the festivals end up choosing the same speakers, writers and musicians to be at their event, though. Wouldn’t fatigue set in with that kind of repetition?
Even if you have the same acts ”“ if you look at the themes and have the right performers, it’s different. A performance in a marble palace in Rajasthan or a festival in Kolkata is infinitely different from doing something at Shanmukhananda Hall in Bombay or a bar in Chennai. It reaches out to different kind of people. Any kind of art is a product, with a minimal shelf life. If you’re able to buy a ticket for that particular product, it’s fine otherwise it lapses.
When it comes to literature and music festivals, it’s a larger process. Where the product doesn’t work, it falls by the wayside. If it’s not working, it’ll stop, or it will be contained. Organizations such as SPIC MACAY [Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth] have brought back and popularized [Indian] classical music to some extent. The movement of indie bands, clubs and pubs today has created a whole new environment. In the Eighties, there was only Friends of Music in Delhi. But now there are hundreds of concerts. You can’t stop people from going to clubs or an Indian Ocean concert. Sixteen years ago, it was a whole issue. I still remember the first year we presented Indian Ocean in Edinburgh, there were 25 people. It took time to bring people in. It was also about education and creating an audience for different kinds of music.
Speaking of Indian Ocean, you mentioned in one of your interviews that Kandisa was one of your favorite albums.
Desert Rain, actually. Desert Rain was one of my favorite albums.
All right, which Indian bands are your favorites right now?
There are a huge number of Indian rock bands now, yaar. There are The Saxophone Sisters ”“ don’t ask me their actual names, because I don’t remember them completely. There’s Advaita, who are doing interesting work. In the non-Bollywood space, people like Indian Ocean, Kailash Kher and Mrigya. There’s something really interesting with them. There’s this bong band called Tritha ”“ they are quite brilliant. Some of the collaborations that Susheela Raman has done with Shlomo ”“ really interesting.
Sounds of Freedom 2014 lineup
Bob Geldof And The Band
Kailash Kher And Kailasa
Sonam Kalra And The Sufi Gospel
Rewben Mashangva And The Band
Saurav Moni And The Band
The Saxophone Sisters
The Ska Vengers
V. Selvaganesh And Vikku Vinayakram
Vinay And Charul
Sounds of Freedom Festival takes place on February 23rd, 2014, 2 pm onwards at HUDA Grounds, Sector 29, Gurgaon. Entry: Rs 500 (under 25 years of age), Rs 750 (general entry). Tickets available here.