S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Uniting communities through music and dance

FIMDV—The Federation of Indian Music and Dance, Victoria, is a coalition of Indian music and dance schools led by eminent artists and teachers of Indian fine arts in Melbourne, Australia. The FIMDV provides a unified platform in Melbourne, for the promotion of Indian music and dance of various forms to create cultural awareness among the greater community of multicultural Victoria. With a large annual performance coinciding with the Indian independence day celebrations in August, and smaller performances in different parts of the year, the organisation aims to spread Indian classical arts in meaningful ways to younger generations of Indian migrants, their children, and the wider Australian community in which they live. The current president Shobha Sekhar is helped in her endeavours by a team of artists who form a committee to help maintain the organisation and carry out its many functions. Previous presidents include Rama Rao and Murali Kumar.

When Vasan Srinivasan (a member of the Australian Multicultural Council) invited artists in Melbourne to come together under one banner it was a difficult task initially. With the help of Tara Rajkumar (OAM) and her pioneering work in the promotion of Indian arts in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, several artists agreed to unite in 2010. All of them are well trained solo artists and directors of their own schools of music or dance. For example, the first president Murali Kumar runs a large school of music teaching violin to young students. He trained in India with M.S. Gopalakrishnan and other gurus in Carnatic and Hindustani music. His main goal when he began as president was to unite Hindustani and Carnatic schools of music and north and south Indian forms of dance including Odissi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Mohini Attam. He says, “Initially we had limited success with outreach to outside communities. Coming together as an Indian community itself has been a challenge, so the successful bringing together of people is an achievement and what we had to do first when we began. During her tenure, Rama Rao—with her long standing in the Indian community and old school of music in Melbourne— wanted to expand the reach of the organisation to include more students and to bring popular elements into the annual performance. She also worked on funding together with Uthra Vijayagrahavan (the secretary) by obtaining sponsors and confirming the participation of over 22 schools of music and dance. Saxophone, guitar players and keyboardists were also brought in to expand the connections.

The current president Shobha Sekhar—a disciple of D.K. Pattammal and a graded artist of All India Radio—runs her school Kalakruthi (accredited by the Music Academy) which has existed in Melbourne for over 20 years and has produced a series of robust next generation singers and veena players. Shobha also teaches Carnatic music at the Polytechnic Institute in Melbourne and other universities, taking Carnatic music to Australian musicians with whom she performs regularly. Her goal as president of FIMDV is to continue the annual performance and keep advancing the intracultural engagement between north Indian and south Indian music that Murali Kumar implemented and enable the popular elements that emerged under Rama Rao. She also hopes to expand the intercultural engagement as Vasan Srinivasan and Tara Rajkumar had originally hoped for. By including both Western instruments in the performance as well as Western musicians, and also engaging with indigenous dancers, Shobha hopes to expand the reach of FIMDV as an Indian organization that can engage with a range of communities. During her presidency she has produced and curated thematic productions which have drawn an overwhelming response from appreciative audiences. In 2017 it was Srushti highlighting women’s empowerment. In 2018 the theme Bandhan explored bonding. It had a children’s choir (around 100) singing songs in several languages conveying multicultural bonding and social behaviours woven around the theme. In 2019 plans are underway to present Dasa Avatar—to celebrate 10 years of excellence in promoting the classical arts in Australia.

The Federation of Indian Music and Dance offers us an insight into how adaptable Indian classical arts can be and why they have continued to exist for centuries. Not because they hold fast to strict definitions of what the arts should be but because they have remained improvisational and situational in structure and open to change. We no longer need to ask questions about “authenticity” in the NRI’s traditions when change seems to be the only constant wherever we see Indian arts thrive and flourish. As the group continues to grow and continue its outreach to other communities of Melbourne, we hope to see the continuity of traditions through innovation and adaptation.

(The author is a writer, Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer based in the Netherlands)

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