Monthly Archives: May 2014

Keeping India’s street art alive

Designer and artist Hanif Kureshi, who is preparing to exhibit his work at Alchemy 2014 in London’s Southbank Centre from the 15 to 26 May explains his current project and shares a few insights into his work, which aims to preserve the practice of hand-painted street signs in India and promote the importance of letters.

Why preserve hand-painted type?

India has a long tradition of hand painted type. Hand-painted signs used to be part of the landscape, but with digital printing street signs now all seem to look the same. I don’t think we should lose the unique character of our streets and why I am working to find ways of preserving our street painting tradition. Most of the painters across India have their own unique style and I think it would be such a shame if this wasn’t passed onto the next generation of designers.

Signboard from BikanerDigital printing and contemporary Indian culture

As our world becomes more and more globalised, I am concerned about how this affects our cultural identity. I would argue that our urban landscape plays quite a big part in our cultural identity. There is little point in fighting technological advances, so for me it makes sense to explore how to combine India’s unique cultural identity along with the technology that is contributing to making our world increasingly connected and homogeneous.

AAAAAATypeface in a global context 

Most of the typefaces and fonts that we use have been designed by either professional American British or European type designers; they aim for simplicity and homogeneity. The typefaces you see in my project reflect a very unique Indian aesthetic and the reactions I have received from outside India have been really interesting. The colours and shapes seem to evoke vivid emotions in people who perhaps haven’t been to India before: this is the beauty of the project.

The identity of typeface 

A street painter’s style is interlinked with their individual identity and background. An artist from North India will have a different colour scheme and form than an artist from the South. Each region also has their particular style of painting. Painters are very influenced by the people who taught them and there is a strong tradition of ‘master and disciple’. This tradition enforces a sense of identity and place in their work, which you don’t see with the generic fonts that we use at the minute. 

The power of letters

I come from advertising background where I was taught that the image is worth a thousand words. This may be true for advertising, but for me letters are always more powerful.As I said, they belong to an individual with an identity, sense of place and tradition. I don’t think an image can reflect the same emotion. I feel local script plays a very important role in every culture and we need to keep that sacred as digital can never express the emotion of human handwriting. 

Find out more about hand-painted type

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James Mackintosh: Language is no barrier for musical collaboration

James Mackintosh BW

Ahead of the Folk Nations gig at Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival on 19 May, Scottish percussionist James Mackintosh joins the group from the Kolkata Residency to showcase a unique collaborative project.

A veteran of the global folk scene, James shares his thoughts on collaboration and the folk scene in the UK.

The resurgence of folk music

There has been a Renaissance in folk music in the UK over the last two decades at least. From a Scottish perspective this has had a lot to do with a handful of inspired and energetic individuals who realised that to keep our traditions alive there needed to be a better infrastructure for the teaching and sharing of folk music for the younger generation. The “Feis” movement gathered strength very quickly and led to a much greater enthusiasm and pride in our traditional culture. Folk music became “cool” once more as teenagers realised the enjoyment of playing various traditional instruments in sessions and at Ceilidh’s.

The similarities of Indian and British folk music

From my time spent in India, I saw more similarities than differences between British and Indian folk music. I noticed so many connections in the content, mood and emotion of various songs and tunes. Rhythm is hugely important to both cultures and in my own collaborations with Rajasthani musicians, we had much common ground in melodic and rhythmic approaches. The folk music that I heard in India was wonderful, passionate, fun, sophisticated and authentic .Folk music at its best is timeless and can exist in many forms.

Folk music is inherently collaborative

Collaborations in the British Folk scene have certainly produced some exciting combinations of musicians over the years. Folk music is collaborative by nature, so different combinations of voice and instrument are very natural, as are collaborations between musicians all around the world. I have found that language is no barrier to musical collaboration; I think this can be a great example towards cooperation and understanding between different cultures and nations.

Read what Patsy Reid, Georgia Ruth, and Suhail Yusuf Khan have to say.

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Patsy Reid: ‘UK and Indian folk music have different roots yet are permeated by similarities’

patsy reid

Folk musician Patsy Reid took part in a week-long residency in Kolkata as part of the British Council’s three-year Folk Nations project. Patsy is now preparing to perform for a Folk Nations gig at the Southbank Centre in London on 19 May.

Patsy shares her experience of the Folk Nations Kolkata Residency and exploring Indian and UK folk music.

UK and Indian folk music: different roots yet permeated by similarities 

I think that there are similarities and differences between the UK and Indian folk music but my experience of them is really dependant on who I happened to meet and play music with during my three trips to India last year. Suhail Yusuf Khan, for example has so much respect for the tradition and he is known for doing so, but also goes off piste and plays really experimental, cutting-edge music, fusing Indian music with rock and other styles. I know many people like that in the UK. I think what I’m trying to say is that both country’s folk musics are extremely diverse and rich, making them similar contextually. Each is full of musicians working in all areas of the spectrum and although the actual roots seem very different, the nature, respect and geographical implications are exactly the same.  

Exploring the unknown

Before the residency I was a wee bit intimidated by Indian music. Believe me I still am and I have barely scratched the surface during my now 3 trips to India. But I suppose what I did learn is that it’s better to have a go and join in respectfully and informed than to be frightened of it. Often the results would surprise us all and it was exciting to create something new together. Suhail Yusuf Khan was great to work with as he understood all of our reservations and concerns about spoiling such beautiful music and put us at ease.

Recreating the feeling of Kolkata

I don’t think my latest work was consciously influenced by my experience in Kolkata, but there have been lots of reviews saying that it did! Influence is such a difficult thing to measure but I’m sure that my playing in general was inspired by our time in Kolkata. I also made the decision to make the album very soon after the residency and I think that’s because I was on such a high and feeling confident in my abilities as a collaborator. Making the album itself was like the Kolkata residency in that we were all involved in jamming and making the music and I wanted to recreate that relaxed, at home feeling with the musicians. I was just the facilitator.

Musical evolution since the Kolkata residency

We were delighted to be asked to play at Celtic Connections in January 2014 and although we were all part of the original group, there were lots of people, instruments and characters missing and so we really had to treat it as a new band and that was a really lovely opportunity. We were never going to recreate the special time in Kolkata but what we ended up doing was creating a totally different but equally special concert in Glasgow. We worked well as a team creatively and pulled it together in a relatively small amount of rehearsal time.

Advice for young people who want to forge a career in music

I would say, don’t be over or under confident. You have to be humble and open when working with new people yet forthcoming with your own ideas. I think it is important to work out why you are making music together and who it is for. Sometimes the answer is irrelevant and it should be ‘for the love of it’, but unfortunately that cannot always be the case. If the audience is expecting or assuming a certain experience then that needs to be taken into account.

Read more about what the other Folk Nations musicians have to say

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Georgia Ruth Williams: ‘Kindred spirits through collaboration’

georgia ruth

As folk singer Georgia Ruth Williams prepares to perform at a Folk Nations gig at London’s Southbank Centre on 19 May, she shares her thoughts on musical influences, collaborations and her experience at the Folk Nations Kolkata Residency. 

The universality of music

It’s an old cliché, but music really does help to break down linguistic barriers. The bonds the musicians made at the Kolkata residency were often forged on a musical level, and sometimes I think that we would never have been able to express those feelings without the help of the songs. That sort of interaction was at the very heart of what the Folk Nations project hoped to achieve, so we were very lucky.

The evolution of techniques and influences

I’ve been playing the harp for 19 years now, and my technique has definitely morphed and shifted since I first began learning. I started off with a very rigorous classical training (the harp within an orchestral, Western-Classical context as opposed to a folk one) but gradually those restrictions fell away and I began to teach myself to play the sounds I’d heard in other music. When I first played with Indian musicians, I again found myself needing to adapt my technique to the new sounds and structures I was learning. By today, my ‘technique’ is a bit of a mish-mash of everything; my influences change daily. But at the moment, I’m listening to a lot of Dorothy Ashby records. She and Alice Coltrane really pushed the boundaries of how the harp was perceived in the 60s and 70s. They made it a fluid, adaptable thing. They took it from the rigidity of the concert hall and made it a dynamic instrument. ‘Afro Harping’ from 1968 – with its breakbeats and jazz influences – is a prototype of the hip-hop production styles which developed years later.

Kindred spirits through collaboration

The Kolkata Residency was such an intense experience. We all bonded really quickly, and when I left Kolkata I knew that wouldn’t be the end of things. What was fascinating for me was the breadth of different styles and influences – Bangladeshi, Welsh, Indian, Scottish, Pakistani and English music: all at once. We started to collaborate quite tentatively at first; everyone was so new to each other. But what began as a show-and-tell of songs quickly became a noticing of patterns, and a growing excitement as we started to see the similarities in places we’d never expected. I’ve learned to always be open, share everything you have because you might find a kindred spirit (or song) where you didn’t expect to.

UK and Indian folk music: familiarity amongst the differences

It is the idiosyncrasies of each nation’s folk songs that make them unique; there are things which are universally human in the traditions. In the UK, Welsh traditional music differs quite significantly from the English, which differs significantly from the Scottish etc. And that’s before we even begin to think about the Indian classical music.  But I was amazed when I heard Saurav Moni’s Bengali river songs. They reminded me so much of some agricultural songs from Glamorganshire in Wales (songs about driving cattle forward across fields, along rivers) and it was so incredibly moving to hear him sing his songs – they felt so familiar.

Advice for young people who want to forge a career in music

Don’t hesitate, ever! You will thank yourself. Collaborations are the best way to know yourself as a musician, because you are constantly having to re-evaluate things you’d taken for granted.

Read more about what the other Folk Nations musicians have to say

Find out more about Folk Nations

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