Monday, February 27, 2017

'Synchronight': Celebrating pure music

Modernity has a way of unearthing the chemistry between art-forms. That is why it is not easy to purge, why one art-form subsists on another, and why hybridity has become the norm in this crass, commercialised world of ours. Whether or not we should regret, that is a fact we must acknowledge.

What is gained from that hybridity is creativity and imagination, both of which we have in abundance. But what is gained is more often than not set off by what is lost. Things like attention to detail, precision, and subtlety. Once lost, these cannot be reclaimed, which is why artistes today seem to have lost ground by digging into what they feel to be the roots of their creativity.

Not that I’m complaining, far from it. But I believe that, beyond a certain point at least, art-forms tend to distinguish themselves from one another. I believe also that much of the criticism levelled against modernity has to do with how rashly and carelessly musicians have let go of their creative best and opted for medleys and gigs which (regardless of their intrinsic worth) subsist on an artificial link between music and dance. Concerts, in particular, are to blame for this.

I am not opposed to concerts nor am I opposed to the camaraderie they engender. I am, however, opposed to that contorted link between music and dance they pander to. Not everyone will agree with me, of course, which is why they deserve a different experience, one which will enlighten them about how a concert can step away from hybrid strains and make them concentrate on the purism at the heart of an art-form. This is a brief sketch of one such endeavour, set to open next month in the metropolis.

Mash-up music has become quite the rage these days. For some, it doesn’t warrant a second glance: all it does, after all, is entangle two different songs with each other and between two artistes. Amateurs have dabbled in it by the dozen online, which probably validates some of the criticism levelled against it. But mash-up, like baila, kaffiringa, and the ballad, seeks to experiment and liberate. Because of that perhaps, it has compelled concerts featuring both veterans and young artistes, respected in their field and willing to indulge in the genre.

On Friday, March 10 at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre in Colombo, more than seven artistes will come and perform from 7 to 10 pm. Synchronight is a neat portmanteau and summing up of what will unfold that night, the first live mash-up concert in Sri Lanka. Organised by Flexus Productions, it aims to celebrate pure music. Whether or not it will come off the way its organisers want it being an issue for another article altogether, we can for now observe, assess, and infer.

I recently met up with two of its organisers, Nipun Liyanage and Dumidu Thabrew, to surmise for myself what the concert will entail. To start things off, I asked them as to why a mash-up concert hadn’t been in the offing before. Both were quick to respond.

“First and foremost, you must think of the logistics involved. Arranging music is tough and with a show that revolves around two items being performed at once, it’s even tougher. While we do know that Sri Lanka has got enough facilities for live mash-ups, we also know that there is a cost involved. It is a cost not many are willing to bear, let alone sponsor.” The music arrangement, owing to this, hasn’t been handed over to your ordinary amateur: Billy Fernando and his band 2Forty2 have agreed to take on the responsibility.

I put to Nipun and Dumidu that buttressing the logistics must be the novel concept enshrined in Synchronight. They agreed. “Audiences in this country still aren’t ready for the genre. For them, a concert is more about having fun than about listening to music. In other words, tastes differ. We are aiming at a sizeable crowd, and we are certain that we will get an audience, but whether or not they will be patient enough to concentrate on two songs being relayed at once, between two performers, is an issue we can’t be sure of until next month.”

In any case, their endeavour hasn’t been short on ambition. Among those who are to perform, Bathiya and Santhush, Chitral Somapala, Umaria, Sanuka Wickramasinghe, Lahiru Perera, Jayasri, and of course Billy Fernando have confirmed. More are (apparently) to follow, but whether they come or not, all of them have amply expressed their enthusiasm. “We believe these artistes will help us clinch an audience, because concerts are as dependent on names as they are on the items being performed,” Dumidu explained to me. Not being a concertgoer I wouldn’t really know, but I do know that with these performers, Synchronight may well gain the lease of life its organisers want.

In fact the whole idea behind an enterprise like this is to bring about a shift in the attitudes of those who are patronising it. I was not born for or with music, so I probably shouldn’t venture to make a guess about how the organisers can achieve this. I can say, though, that with Synchronight Flexus Productions is trying its level best to purify an art-form which was born with rhythm.

Because the body was built for rhythm and rhythm subsists on dance, however, would a concert like this work out? Or more to the point, should it? Yes, for two reasons.

Reason Number One is simple: people can think that Synchronight is an attempt to intellectualise a genre, to turn a veritable art-form into an exercise in slick aestheticism. This is wrong and patently so. Mash-ups aren’t only about retaining concentration, but also (as Trident puts it) liberating fun. There are more ways than one to enjoy a melody, after all, and while dancing is one of them it is not the only or even the main way. On that count, mash-ups will go a long way in nourishing the roots of an art-form that survives and is spoken, listened to, and enjoyed the world over.

Reason Number Two goes deeper. With the advent of mash-up concerts, a friend of mine put it, the past and the present have come together. What he meant there was that mash-ups have made it possible for the classical to coexist with the contemporary. This will, I am sure, be reflected in Synchronight, where many of those performing will crisscross different times and genres to let the audience enjoy melodies they may not have been able to indulge in other, more conventional concerts. That is why I am relieved to hear Nipun and Dumidu telling me that they hope to take Synchronight elsewhere, to Galle, Kandy, Jaffna, and every other corner in this small country.

March is the month of madness, some say. The month of parades and noise and matches and papare bands. Perhaps. Through everything that will adorn it, we’ll come across one concert and one genre. Whether we take to it or not, time will tell. Until we do take to it, we can listen. And we can enjoy. On March 10, we will be able to do both. Amply.

Written for: The Island YOUth, February 26 2017