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Sailing in a boat of hope on an ocean of sorrow

M D Pallavi, Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy and Vedanth Bharadwaj have created ’Songfarers at Sea,’ bringing together haunting songs and poems about the sea, writes O Priya.
Last Updated : 25 August 2023, 23:36 IST

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Singers M D Pallavi and Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy from Bengaluru and guitarist Vedanth Bharadwaj from Chennai are collaborating on a show that combines music, poetry and theatre to describe the sea as a metaphor for life.

They have already presented their show, titled ‘Songfarers at Sea’, at venues in Bengaluru. Lasting an hour and a half, it brings together some of the most enchanting lines written about the world of seafaring in Indian languages.

Why do you call your show ‘Songfarers at Sea’? 

Bindhumalini: We are ‘at sea’ both as voyagers and ‘at sea’ in the sense of being lost. And we are trading, bartering, sailing and finding our way through songs as our maps. Hence ‘Songfarers at Sea’. And this production is largely based on the philosophy behind ‘Polynesian wayfinding’ methods, a revival of the lost art of ocean navigation that depends on natural signs rather than gadgets.

How did the three of you meet?

Bindhumalini: Pallavi and I first collaborated on creating a piece called ‘The Threshold—A Musical Conversation’ in 2017.

Vedanth and I released our first album together, ‘Suno Bhai,’ with the poetry of Kabir, in 2012, and we have been performing together ever since. Ramnath, the co-founder of Youcan, had worked with all three to build online educational workshops for Milaap, a UK-based non-profit entity. Ram approached all three for a Climate Action event called ‘Kupu’ at Bangalore International Centre on June 17 and 18. Thus this production was born.

What thumb rules did you go by when you started curating the songs and poems for the show?

Pallavi: We started looking for stories and songs that were related to the ocean. We looked for songs and stories about journeys, loss, hope and kindness. We collected all the material and then wove it into a continuous piece. We sing the poetry of Allama Prabhu, Kabir, Subramania Bharati, Shah Abdul Latif Bhilai, Gopalakrishna Adiga, Da Ra Bendre, and Derek Walcott. 

You have arranged the songs to draw on the best of two accomplished voices and a sensitive acoustic guitar. What do you keep in mind when you arrange songs for the show? 

Pallavi: Some songs that we sing in the show are folk tunes. We also sing the compositions of O S Arun, Musharraf Khan, P Kalinga Rao and Anil Srinivasan. And we sing songs composed by the three of us. Since the show has a soundscape of the ocean with spoken text and sung songs, we keep the arrangement as simple as possible. Vedanth plays the banjo and guitar, while for a small part, Bindhu plays a hand drum and I play the kalimba, and we play around with the arrangement of our three voices.

How many shows have you done so far, and where are you taking ‘Songfarers’ hereafter?

Vedanth: We premiered ‘Songfarers’ on June 18, followed by three performances in Pune, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. We are taking it to other venues now. Songfarers is an immersive experience, not just for the audience,
but also for the three of us, as it asks existential questions such as ‘Where are we now,
and what are we moving towards?’. As we evolve in our performance and discover ourselves in it, we would like to share the experience with schools, colleges and festival audiences.

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Published 25 August 2023, 23:36 IST

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