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Of divine gigs

goan celebration

Of divine gigs

Dr Astrid Monteiro avers she knows nothing about musical notes — octave, F-sharp, B flat, chromatic scale, neumes. Astrid cannot fathom the rhythmic idiom.

“I am not musically inclined,” she repeats. But the moment this tall dentist opens her hymn-book, perches spectacles over her nose and readies to take cues from choirmaster Santiago Lusardi Girelli, her voice reaches out to the heavens in a lilting invocation, the musical notes turning into alibis for a divine communion. When the chorus of her choir-group hits a crescendo, Astrid is closer to the Lord, the sacred music resonating in her being much after the church organ has fallen silent.

That moment music is sacred. This is not the only moment music has been sublime. For as long as humankind can remember, sacred music has been an integral part of cultures — and religions — around the world. The notes vary but the world wakes up to murmured prayers, strung in notes. This February, over two weekends, Goa will reverberate with sacred music from around the world.

Organised by Old Goa Music Society (OGMS) and supported by Goa University, music will shed language and geographical barriers and meld blissfully at the first Ketevan Goa Sacred Music Festival.

On the playlist

The sonorous whisper from the hollow heart of Rakesh Chaurasia’s flute will play rhythmically with the magical vibration from the 88 black-and-white keys of Utsav Lal’s piano. Leo Rossi, an Argentinian, will draw a bow across his violin while Debashish Bhattacharya will pluck the 24-strings of a hollow-neck slide guitar. Rocio de Frutos, a Spanish soprano will share space with Ignacio L Monteverde, a Spanish flamenco guitar maestro. Marialena Fernandes will perform a classical piano solo, and there will be Jewish and Sephardic music and choir ensemble.

At Ketevan, music from different eras and genres will co-exist on one platform; music will hum in the Goan air. For those weekends, Astrid is hanging to her hymn book tight. As one of the founding members of the festival, she is picking up the nuances of sacred music, one holy note at a time.

“Why Ketevan? Why is ‘co-existence’ the leitmotif of it?” I ask Santiago, an Argentinian-Italian choir and orchestra conductor who specialises in the J S Bach’s repertoire and is currently a lecturing professor and founder of the Goa University Choir. The festival takes its name from Martyr Ketevan (1560-1624), a queen of Kakheti (a kingdom in Eastern Georgia),  who was killed in Shiraz, Iran, for refusing to give up the Christian faith and convert to Islam.

The martyr was canonised later; her relics are found in an urn in St Augustine Church in Old Goa. “Ketevan’s course of her life, her faith, commitment and tolerance inspires our festival. Her life, as the lives of other different saints, illuminates the paths of tolerance and co-existence,” says Santiago. Fittingly, the festival will be held at Old Goa’s The Mount, which includes St Monica Convent, Rosary Chapel and the ruins of St Augustine Church.

What makes Ketevan Festival unique is its harmonious blend of several genres, as if reiterating the truth that music has no language. The 10-day-long festival will include concerts (didactic as well), conferences, lectures, round tables, common chants, master classes and workshops. Nearly 40 performers from around the world will play their own music and merge it with others.

The festival opens with Cappella Della Luce Odysseys which traces the myriad influences that shaped cathedral music in the 17th and 18th centuries, specially in Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico; the second part of the programme stresses on the importance of indigenous African culture (including language) and its contribution to sacred music.

When the sun dips into the sea, Jewish Sephardic music will resonate through the church ruins — a music that has roots in the Jewish communities in medieval Spain and Portugal — later assimilating North African high-pitched, extended ululations, Balkan rhythms, and the Arabic maqam mode.

Bach’s World (Lent I) will include a selection of arias and choruses of cantatas and passions of the great German composer, while another session will bring alive the link between Indian classical traditions and gypsy culture.

Cultural combination

Ethnic songs will run through the sounds and beliefs of different cultures, including haikus (Japan), bhakti & ragas (India) and Gregorían & medieval melodies (Europe). Ketevan will conclude with Goa University Choir and Seville Chamber Choir ensemble,  with texts from Hindu scriptures, Sufi tradition, Christian liturgy and Hebrew, among others. Rudolf Ludwig Kammermeir, Executive Director, OGMS, does not want music to remain isolated; he wants art, research, education, social activities to complement the music agenda. For Santiago, Artistic Director, the festival is a culmination of months of hard work. Music, for him, is never far from theology — he has studied orchestral and choral conducting along with Oriental philosophies, yoga and meditation. “Sacred music does not necessarily have a religious tag. At Ketevan, it’s all about artistic co-existence,” he adds.

Over two weekends, music will hang thick in the Goan air. Crowds will mill. Music will play. Devotion will hit the octave. In the ruins of St Augustine Church, faith will live again in cracked columns and drooping arches. Will Ketevan the Martyr be there, too? Will he listen intently?
The festival is on till February 21.

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