Calcutta, sensory overload! I feel more connected to Calutta and Mumbai than I did to Bangalore, it reminds a lot of Mexico City. Last time I was here I had an offer to come live and study flute for a year. I turned it down as the band Flook were just getting going, but I sometimes wonder where it would have lead. I love this city. I especially love Bengali food and lunchtime today we went for the most amazing lunch in Oh Calcutta, my favourite meal of the trip and let me tell you, we have eaten like Maharaja! Got a little bit star struck tonight at the press conference/debate when I recognised Tanmoy Bose in the assembled room of journalists and musicians. Tanmoy played tabla with Ravi Shankar and it was lovely to witness how much reverence he is held in among his fellow Bengali musician friends.
Day five involved a flight to Calcutta – a place I’d been reading into a bit online. It was indeed very busy and the air quality wasn’t perfect, but the build up of atmosphere leading up to Diwali was obvious everywhere on the streets. The British Council offices & library hosted a discussion with many local folk musicians and classical musicians joining in on such difficult questions as ‘does folk music belong to the rural or the urban’ and prompting some really interesting and contrasting arguments!
We flew to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Thursday. Obviously a famous city, The Blackhole of Calcutta came to mind and we all wrongly thought it was an ancient slum but no (as you’ll all know) it was a dungeon in which British soldiers were held in Fort William, Calcutta in 1756. I won’t make any references to our own Fort William here… Again Dipti takes us to a fantastic restaurant specialising in Kolkata style food. Spice is added to everything here. Tea (Chai; which we’ve all become addicted to), breads, biscuits, milk. And we’re all up for it and enjoying it but our weak western stomachs are struggling to keep up with our adventurous taste buds. We meet up later at the British Council offices and host a conversation on what is ‘folk music’? Some interesting chat. Indians seem to enjoy a long detailed conversation. I like that. We meet some lovely Indian musicians including Tanmoy Bose who toured for many years as Ravi Shankar’s percussionist.
Thursday. I’m apprehensive about Calcutta, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the poverty again. However, it turns out to be my favourite stay of our tour. They say that this city embodies ‘old’ India. There’s a charm to the backstreets that follow no particular pattern as we are driven between districts in hectic fashion by our driver. He’s booked by a road traffic officer for taking a wrong turn (..there’s rules here..?). Our only date for the day is a panel discussion on folk music with some local musicians, including the venerable Tanmoy Bose, long-time tabla-player with Ravi Shankar. Again, the subject provokes ardent debate: where has it come from; where is it going; how do we protect it; DO we protect it; and what the hell is urban folk? Opinions fly in like darts. Ian puts in an articulate argument for taking it wherever-we-may-please. When it comes to me I find myself frozen between polarities of opinion. I ramble a bit about being a product of everything around me, then dry up. On reflection, it seems to me there’s a tectonic struggle between the fear of losing something valuable and the instinct to move forward. As musicians, our freedom to experiment is proportionate to how much we rely on playing ‘pure’ folk music in order to survive. Meeting the musicians here tonight has made it clear to me how lucky we are in Kan to have that freedom.
Kan perform ‘Eva’ from their latest album ‘Sleeper’ at the Bath Folk Club.
10/12/13 Tewkesbury at Roses Theatre
12/12/13 Driffield at Moonbeams
13/12/13 London at Kings Place
14/12/13 Gateshead at Old Town Hall