“Develop a unique look at things. Do not try to copy others, because that won’t work”

Recently Dutch photographer Marjan Versluijs- Helder  had an exhibition of her work at the Chitrakoot Art Gallery, Kolkata. The title of the exhibition was 'the Netherlands meet India'. Pictures taken in India was combined with pictures expressing the same theme, taken in the Netherlands.. Indian pictures were taken in December 2009 in and around Kolkata. Dutch pictures in the Netherlands on different locations (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Vianen and others). Thus showing a come together of India and the Netherlands.

What motivated you to do this exhibition?

Six years ago I fell in love with Kolkata. That feeling is, after my second visit, even more intensified. I have made new friends, spoken to a lot of interested people that visited my exhibition. That made my second visit to Kolkata unforgettable. I have visited a lot of countries on different continents. None of these is as lively as Kolkata.

What major differences do you observe between Netherlands and Kolkata?

In the streets in Kolkata, there is more chaos than in my hometown where everything very organized: every participant in the traffic has his/her own lane: bus, car, tram, bike. As a result of that, a damaged car in the Netherlands is an exception. That is very obvious. Another thing is the density of people: in the whole of the Netherlands are the same amounts of people living as in Kolkata: 18 million. That leads to major problems for you, for instance air pollution. In the exhibition I had a picture of sunset in the Netherlands, where a clear blue sky with just a touch of an orange sun was to be seen. One of the visitors told me: that cannot be seen in Kolkata because of pollution. And indeed my observations confirm that: it is always misty in Kolkata.

How do you describe yourself as a photographer?

I try to keep my mind open for all sorts of impressions. Everything is worth to be photographed. The question is how, when and where. How:  Depending on the subject there might be a need for high contrast, or just a moderate contrast. Is there a lot of movement in the scene, then that should be visible in the picture. So before hitting the button, I try to feel the essence of my subject/location. When: Sometimes I feel that I need another season to express the essentials of, for instance, a landscape. It is also important to keep an eye on what time of the day is best in relation to the sun(direction of the light) position.Where : The position of the photographer in relation to the subject is important. Is it better to climb up or to bend your knees? Do not choose a spot where everybody else is taking pictures. In my opinion the picture should already be present in your head before hitting the release button. That does not mean that I want to make posed pictures. I don’t want people to pose for me. I prefer ‘natural’ pictures.

What according to you is a good photograph?

A good photograph should express the idea of the photographer. Photographs without an underlying idea are not found interesting to others. The skills of the photographer are determinative for this.

Do you think there is such a thing as someone really having a“natural eye” for photography?

That would be the same thing is falling in love on first sight. I don’t believe in that either. What you can do is develop a way of looking that can result in interesting photographs. That is a long process of years where you have to be very critical on what you make. Also by looking at pictures of others you can learn a lot. It is the details that count. You can develop a way of looking that is very personal, and expresses the kind of person you are. By showing your pictures to others, you are also showing yourself, your ideas of what is important in life. That also means that the way a person is photographing changes with time. I am not taking the same kind of images that I took 10 years ago. I play much more with shutter speed and depth of field nowadays.

Digital, SLR's have been selling like hotcakes as more and more people, especially youngsters turn hobby photographers. What are your comments?

I would say that everybody should do as he/she likes. If you take pictures to remember certain places you went to, or how nice it was with your friends, that’s OK. It all comes down to the purpose of the pictures.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers worldwide?

Develop a unique look at things. Do not try to copy others, because that won’t work. Stay close to yourself.


Healing through Nada Yoga

Indian classical music creating waves in the west is nothing new. Besides many western musicians are known to have got inspired from Indian classical music from maestros in India. Many westerners have come to learn the nuances of Indian classical music. On the one hand, the music tastes of younger Indians are shifting towards western music, while on the other the Indian diaspora as well as westerners are increasingly becoming interested in Indian classical music. It’s this shift that has given rise to a number of interesting trends. For instance Shivam Rath from Australia .  Shivam Rath is using Nada Yoga to heal people and spreading the message of peace and harmony through his music.

So what brought him to India? “My interest in yoga brought me to India. I went to yoga ashrams in Bihar. I also had another purpose of coming to India. My father told me to visit India as he had learned tabla for two years in banaras from Pt. Chhote Lal Misra, world renowned table maestro of Banaras gharana. My father was very serious about learning tabla and could speak Hindi and Sanskrit. That’s the reason I received the my name “ Shivam”. I met Pt Mishra and was very impressed by his character. I was eager to learn tabla and to my delight he agreed to teach me. It was a big gift for me! I was basically a guitar player and singer-songwriter. So I wanted to learn Indian stringed instrument as well. Pt Mishra recommended me to go to Pt. Shivnath Bhattacharya ,maestro of slide guitar. So, I was learning tabla and the slide guitar at the same time.   Once I was travelling from Kolkata and got stuck up in the airport due to some visa problems. I was not allowed to leave the country for three weeks. I wanted to utilize this time learning. I was recommended to Pt Debashish Bhattacharya renowned Indian slide guitar player from kolkata. So I started learning from him."

Nada Yoga means "union through sound," the ancient spiritual art and science of inner transformation through sound and tone. Meditation on sound is one universal path to Self Realization. Humans in ancient societies used music and sound as a means to attain spiritual healing. They used music and sound to also heal the body of certain mental and physical illnesses. As Shivam feels, “I believe music has the power to heal not just physically but heal our emotions. It can heal our spirits and uplift us on many levels, many layers like the koshana of the body. I believe that music, sound and vibration is some of the most powerful energy we can use to connect to each other and harmonize with each other.”

Indian Classical Music is revered for being both difficult to learn and practice. How much challenging was it for Shivam? Shivam says, “When I began learning the music, I never really thought how difficult it was.  I never thought how much time and energy and sacrifice it would take. Just I treated it like a saadhana like a meditation.  I just enjoyed every moment of the practice.”

When asked to share his experiences in learning as well as practicing this art, Shivam says, “In Indian classical music there is still a lot of ego involved. Just as the saying goes- the higher you climb, the easy you fall. It’s the same process.  Many people in the spiritual field develop very big ego without realizing it.  Same goes in the case of yoga. In the west, many people practice yoga for the body. Many great maestros are not necessarily a spiritual person.  It’s a very difficult balance to find the devotion in the practice. That’s the challenge that is perpetual. It’s a challenge that will always be.  You have to balance heart with the mind.”

Shivam is collaborating with Japanese vocalist Mico Sundari .Shivam elaborates “We are trying to harmonize our music together for the purpose of sharing and healing and to show people in the world how much music can open up our hearts. It’s a direct connection between heart to heart. We can use music to invoke that connection and also an offering towards the divine and spiritual connection.”
Shivam adds, “It’s a very simple and powerful tool of connecting emotion and opening hearts . The more we can open our selves and allow music to be a pure expression of  our hearts , inherent knowledge and truth , more humanity can come together and find peace and harmony with each other. I believe that music is such a deep refection of who we are. In some of our future projects we hope to share not only Indian classical music but music of all different cultures that blending and harmony of that purity of music between the different cultures. Its sharing of different music and ideas.”

His word of advice for aspiring musicians? “Treat the music with devotion. Treat it as a saadhana . Treat it as a privilege because it is a great form of knowledge." signs off Shivam.

The essence of Sufism can never be destroyed, though its popularity certainly can add 'noise in the signal'

The American Sufi Project was started by a group of artists and seekers who meet at the weekly gatherings for Zikr (remembrance of God) at the Dergah-Al-Farah in New York City. The intention of this project is to transmit through music and art, a taste of the divine love and interconnectedness that they have felt participating in these spiritual and musical practices. Recently they performed here at the SUFI SUTRA. The core members of the group are- Dan Kurfirst, Tomchess, and Gabriel Marin while John Ferrara, Jeff Maan and Maura Tousignant performed as guest artists.

How did you come up with the idea of The American Sufi Project?

Gabriel Marin: Basically Sharib Khan came to the Dergah al-Farah in NYC, where me and Dan (percussionist) are dervishes and perform music during a part of the Zhikr. He expressed that we should record this music so people outside of the Sufi sphere could hear it. Dan plays with Tomchess, who I have been a fan of for a while, so, the three of us played together and it was beautiful. The sound of the fretless guitar and Ney blended so amazingly and fir perfectly with Ottoman Sufi repertoire we wanted to explore. Then to add an element of American music, John and Jeff who I play with in Consider the Source were added to round out the rhythm section.

How does the Western world perceive Sufism and Rumi?

Tomchess: The western perception of Sufism runs the full spectrum from those who understand its essence and function and history as a spiritual practice, even joining Sufi orders and attending Zikher, to those mystified by it as well as those leery of it mainly through it being associated with Islam's modern 'image challenge'. Rumi is known mainly through his poetry and again people understand it on both a superficial level like simple love poetry and this could very well be the majority, to many who understand it's deeper meanings and messages. The Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes are likely the most well known in general yet many who know of them don't really know about them specifically as Sufi or even make the connection with Rumi. Hazrat Inyat Khan is known by many who do have more extensive understanding or are artists and musicians. But I feel the USA in general is searching for a deeper understanding of what life is and can be; more meaningful, truly human, kind and truly connected. The USA a young country so these are baby steps and certainly this is a process with many current and future challenges. Definitely the mainstream media doesn't foreground this or it treats it in an orientalist type of way.

What is it about Sufi music that transcends boundaries?

Tomchess: Sufi music by definition is music in the service of transcending the boundaries within ourselves i.e. the ego.  So naturally this quality manifests in the outside world as well. It's focus on the underlying unity of all things + specifically evoking positive qualities coupled with ancient musical techniques such as repetition, modulation, chant and vibration create vehicles that inherently serve this purpose.

There has been an overload of the term “Sufi” in India in the recent times — Sufi-Rock, Sufi-Kathak, Sufi-Bollywood, Sufi-Festivals at the big metros. We're seeing considerable fusion being applied to traditional music forms now — what are your views on this trend?

Gabriel Marin: I have mixed feelings on it honestly. For the musicians, at least some of the members of the group should formally be Dervishes walking the Sufi path under the guidance of a Tariqa. And musically, the songs and style should have at least some root in a Sufi style, be it Qawwali or Illahi's or whatnot. Sufism is an inclusive spiritual path, but it is not without rules and guidelines, so one should treat that with respect and not use the word just to denote spiritualism in general. To use us as an example, we treat everything from the Microtonal aspects of the melodies to the way Maura( our dancer) presented herself with a full level of respect, and when we step outside of the guideline of the tradition musically, it’s not in a way that would be at odd with Sufi values. I think as long as it’s done with proper knowledge and respect for the tradition it can be a beautiful thing.

Rumi and the Sufi tradition gained enormous popularity especially during the last few years. Do you think this amount of popularity could destroy their essence?

Tomchess: The essence of Sufism can never be destroyed, though its popularity certainly can add 'noise in the signal'. But Sufism has had many challenges throughout its history. So again its inherent nature and purpose allows it to maintain its essence because it creates vehicles specifically to offset the noise created by ego and the world's 'noise'.

How was your experience performing at the Sufi Sutra?

Gabriel Marin: It was one of the most positive touring experiences of my life. The crowds at the shows and workshops were both amazing and attentive. They seemed so open to the various styles being presented to them and seemed to be there to really listen and engage the music and musicians in an open minded way. Also, being around all these musicians from different backgrounds and different languages and cultures for two weeks was such a joy. Everyone, and i really mean everyone seemed to get along beautifully. There were amazing jams in the hotels, people all eating together and hanging out. It really showed how we are truly all one people. And Amitava who organized the fest was a truly inspiring person to be around, with all that he does to help the less fortunate members of society and the organizational ability to make sure eighty something musicians were all always on time and in the right place. Honestly, it was a joy to be able to feel like something bigger than ourselves, that what we all were doing transcended playing normal shows and can hopefully be a small part of a greater change in society.

Tomchess: Personally I really enjoyed SufiSutra. I thought Amitava did an excellent job of organizing as well as creating a great spirit of connectedness, kindness and unity completely in line with a sufi spirit. The other artists were talented and dedicated and it shone through the music. Everyone I met was kind and helpful and I felt honored to be among them. This was my first time in India too, so I will definitely hope to return and I would like to express my gratitude for all of it.


Physical theatre gives voice to workers anguish

The Italian Cultural Institute – New Delhi & Mumbai and the Arshinagar Project performed Made In Ilva by Instabili Vaganti in Kolkata. The act is a masterpiece of physical theatre exploring the impact of the biggest steelworks in Europe on the environment and surrounding population. From an original script based on real life testimonies and poems from the workers at the Ilva steel plant which had caused severe damage to the environment by emitting toxic gases and causing deaths from cancer and leukemia.This theatrical performance has been bestowed with several awards such as 2013 Critics Award in Ermo Colle 2013, ward Cassino OFF Theatres of Life and 2012 Total Theatre Award Nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Nicola Pianzola and Anna Dora Dorno before their show .

Why do you think theatre is the bphotosy to convey the ills of modern/industrialized Eurpoe?

I think theatre is a complete art in the sense that can join different artistic forms and establish a stronger communication with the spectator because the channel of this communication is a living body. In this way theatre has a great responsibility of intervention on the society dynamics and in our case on the industrialized and globalized Western world. In our theatre we search for new ways and possibilities of human expression through the performer work, we work on our esthetics and poetics, looking for the beauty of art, but at the same time we deal with social issues because we feel the urgency to say our opinion, to take our position through our artistic identity and our role of artists in this society. Being supported by Italian Institutions in this tournée in India with a performance such MADE IN ILVA is showing that in our country we have the freedom to talk of delicate and dangerous topics in order to attract the attention on them and to start to think to a solution.  

You have won many awards with this piece. Is it the subject matter or the dance that is the most compelling?

When we read the motivations attached to the awards won, what emerge is that the perfect combination of artistic quality and civil commitment was the most convincing element or the Jury of experts and critics. Theatre is social itself as it is a precious possibility of expression for the human being, a way to talk through art, to start from the ugliness of such a matter and reach the beauty of arts through a cathartic journey were the spectator is driven. So I would say that is the right measure through which all the elements and aspects of the performance are dialoging together. The simple and direct words of the workers with the poetic texts, the softness of a female voice with the rude orders, the cold setting with the warm living body of the performer, the social message with the poetics and the esthetics of arts. 

Is social justice in theatre gaining a resurgence?

Somehow yes. Theatre is one of the less censored and controlled mean of communication in a mass media world where we are bombarded by news, amplified by the use of social networks, a new channel where many new revolutions where passing through. Theatre is able to recreate a community that can meet and discuss on social issues and problems. Especially in our new piece DESAPARECIDOS#43 about the 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, we are exploring this power of theatre of asking for justice.

How did this go from an idea to a produced, touring art piece?

In 2010 we started to work on these materials and to create the performance thanks to an artistic residency prize that was opening for us a long series of national and international awards. At that time no body in Italy was talking about ILVA problems and the people barely know about the terrible situation the workers and the inhabitants of Toronto were living. We have received many political pressures and censorship in our country but finally the high level of the artistic work brought the show to be represented more and more, first in Italy, then in Sweden, in Spain, in Iran, and at the Edinburgh Fringe were MADE IN ILVA exploded like a bomb bouncing the ILVA case all over the world. In 2012 while we were for the first time representing the show abroad, in Stockholm, the scandal of ILVA was brought to the attention of the media generating a series of strikes and protests in Toronto and Italy. So in the exact moment the scandal of ILVA emerged our show was ready to tour. We felt we were anticipating the destiny of this case and somehow provoked the rebellion against unacceptable conditions of work in ILVA.

What should young people in Kolkata know about giving their justice concerns voice through theatre?

As I was saying, even if we found resistances and tendencies of censoring our piece, we are basically in a country where is possible to express your ideas through arts. I guess that in India the situation could be different. But basically we should abandon the idea that theatre is only something traditional that should be respected and reproduced as it is or simply a form of entertainment and start to put our thoughts, worries, fears, dreams in the theatre we are searching for. Is a question of being brave and choose a way that is not easy at all. Is a way going deep, questioning our identity and our role in the society we are living. It is a process that lead to create new form of dramaturgy and original texts and to put in the poetic act of the performer something belonging to our life, history. To be here and now. To be a man of action.(All photos courtesy - Amlan Biswas)


“Dance, like life, is fleeting from moment to moment”-Dam Van Huynh.

Originally from Southern Vietnam, Dam Van Huynh is a UK based dancer/choreographer. As a child refugee, his family and he fled Vietnam after the war and settled in the USA where Dam was raised. He founded his own company in 2008, Van Huynh Company. From the very beginning, his work was distinctive and reflected his deep interest in redefining the body and its movement capability. As a dancer, he has worked with The Nevada Ballet, Merce Cunningham, Richard Alston, CeDeCe and Phoenix Dance Theatre. He was a Place Prize finalist and a Resident Artist at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He is currently Associate Artist with Dance United and supported by Arts Council England, Step Out Arts, Plymouth University and Déda. Dam led a three week intensive research in Kolkata with local artists resulting in a new creation. This new work was presented as part of Dance Bridges Festival at Kala Mandir Auditorium.Van Huynh Company also performed two works from the repertoire.

pic courtesy - www.damvanhuynh.com
Walk me through the steps that take a piece from your imagination to the stage.

All my works begin with the artist and my self within the space. I believe a work already exist within a space between the collaborators. My job is to pull everything out into the open, then remove the elements that don't belong. Whatever is left, regardless of whether I feel it is good or not, must be the honest reveal of where each collaborating artist is in their lives. Almost in a therapeutic process, I ask that the dancers participating in my creation leave everything out in the open: the good, the bad and the scary. I personally prefer dancers as they are without any pretense of being anything else. That is to say, it is okay for me if you have challenges within your life. I don’t wish for a dancer to pretend that everything is perfect. All I ask is that the energy be channeled through the work. This keeps everything real, honest and raw.

pic courtesy - www.damvanhuynh.com
How many people are there backstage in a typical performance? (lights, sound, props)

Each production is unique in terms of its technical support. A standard production will always have a stage/technical manager who is often support by 1 or 2 stage crew members. A sound engineer will also be included for most premieres to ensure high standard of sound quality. The lighting designer will often be present for the premiere of the work after which time all the technical aspects of lighting will be pass on wards to the technical manager. Equally, there will often be myself as the choreographer/Artistic Director and a rehearsal director who will take notes at every performance to be delivered to the performers the following day.

How does dance differ from other arts (music, painting, sculpture) to create an emotional experience?

Dance, like life, is fleeting from moment to moment. You aren’t able to touch it; because it dissipates as fast as it materialises, you can’t contain it in a box to be treasured later. Once the experience has happened both performer and audience members are left affected by its fleeting memory and only retain an imprint of the experience.

pic courtesy - www.damvanhuynh.com
Many people love to dance. How is free-form dancing different from choreographic dance?

I think for me the major difference between free-form dance and choreographic dance is the way it is framed and shared amongst people. Choreographic dance requires the final element of audience in order to complete its process whilst free-form dance needs neither such context nor final element in order to exist.

If someone wants a career in dance, say a teen, where should they start (what are the basics?)

When a young dancer (a teen) is beginning his/her development in dance, my best advise would be to take as many dance classes as possible. Engage with as much experiences both on the stage and in the studio as possible. The most important thing about starting a career development in dance is to ignite the passion and hunger for the art form. It is with this sense of passion that will be a young dance artist greatest tool for development through the demands and rigors of dance training.


“ By making room for others in your music you will find a great deal of space for your own growth and expansion. “ - Daniel Shane Thomas

Daniel's first employment in the entertainment business was at Tulsa Oklahoma's rock radio station, KMOD.  His mother was employed at the station as the accountant and this afforded him the opportunity for part time employment during summer months.   

The importance of this first job in setting Daniel's professional trajectory cannot be overstated.  It was here that he was first exposed to professional studios, the business of music promotion, and many industry professionals.  In fact, it was the Technical Director at the radio station who gave Daniel his very first mixing desk, a dysfunctional dusty relic from the 1940's that featured giant knobs and crackling tubes- not one channel of the mixer would pass a signal to the output buss.  But this mattered little to Daniel who went to work in his mother’s garage trying to repair the beast.  A passion was born. 

An affiliation to the local rock radio station had a special meaning for a young person- it meant that Daniel had tickets, excellent seats, often in the front row or, with backstage passes, for nearly every touring band that visited Oklahoma. From a young age, Daniel enjoyed an extraordinary access to many levels of the entertainment industry in his home state.
Many of the staff at KMOD were also residents at Tulsa's American Theater Company where Daniel also served as an intern and was eventually employed as a member of the company.  Similarly, these same creative teams introduced Daniel to Tulsa's recording studios, including Leon Russell's famed Church Studio, where Daniel held a studio internship.  
In this rich creative context, Daniel found no shortage of opportunities to develop artistry.  He learned stagecraft under the guidance of world-class set designers and stage managers.  He acted, sang and danced with commissioned directors, he mixed monitors and front of house for touring rock acts, and understudied for seasoned musicians in house bands. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to him on the sidelines of India International Guitar Festival 2016.

What are some of the biggest differences you’ve seen in this business?  
Musicianship demands a great deal of its practitioners.  It is a holistic and fundamentally spiritual pursuit;  beyond career, beyond craft. Musicianship is not a free ride or a boondoggle.   On the contrary, musicianship demands the highest degree of devotion, self-discipline and humility and she rewards these efforts with spiritual and communal connection beyond measure.  The skills which musicians develop are applicable in all aspects of our lives.  So, I find it ironic that professional musicians are so often depicted as contributing little of value in society at large.    

There’s a lot of talk about how you can’t just be a musician today in the business – you have to also be a businessman, manage your social media, build your brand etc. What is your view on this? 

Regardless of career path (musician doctor lawyer stage grip trashman what ever) , we each have opportunity for renaissance in our work life.   Diversifying of role is not a dilution of skill / ability -  rather, it is the focusing of core skills which inform all other efforts.  For instance,  young musicians who devote themselves to mastering the craft of their instrument are also devoting themselves to the craft of learning itself, and to the craft of listening better, and to the craft of honest self assessment.  All of these skills are universally applicable - it is in this way that a singular focus (like musicianship) can develop the universal principles which foster a diversity of capacities.  This is necessary in all careers, not just music.         

Talking about building a career in music industry, what is the basic requirement?

Persistence and flexibility.  Love all music and meet all musicians where they are at.   Try not to wed oneself to elite notions of musicianship or genre.  Yesterday’s noise can be tomorrow’s music.  By making room for others in your music you will find a great deal of space for your own growth and expansion.    

How one should train oneself to make sure he/she has gained a good foundation?

Begin by honoring the forefathers of your genre.  Study the music you wish to purvey and be sure to play it authentically;  do not skip over the fundamentals.  Master music theory (according to your cultural norm) and master your instrument with practice practice practice.  Enjoy fleeting norms in popular music, but do not allow them to lower your personal performance standards.    Always push for higher standards in your musicianship even if these standards are not reflected in current popular music.  Your robust musicianship will serve you well throughout many decades in the industry while, slavish devotion to a single sub genre will limit your opportunities as a professional musician.  

Do you believe honest plug –in-and –play music can survive technological advancements, software, Dj's etc?

ABSOLUTELY!  Musical instruments do not replace musicians -  they augment musicians!  DJ tools, looping technologies, arpeggiators, etc,  are only a continuation of musical instrument innovations…  Like notable innovations from the past (i.e. electric guitar) these new sounds spawn musical genres and open the door to music creation for many who otherwise might not ever be heard.  I love this and welcome all new comers to the fold!   The presence of new sounds and new music production methods does not negate the value of prior music and production methods.  In fact, I believe it just increases our cross pollination and innovation opportunities.  More new music.. More new ways to make it!  Bring it on!    

There’s a feeling now, a concept that music should be free, that it’s like oxygen, everyone should have access to it. Everyone should have access, but should it be free?

Music is a transformational power of the highest order - all music, all cultures, all people can share in this divine connection.  The universal principles which bind humanity are deeply conveyed in the musics of our people.  Regardless of belief or cultural norm,  music re-establishes our universal connection points -  the places from which we build a better world for all peoples.  In this sense, Music must be freely given and freely received and I am personally devoted to this cause.   That said, musicians have to eat too. 

Music is craft which requires decades of devotion.  There are mountains of effort behind every note played (DJ's and electronic music artists included).  Further, the production of music is a costly endeavor requiring many technical skills and specialized tools as well as international travel.  To compare a business of such complexity to an ever present compound like Oxygen just strains credulity.   If musicians stop tuning, practicing,  composing, and traveling, oxygen will still exist.  But music most certainly will not — 

What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political and economic turmoil? 

It is such a great time to be a professional musician!  Perhaps not for economic reasons, but for altruistic and artistic reasons.   On an unprecedented global scale, music will play a critical part in reuniting humanity over the coming decades.  It is a very special moment in the history of Earth and her people. We musicians have an important part to play as harbingers of much needed, positive change.    I am so grateful to be alive in this time and in partnership with so many gifted international musicians.   


Shoichiro Goto-Playing North Indian Classical Raag on Electric guitar

Shoichiro Goto is a self-employed musician, guitarist and composer. He is a disciple of Pt. Debashish Bhattacharya. He plays North Indian Classical Raag on the Electric Guitar. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to him on the sidelines of India International Guitar Festival 2016.

When did you start playing the guitar?

I started to play the guitar at age 14.I watched a rock show by Led Zeppelin on TV.  Then I took a guitar. I thought it is the way for me how to explain my mind, thinking or expression. And he is still in my heart.

Were there any musical influences at home?
Nobody plays an instrument in my family. My father likes listening to American pop music. But I wasn’t like him. I took CDs or Records myself, mostly Blues and Rock.

Which artists inspired you the most?

Zakir Hussain. 

How has India and Indian music influenced your way of playing?

Singing. I was looking how I can sing on my guitar as other melodic instruments.  And after I came to know about Indian music, I'm still looking how much singing can be done on my guitar.

You are a student of Pt Debashish Bhattacharya. What are your views on the guru-shishya parampara in today’s world?

I guess musically knowledge, skill and technique, those are becoming an open source more and more, even for Indian music also. So if you ask about 'Classical' guru-shishya prampra,its value is getting less.

According to you, how important are guitar festivals for instance the IIGF? 

I was at there watching entrie programmes the whole day. I want to share such good times with a larger audience. 

There’s a lot of talk about how you can’t just be a musician today in the business – you have to also be a businessman, manage your social media, build your brand etc. What is your view on this?

I agree .  There is so  much  information, so many music data from record to cloud, so many pics and videos of musicians, a lot of things for the music business.  And a small little piece of live music. I don't like it but I do it if it is for music or be a musician. Even I hate practice or learning 8 hours, a week, a month, a year or a life for one stage. 

What are your upcoming projects?

I'm thinking of playing my compositions in India with Indian musicians.

"No society or culture teaches the commodification of human beings without economic impetus to do so."

Megan Powers - Human Rights and Anti-trafficking
Activist Vocalist with Four on a Swing and Jazzeando

How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking?

I first learned of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) as a university student on an overseas internship. I spent a few months pushing papers, but the papers that came across my desk were not the kind one easily forgets. The organization I worked with dealt a lot with transnational illicit trade: guns, drugs, and other illegal goods. Then, one day, there was this photo that came to my desk - a woman, a teenager really, who had gone missing. The photo was overtly sexual, an advertisement found on some back-channel illegal website. She was strikingly beautiful and her pose bespoke confidence, a celebration of sensuality. But her eyes - there was something about her eyes. They were angry, full of pain. Full of fear. I will never forget the look in her eyes. I was struck. At first glance, I had found her enviable
- a beauty no one could deny. But something seemed terribly wrong. I learned from a co-worker that she had been trafficked, forced into prostitution against her will. Despite the best efforts of the organization, they could never quite track her down. She remained a haunting vision, trapped inside the deepest channels of the internet, inside the most cloistered crime syndicates in the world. Occasionally a new photo would surface, a hint, a whisper. But by the time a location was traced, she had been whisked away, forced into the next chapter of her living nightmare.
Her eyes have haunted me ever since. I used to think, “if only we could have saved her…”. Then I learned that trafficking was everywhere. It’s not just one girl, it’s millions. It’s not just trafficking for sexual exploitation, it’s trafficking for labour, domestic servitude, work in massage parlours and nail salons, hotels, construction, and for organs. It’s women and men and children. Every shape and size, every colour and religion. And it is everywhere. How many times in a year do we walk past a victim of human trafficking and not know? In a week? In a day? Yet, when we learn to recognize the signs, how many opportunities do we have to take a stand in a year? In a week? In a day?

How far are poverty and other such economic issues related to human trafficking? Do you think social and cultural issues can be related to human trafficking?

Poverty and economic issues are the reason for human trafficking. No society or culture teaches the commodification of human beings without economic impetus to do so. No human being accedes the valuation of a human life in monetary terms unless they have been psychologically conditioned to do so. In today’s world, survival is intrinsically linked to money - without it, our very existence is threatened. But it is hard for the average person who does not directly participate in TIP to see human trafficking as a symptom of poverty. I know it was much easier for me to think of traffickers as evil people and trafficking as a crime of chance, not as a systematized exploitation of a deeply ingrained societal construct by people who, in many cases, have been tremendously disadvantaged and abused themselves. The latter would mean that I, as a member of society, am partially responsible for TIP, that my relative comfort or economic security has in some way perpetuated human trafficking. And that is a heart wrenching thought.

When I began to understand the truth about human trafficking, the world looked different. It wasn’t just black and white - trafficking and not trafficking - it was a hundred shades of grey: poorly paid workers trapped in terrible conditions, women who had endured such abuse and degradation they felt they had no other option than to sell their bodies.

What is my role in all of this? How much damage has my lifestyle done to those less fortunate than I? The thought can be overwhelming to swim in. But if we flip that on its head, it also means that every one of us has the power to change the status quo, to raise awareness, to vote with our purchases. There are many incredible organizations in Kolkata alone that have decided to tackle human trafficking through economics. They offer sustainable, fair employment to victims of trafficking as well as to those vulnerable to it like the SariBari, Destiny Foundation, the Loyal Workshop, Anudip Foundation, and Freeset, to name a few. By supporting these ventures, and responsible government empowerment schemes for the poor, we can make a difference.

What do you consider the main obstacles to combating trafficking in human beings? What needs to be done?

Awareness. TIP is pervasive, it is intelligent, and it is highly secretive. But it exists in broad daylight, side-by-side with the rest of us as we go about our day. This is terrifying, but it is also empowering. Because of this, every single one of us has power to stand for a world where TIP is no more. TIP is not just found in the redlight areas and sweat shops, it is in the fields, in the home, in the market and on the corner. From the produce we buy to the homes that we live in, cheap goods and cheap labor are not so cheap when you look at the human cost. We all have the responsibility to look beyond ourselves, to question if a situation truly is as it appears. Many people mistakenly believe that for a human to do something against their will, they must physically be chained, but the invisible chains of emotional and psychological abuse, the threat of violence against one’s family, these are just as strong as any physical chains. We can take a stand if we learn to recognize the signs of such abuse, to question, to push beyond our own discomfort. It is much easier to dismiss pain and suffering, to look past things that make us uneasy. But our ignorance allows for the continued suffering of millions. Can we accept that?

We hear that Sweden has eradicated almost all prostitution and trafficking. In the light of Sweden's success what can be done to encourage India to change its laws and make the buyers of sex criminally charged, not the boys and women being abused?

Though I commend the approach taken by the Swedish legislature (in 1999, they ratified a national ban against the purchase of sexual services), I caution against calling the results conclusive or assuming that this is all that needs to be done to end trafficking. I wholeheartedly support the criminalization of the purchase of sex as opposed to the criminalization of those who (in many instances against their will) render the desired services. However, it is imperative that the legislation provide harsh sentences for perpetrators and that law enforcement officials receive training and support to back up such laws.

Human trafficking is a business, one of the most lucrative for organized crime the world over. Humans, as opposed to drugs or weapons, are relatively inexpensive to “purchase”, can be used over and over, and are then easily discarded as miscreants of society, never recognized as the victim they truly are. We are all responsible for that, and though a law criminalizing the purchase of sex is a huge step in the right direction, it does not acknowledge the greater commodification of human beings (labour trafficking, domestic servitude, etc.). We all have a part to play in raising awareness and eradicating trafficking and we cannot simply hope a new law will make it all go away.


Documenting the inspiring journey of Ayesha Noor

Her father, a driver, died when she was 13. She has epilepsy but wanted to learn karate. She did and won medals in India and abroad. She is a Muslim and has inspired dozens of others to break taboos and join her karate classes. Ayesha Noor, 19 years old, has braved all odds to make it to one of the five personalities from India, along with Bangladesh, Kenya,Peru and Jordan to be the face of Women and Girls Lead in partnership with USAID. The documentaries initiate to promote positive change, in order to address a range of gender issues.

Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Netherlands film producer and director Koen Suidgeest of Independent Television Service (ITVS) who was here in Kolkata to shoot the film 'Girl Connected' in the dingy bylanes of Beniapukur where the black-belt Ayesha Noor lives. The film would be screened in different parts of the world to inspire other women.

What was the main criteria based on which the girls were chosen?

We were looking for inspiring stories. One of the most important element was that they are all teenage girls. They are all not only fighting some kind of injustice or inequality in their own community, but at the same time they are also transferring their own struggle to other girls. In case of Ayesha, she is teaching other girls self defense and self esteem in order to fight the recent wave of violence that has been occurring here in India. She is not only successful in and of herself but inspiring other girls.

What kind of challenges did you face?

The challenges were many. First of all finding the girls was very difficult. I wanted to make sure we got the right stories.  Another challenge was that in case of some of the stories the culture themselves were not interested in sharing the stories. For instance we take the example of Bangladesh. The story about the child marriage. I understood that telling the story there was some opposition in the neighborhood and the community for us and coming there and shoot the film.  In general the production is going very well, girls have been very incredible and I think it is going to make for a very good film.

Any memorable moment you would like to share?

Each country has had a special moment. In Kenya we ended up being invited by the family of the girl for dinner and late at night everyone was dancing to Dutch music even with a ninety year old grandmother. This has been an incredibly memorable and special moment for us. Here in Kolkata before we started shooting we were being honoured with flowers and had to cut a ribbon.

What was the most inspiring part of Ayesha’s case?

To me the important factor is not only she comes from a very underprivileged background and made it to the international karate scene but more so she is using her talent to teach other girls, help other girls, empower them and create more self-esteem and feel more safe. Every Sunday, Ayesha helps her coach to teach karate to girls free of cost at a nearby park. It is a campaign called ‘Mission Against Rape and Crime’

How have you shot the documentaries?

I am trying to tell an observational story, in which each girl tells her own story basically. I am following them in all of their daily activities, and over the top we hear a voice over of the girl herself who tell her own story.

You have been making  documentaries highlighting social issues. What role does a filmmaker play in bringing forth issues to the public space?

Many social issues are hidden issues. There are many social issues in the world which are not seen, not known off or they happen in such a small scale that nothing can be done. As documentary filmmakers one of the roles we can have  is to bring those issues to the surface, have a larger audience , learn about them and also use our films as activism or simply creating awareness. So, I think documentaries can make a big difference.

What’s next for you?

I am working on three films simultaneously and once I delivered all three films by this summer…next is a holiday!


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