Inside an old East India Company warehouse-cum-gallery space in south Mumbai, the established New York- and New Delhi-based art contingent EnGendered recently hosted the long-awaited Mumbai premiere of their traveling, multimedia art tour “Resist”. The exhibition was a self-proclaimed “temporal art intervention and protest” about gender-based violence and discrimination. As a “survey exhibition”, the show brought together a diverse array of high-quality visual works from 27 established and emerging artists, as well as “live installations” featuring collaborations from some of India’s best-known designers and artists. In addition to the visual works, the exhibition’s opening also featured music performances from two Delhi-based bands, and poetry from notable poets and lyricists including the esteemed music lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar. Check it out:
Welcome back to the Koovagam mela, the annual meeting place for India’s transgender communities. The morning before the religious ceremonies (see Koovagam Part 1), one of three “Miss Koovagam” Beauty Pageants was in full force. Over 100 Transgenders, Aravanis, and Hijras of all ages and sizes participated in the pageant, which included dancing, strutting, speaking, and general fabulous-ing. For everyone’s enjoyment, a live band provided the contestants with Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood, and ___wood music for the three hours (or so) of the competition was held. Meet Gopi, the band’s ring-leader, Tamil playback singer S. Janaki reincarnate, who’s talent was hard not to notice. Incidentally, Gopi’s gender-bending “side attraction” got most of the attention that morning, earning praise from many of the performers who participated in the competition:
Tlokweng is a sandy town populated mostly by cattle, on the southeastern outskirts of Gaborone, along the border with South Africa. Nestled into one corner of this unassuming suburb is a creative playground called XLT Studios. Brimming with creative energy, XLT is a studio whose revolving door of local hip-hop legends, up-and-coming kwaito stars and friends who happen to find themselves in the neighborhood never seems to stop spinning.
XLT was founded seven years ago by a local producer who was given the moniker Grampa as a child, due to his propensity to play classical piano when all his friends in the kasi were listening to the radio hits of the time. He turned XLT from a concept into a reality upon his return to Botswana after attending Berklee College of Music in Boston and spending some years working as an engineer in the United States. XLT’s vision, for a larger than life creative space, was augmented shortly afterwards with the addition of B-Note, a Soweto transplant and self-taught pianist. Since then, it has worked with essentially every local artist I could name, and many more I could not, and continues to release quality material from its one-room/one-mic recording studio, behind Grampa’s house.
I love the idea that the most genuine art is free of expectation. Perhaps too much of a romantic myself, I believe art has the power to lift the veil of reality and reveal deeper truths underneath the surface, and that artists everywhere connect to a space of spiritual expression. I’ve been meeting musicians in Kosovo that feel these deep connections.
Shpat Deda, a self-taught and locally acclaimed singer-songwriter, is one example. His music is very genuine; his lyrics are often based on his own love and heartbreak. Kindred spirits, we discussed music in an interview. We talked about his work, being a Kosovo artist, and the blossoming underground music scene which includes jazz, punk, and hip-hop amongst other genres coming from original, often independent artists. These artists seem to have little air space on television and radio stations dominated by what some call a hyper-commercialized music industry (something that’s arguably a regional characteristic not specific to Kosovo alone). But Shpat’s music is pretty well known and adored, perhaps making him a creator that intuitively breached a mysterious and invisible threshold to the masses. I was curious to learn more about what he thought made his music relatable to a larger audience.
We additionally discussed a long-term, multi-collaborative idea for creating some type of music exchange between friends in Kosovo and friends in the US. Kosovo is the youngest democracy in Europe, having recently celebrated its 5th anniversary as a nation. Its population is literally composed of a majority of young people. How young people connect to the world and in what capacity they have the opportunity to do so is important, especially to developing, young nations. Deda elaborates on this a little more, while also sharing perhaps little known insights into the Albanian language, linguistically said to be one of the oldest in Europe.
Plus, he was kind enough to share some of his music with us. Enjoy!
Well, it’s that time again. Summertime. In most parts of India, summertime brings sunny, cloudless, yet humid weather with highs in the lower 100s and lows in the upper 80s. Yet, in spite of these unforgiving weather patterns, it also happens to be the time for one of India’s largest religious festivals, the Kuthandavar-Aravan Mela (aka Koovagam Festival), which takes place in a small town called Koovagam, located in the middle of Tamil Nadu, the southern-most state of India known for its exceptional heat. The mela (festival) is best known for its open inclusion of transgender participants. The festival annually attracts over 100,000 participants and observers, numbers that resemble, but hardly rival, the Kumbh Mela (the world’s largest religious festival which attracted about 15 million attendees in Allahabad during January and February of this year). Koovagam can be best described as a mini-Kumbh, whose participants engage in a series of rituals while visually reenacting a story in the Mahabharata, one of Hinduism’s most important texts. The following video is an interpretation of the story and account of the event from the perspective of a Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer named Taejha Singh Susheela. Highlighting the perspective of an observer, this video is one of two that illustrate and (silently) critique the participant/observer divide; My next blog entry will contain interpretations from Koovagam participants within the transgender communities. Here’s part one: