Think fest, ‘Speaking Allowed’ by Elsewhere in collaboration with Hero Realty recently concluded with Akhtari – a tribute to Begum Akhtar by Vidya Shah, vocalist, musician, social activist, and writer at the CII.
“My tribute voices the feisty, feminist side of Begum Akhtar through her music. She was a rockstar, in a time when there was no social media. Akhtari is my tribute and respect for Begum Akhtar,” shared Shah, who was initially trained in Carnatic music, and later received guidance in the North Indian genres of khayal from Shubha Mudgal and Mujahid Hussain Khan, and thumri, dadra and ghazal from Shanti Hiranand.
Shah believes that music works at a subjective level and the making of music is also the making of a person. “I want to display the narrow, yet topsy-turvy road of Bai to Begum through my music, how she navigated her life and faced the challenges. Singing Begum Akhtar is really sticking your neck out, it is daunting too, but I use my own training and knowledge of music in my own way. The ghazals and compositions are of her, but I don’t copy her but learn and imbibe. That era has been dominated by strong women and it’s my ode to them. I tell the stories from which music is made and the many aspects of life,” shared Shah.
A Melting Pot of Art & Culture
Shah’s performances and projects bring together stories, visuals, music, poetry, and text, along with issues of gender and sexuality for the listeners. Shah has directed a two-day exhibition and music concert, ‘Women on Record’, celebrating the music of women and the ones who were never on record and has also paid a tribute to the iconic female voices of the gramophone era by performing their music and is now working on a project in collaboration with a Bharatnatyam dancer.
Earlier on, the ‘Think Fest’ had free-flowing interactions that were held in interesting sessions.
A Platform for Thoughtful Discussions
‘Speaking Allowed’ provided a platform for discussions and debates on topics like ‘Writing Kashmir’ by author Ashish Kaul, and performance artist and writer Inder Salim; a session, ‘Who is Afraid of Indian Literature,’ was held by speakers including Khalid Jawed (JCB Prize-winning author), Arunava Sinha (Crossword-prize winning translator), Ravi Singh (Publisher, Speaking Tiger) and Nirupama Dutt (award-winning poet); session – ‘Gazing at Punjab through art’ was conducted by celebrated singer Rabbi Shergill and acclaimed artists Thukral and Tagra who talked about contemporary Punjab, aligning their thoughts, ideas, and vision through their art.
A session titled ‘Reading Young’, busted the myth that the young are not reading enough. Children’s author and filmmaker Samina Mishra and graphic novelist Ita Mehrotra looked at what the young adults are reading, while Jaskiran Kapoor, writer and content creator moderated the session in high zeal.