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Weaving Voices: A blend of music, theatre and design

Director Roysten Abel and the Bhoomija Trust team up for a musical production built around diverse voices, stagecraft and storytelling

The musicians who will be part of “Weaving Voices”

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The term ‘voice’ is like an ocean that I may take a lifetime to understand,” says “Bombay” Jayashri Ramnath, one of India’s best-known singers. For Jayashri, the voice isn’t simply a tool or a vocal instrument but a deep, broad term whose definition shapes and reshapes itself over a lifetime.

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This word, voice, became the fountainhead of the upcoming Weaving Voices, a blend of music, theatre and design, presented by the Bengaluru-based Bhoomija Trust and directed by playwright and director Roysten Abel. The production, which marks the Bhoomija Trust’s 10th year of existence, is centred around an amalgamation of diverse voices, including Jayashri’s, offering audiences “an immersive experience that has not been seen before,” promises Gayathri Krishna, the managing trustee of Bhoomija.

The idea of the show began with a casual conversation. Krishna, who has been following Abel’s work for nearly 15 years, says she had been asking him to do a show with Indian classical music anchored around vocals for ages. But Abel constantly evaded her requests, not seeing how he could take it forward. “I am not someone who has to do a production a year. Unless there is something I want to tell, I would rather not do it,” he says, adding, with a laugh, that Krishna never gave up on him. Her persistence finally paid off, and Abel agreed to speak to Bombay Jayashri over Zoom. It was on that call that inspiration struck. “She mentioned something about the journey of her voice and what it meant to her,” recalls Abel, adding that the word “voice” stayed with him because it is today in the forefront for many reasons, whether it is about losing, finding or stifling one’s voice. “I thought this was something we could play around with,” he says.

In a world where people find and keep to their own compartments so readily, Abel says that, for him, it was about finding the most different voices possible and seeing if they could journey together. “That was how the show was born,” he says, naming the diverse musicians who are part of this production: Bombay Jayashri, Uday Bhawalkar, M.D. Pallavi, Aditya Srinivasan, Apoorva Krishna, Rasika Shekar, Deu Khan Manganiyar and Sumesh Narayanan. “This blend of senior and junior (musicians) was intentional,” says Krishna, adding that Academy Award-winner Resul Pookutty has designed the soundscape of this production. “Sound is often misrepresented as noise,” says Pookutty. “The selective listening I have chosen in this piece is my emotional expression embedded within these collective voices.”

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The musicians started rehearsing together in June at Nrityagram, the dance village in Hesarghatta, near Bengaluru, established in 1990 by the late Protima Bedi. “For the first two days, I didn’t get them to play or sing anything,” recalls Abel. “We just got to know each other by discussing our work,” he says, adding that this progressed to them simply singing and listening to each other. After that first residential rehearsal, they went on a 10-day break, recalls Abel. “That was when I started thinking about how we should do it,” he says, adding that he began figuring out the ragas he wanted to use “from an emotional perspective, not a musical one”.

Actor, activist and musician M.D. Pallavi has fond memories of those residential rehearsals, which took place for 15 days every month at Nrityagram. “The process was very unusual. Musicians don’t get the luxury of time to spend with each other unless they are a band,” she says, adding that the actual creation process felt organic because of the comfort built during those rehearsals. “We were all living together, talking together, eating together, sitting together and singing,” she recalls. “That was important; to interact and be with each other, even before making music.”

The final production has multiple narratives embedded in it, explains Abel. There is the actual musical narrative, which is arranged like a Dhrupad performance; the personal narratives of each musician’s individual musical journey, which will unfurl on eight LED screens placed on the stage; and an emotional narrative done through Pookutty’s soundscapes. “I have brought it all together theatrically because that is the only way I know,” he says. Krishna adds that Abel’s “mastery over storytelling” and “the exquisite music by extraordinary musicians” make the show what it is. “This goes to show how open artists are to collaboration and innovation,” she says. “What Roy has been able to pull together with this diverse group is simply unbelievable.”

Weaving Voices will be held on 21 and 22 October at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bengaluru, over three shows. Tickets are available at www.bookmyshow.com. For further details, mail contact@bhoomija.org.

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