Seated on a wooden bench in the Santa Monica Church at Old Goa last week, I was ambushed. It was a subtle but steadfast ambush by the mellifluous notes rendered by the Goa University Choir concert “History of Tenderness”. A nascent ensemble, GU Choir, the first university choir in India, comprising of students from Goa University and members of the Goan community, is slowly evolving into a concert choir under the tutelage of maestro Santiago Lusardi Girelli. (Girelli is a choir and orchestra conductor, performer, composer and scholar of theological philosophical traditions of the East and West)
An aesthetic, cultural and musical revolution is at play in the landscape of Goa. Rooted in the theme ‘east meets west’ an artistic laboratory, with Girelli at the helm of affairs, is experimenting and churning out alchemic music which augments the history, geography and culture of global communities. Green Goa is pitched to become Global Goa in word, line and page.
The musical register of Goa is old, with members of a family playing instruments and singing at home late evenings, over glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres. The Monte Festival, started in 2003, heralds springtime in Goa where diverse cultural traditions vis-a-vis western and Indian classical music are presented against a backdrop of the setting golden orb at the beautiful site, the courtyard of Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte (Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount).Rudolph Ludwig, a pianist and composer and the executive director of Ketevan Goa World Music festival, has continually invited Indian and Western world class musicians and dancers to perform at the Art Chamber in Calangute. Fadista, Sonia Shirsat has been constantly regaling Goan audiences with plaintive Fado numbers. Luis Dias at the Mint House, the physician-turned-musician has been consistently inviting musicians from abroad to showcase house full concerts at different venues in Goa. Dias is also the director of Child’s Play Foundation, a classical music program for street children on the lines of El- Sistema, Venezuela. In fact, Girelli first came to Goa to train these students and started the Camerata Child’s Play Foundation ensemble in 2012. Talking about his work with underprivileged children in Goa, Argentina and the Amazon, Girelli says that music changes lives. Children undergoing music training learn to relook at life from a different parameter and are able to harness the positive energy for a better output.
Girelli’s presence in Goa has been an upward arc for music in all its forms. What completely bowls over a music aficionado steeped in the adage ‘music is the language of the soul’ is Girelli’s philosophy. He opines that a choir is an ‘Artistic Community’ that seeks perfection, and that its main goal is to create a musical experience of beauty. Each member of the choir is a seeker and it is in the coming together and singing that beauty is regained and truth distilled in every heart.
Girelli’s concept of a university choir is not just a performance playfield but a fecund ground for exploration, innovation and realization of avant-garde ideas. He is covering new ground with creating symphonies between acoustically varied forms of music. He breaks across boundaries of geography and timelines in artistic history and weaves in an element of surprise and bewilderment when his choir enunciates words of Kabir and Gandhi set to Gregorian Chant, and a melody of bhakti ragas resounding seamlessly to Christian texts by Saint Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther King. The Carmina Burana Codex form the XII Century or some JS Bach Cantatas fuse with Indian instruments like Tablas, Sitar, Bansuri and Tanpura. Native indigenous South American Music from 10th and 11th centuries merges with Indian music and traditional Goan music from the Portuguese period. The audience is still recovering from the previous medley when Japanese haikus ring to similar intonations from Indian and Western music.
A holy syncretism of radically diverse genres of music from varied sources has the musical audience shifting from strangeness to a zone of comfort and bliss – threshold of a new home definitely but one that promises a harmony. Girelli says that it is in the intersections of musical diversities that new meanings are sought and sealed.
Sediment of different tongues lines the concerts’ singing vocabulary. Hindi, Konkani, Sanskrit, Portuguese, Swahili, Latin, Greek, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Quechua, Aymara and Nahuatl (indigenous Native American languages), Bozal (Spanish and Congolese with Portuguese influences), form a heady mix sure to enthral the audience at once. Music is captured in every possible mood, from a devotee’s hallucinations to romantic rapture to Sufi-inflected philosophical ruminations in line with Rumi’s “All religions. All this singing. One song. Peace be with you.” The Peacemakers by Karl Jenkins was beautifully rendered by the choir during the Monte Music festival (medley of languages and religious texts praying for peace in every human heart).
The ensemble evolved to another level with the advent of the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival, the brainchild of the artistic director Santiago Lusardi Girelli and executive director Rudolf Ludwig. The choir had wide exposure to many artists from across borders. Flutists, violinists, pianists, cellists, sitarists, fadistas, and choral ensembles collaborated to render the universal song of love and joy. For Utsav Lal, the concert pianist, Ketevan was an incredible experience. He said: “It generated a great cross-communication of ideas, new projects between all the musicians and artists and I think this is what makes a festival stand out.”
Besides, the lecture series on music appreciation titled – Western music in dialogue with philosophy, history, literature and anthropology, led by Girelli has been a crowd-puller since its advent three years back. Aided by power point and live/recorded performances, the audience participates in the journey of music from the Gregorian chant to contemporary times.
Every new talent shifts the culturography of Goa. Goa’s appetite for multiculturalism and creativity and Girelli’s penchant for syncretic music has created a symbiosis. Goa is richer of both its unions, the arranged marriage with the Portuguese crafted four centuries ago, and the rather more recent affair with a global musical community. We wish the ménage a trois to continue unbridled!