Musical Notes

Goa’s Western classical music tradition is witnessing a revival, 500 years after its birth

Two new festivals are revitalising the state’s musical heritage.

Centuries after Old Goa’s soaring and spectacular churches from the 16th and 17th century fell silent, amid the city’s decline to near-total abandonment, two ambitious festivals are investing new energy to revitalise India’s oldest and most significant Western classical music tradition, at the exact locations where it first developed.

Showcasing deep-rooted collaborations between foreign artistes and burgeoning local talent, the Monte Music Festival and the new Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival feature performances of international calibre, at stunning heritage spots.

The trend began with Monte Music Festival. Hosted by Lisbon-headquartered Fundação Oriente, in partnership with the hotel Cidade de Goa, the Monte Festival is now one of the premier cultural events on Goa’s crowded calendar. Every year, the three-day concert features both Indian and Western classical music along with dance performances held at the spectacularly situated Capela do Monte, high above the old capital of the Estado da India. The modestly proportioned chapel is a first-rate venue, with terrific acoustics, but what is truly unforgettable are the sunset performances in the courtyard – with the magnificent sweep of the river valley as it reaches the sea on one side, and the ancient Mandovi islands on the other, fading to purple as they yield to the foothills of the Ghats.

Earlier this month, the 15th edition of the Monte Music Festival was programmed by Fundação Oriente’s Inês Figueira to feature strong women’s voices from India. The line-up included brilliant young talents – Sufi singer Ragini Rainu, Germany-based Goan soprano, Joanne D’Mello and the powerful, soulful fadista Sonia Sirsat. But the showstopper of the evening was an extraordinary recital of contemporary and sacred chants by the London-based diva who grew up in Mumbai, soprano Patricia Rozario.

Ketevan Music Festival in Goa. Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook
Ketevan Music Festival in Goa. Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook

Much of the credit for the revival of classical vocal music in Goa is due to the direct intervention of Rozario – since 2009, she has regularly returned to her homeland (and also Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad) to conduct vocal music classes as part of a personal initiative called Giving Voice to India. Several of Rozario’s students have gone on scholarship to study abroad, including D’Mello.

Few people realise that Western classical music was firmly established on the West coast of India, long before the Mughals created their kingdoms in the North and centuries before, say, the sitar was invented. In 1510, Portugal’s Alfonso de Albuquerque seized control of the vibrant, cosmopolitan port city now called Old Goa and structures like the Capela do Monte were built almost immediately afterwards. The two largest churches in Asia, the largest convent in Asia, a Cathedral and a Basilica plus several other religious spaces, grand and small – all of them needed choirs and musicians and the colonialists assiduously set about producing them en masse.

By 1543, it was deemed that all-Goan choirs would sing at church services. That year, local boys sang at the inauguration of St Paul’s College, the first University outside Europe. By the end of the century, Konkani converts were famous throughout Christendom for their proficiency with both vocal and instrumental music in the Western idiom. Soon after, the Vatican granted the Goa diocese unique rights to use instruments such as the violin, clarinet and bass while celebrating Easter – no other place in the world was ever granted similar privileges. Eventually, the descendants of these very early musical prodigies trooped out of Goa to play dance music in British India, then jazz in the early 20th century eventually seeded Indian cinema with its wide-ranging “Bollywood sound”.

Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook
Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook

This rich legacy is the primary context for the intriguing start-up Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival, the brainchild of long-time Goa resident (and skilled concert pianist) Rudolph (Rudi) Kammermeir, with the boundlessly dynamic “Maestro” Santiago Lusardi Girelli, who occupies the Anthony Gonsalves Chair in Western Music, at Goa University. Their efforts have grown organically from the remarkable Goa University Choir, which started from scratch and grew to startling excellence under Girelli’s tutelage.

Since 2014, the Seville-based Italian-Argentinian conductor has kindled tremendous enthusiasm for choral music in the state. Like a controlled tornado, his efforts have radiated positive effects in many directions. Last year, the first edition of Ketevan festival brought superb concerts right into the heart of Old Goa’s extraordinary Monte Santo at Holy Hill, on the ruins of St Augustine church.

This location gives the concert series its name. Ketevan the Martyr was queen of Kakheti (modern-day Georgia) in the early 17th century. She was killed in Shiraz (modern-day Iran) for refusing to convert to Islam. Her remains were spirited away by Augustinian friars and were rumoured to have been hidden at their Goa stronghold. After the Soviet Union dissolved, the Archaeological Survey of India was tasked with recovering the saintly relics, and – highly improbably – DNA testing on bone fragments indicate they succeeded last year. Rudi Kammermeir said, “Ketevan’s story is boundlessly fascinating. It combines worldly power, religious belief and conversion, and hints of an evergreen story between a man and the many women in his harem. What a backdrop for concerts in Old Goa!”

Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook
Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook

This year’s Ketevan Festival schedule is spread over two weekends and includes many creditable corollary events, including a scholarly symposium to test the limits of collaboration between Eastern and Western musical practicioners, workshops with local musicians, and social concerts at schools and colleges. Participants include the Saint Ephraim Male Choir from Hungary, Vandalia Vocal Ensemble from Spain, UK-based pianist Karl Luchtmayer, Australia-based soprano Roberta Diamond, and musicians from Iraq, Portugal, Germany, Argentina and Austria, besides several others from Goa.

Last weekend’s highlight was the debut of The Ketevan Cantata, a piece of music composed exclusively for the festival by its resident composer in 2017, Vasco Negreiros of Portugal. This Thursday, on February 16, is an evening of Baroque instrumental music at the exquisite Penha de Franca church. Other upcoming highlights include a candlelight concert at the superbly renovated Chapel of the Weeping Cross at Santa Monica convent, Sonia Sirsat exploring The Sacrality of Fado, and Goa University Choir’s The Routes of Faith and Sorrow.

“This is only the beginning,” Girelli said. “Goa’s heritage is barely emerging from dormancy. Soon we will establish a Ketevan research centre, and seriously set about reviving these cultural traditions year-round, hopefully in a way that everybody gets involved.”

Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook
Credit: Ketevan Music Festival/Facebook
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.