Another busy week here in Mumbai with many hours spent on crowded, rattling trains ploughing up and down the city. I’m getting on well with the music curriculum, initially just for Mewsic, but will probably now be given in some form to all the organisations that I am working with. As I mentioned before, it’s quite a task, but it will be a really useful resource given that no such thing exists for any of these schools/centres.

I went to the Mewsic Govandi centre to work with the kids (about 25 girls and 5 boys) and tutor, which, given last week’s resistance, I wasn’t anticipating to go well. It was the singing ‘specialist’ this week, and at best I thought he would sit in the corner, but after a little persuasion he got involved in some Body Percussion and even looked rather enthusiastic about it. He then taught a song, but like last time it was long, complicated and had little in terms of real ‘pitch’ – more like a rhythmic chant – and about a third of the children didn’t open their mouths the whole time. I then tried ‘Tue tue’, a song from Ghana, remembered from somewhere in the recesses of my brain –though it turns out that ‘tue’ sounds a lot like the Hindi word for rats so that of course prompted some chuckling. They took to it well, and enjoyed the build up of song, actions and movement. Again, the tutor got involved and even recorded it to use with one of his other groups. Success!

Muktangen was good again this week. With the trainee teachers, we are continuing to work on pitch (though a few of them are proving very challenging in that respect), and also on feeling confident enough to stand up, sing and lead an activity – which for some is more easily said than done. Again, we did ‘Tue tue’ (it was a bit of recurring theme this week, partly because once it’s in your head it NEVER leaves… ah, yes, there it goes again…). A couple of days later it was off to the school to do four sessions with the children (three classes of around 60 kids each and then choir of 30). They are great kids, but hard to keep quiet and concentrate given the amount of environmental noise around – there is another school below this one and the noise travels up, the school is on a fairly busy road and Mumbaikers love to beep their car horns, and noisy fans whirr away in each classroom battling the humidity. We continued on last week’s work and introduced some instruments – just about avoiding a small riot by adding some makeshift paint tins and pencil cases to make sure everyone got something – and the choir began work on a piece from my own schooldays, Alshosha d’varim. The piano player for choir plays by ear, which wasn’t a huge problem this week, but I will need to try and come up with a solution if she is to play the whole accompaniment… any ideas!? It was Valentine’s Day, so almost every child was keen to wish me ‘Happy Valentine’s Day Jamie Sir’ as they shook my hand out from its socket. I’m not sure any kids (even 10-year old ones) in the UK would gain much street-cred for wishing their teacher a Happy Valentine’s Day…

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Muktangen

I went to Dharavi Rocks – this week in the group’s ‘office’, on the edge of the slum. The Dharavi Rocks programme is mainly aimed at children who come from families working as rag-pickers and recyclers (the people who trawl through the rubbish dumps looking for plastic, metal etc., to sell on), and even the office was full-to-bursting with piles of books, (dozens of huge Spanish textbooks for some reason…) – indeed books seemed to make up the structure of the back wall. They spend most of the time working on a piece that they will perform in a couple of weeks, and I did a bit of rhythm work and singing with them. Only about half of the kids are actively involved in the group, so I hope some singing will get the others more integrated.

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Dharavi

I met with the people at Blue Frog, who run the Dharavi Rocks programme, but they have, by their own admission, have not had enough time or resources to support it as well as it should. They agreed that more direction is needed to make sure that it can continue developing and growing, and that Blue Frog should take a much more active role in that process and impose some structure to make sure that the programme fulfils its original objectives. I’m hoping that will now get things moving as it has so much potential. We had our Mini Frog session in the club again this week, which worked well. Hopefully by this session we will have worked out a space to do some music activities with the kids.

Govandi was my second home this week, as I travelled up three times, twice to the six-month old Gateway School of Mumbai. It is a school for children with special needs, modelled on, and supported by, the Gateway School of New York. It was established by a Mumbai mother who, after coming back to her home city from the US, found there was nowhere suitable for her child, who has SEN. It’s quite a remarkable achievement, and she has assembled a great teaching and support team. On my second visit I shadowed the music teacher as she went round the classes, and we’re hoping that we can develop the music curriculum to something that is tailor-made for the school’s needs. What they are using now is an imported system that seems quite limiting and the older children don’t find it so engaging. The kids are really lovely, and within a few minutes of going in each class I was being clamoured over, hugged and given ‘special invisible’ chocolates. I’m looking forward to working with them, and they are keen to build up a relationship with Live Music Now.

It was the end of the Kala Ghoda Festival last week (big jamboree of the arts), and I went to a concert on the steps on the Asiatic Library at Horniman Circle (I’ve told you before, no sniggering…). It was billed as a ‘fusion of Indian classical and Western classical’ music, and of all the people to walk on stage, the main performer was a piano student at my alma mater, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – RCS, (new name for RSAMD for those out of the loop). OK, so he is Indian, so it’s a little less random, but still…

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Kala Gohda Festival

Silviya (another Live Music Now/RCS musician in Mumbai, working at the Mehli Mehta Foundation), had been given a couple of tickets to see Ganga Nitya Vaahini, a one-woman Indian classical dance show by Malavika Sarukkai, and for those who know about these things it was the hot-ticket of the week. I’m a complete novice, but it was so engaging, and she was so fluid in everything that she did that the stories were so clear and vivid. Finally, on the cultural front I went to an few exhibitions at Jehangir Art Gallery, the best of which was Transcending Eternity a huge collection of paintings and large metal sculptures by artist Satish Gupta, based on various Hindu deities, including a magnificent 3 or 4 metre-tall vision of Ganesha.

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Ganesha

Food-wise, my spice palate is strengthening, and I no longer need a gallon of water to accompany every Indian meal, though I did have burning lips for about an hour after a tiny portion of something (don’t ask me what), so I’m not quite yet localised. I, of course, celebrated Shrove Tuesday with pancakes in Bandra with Anna (friend from Scotland), and am steadily building up a large stock of cake shops (no surprise there) and bakeries around my house; I’ll make it a mission to try all of them before I go.

Not so much in the news this week, although many cultural figures are becoming more and more concerning about censorship in India. An all-girl rock band in Kashmir has been forced to stop playing after receiving threats because of the music’s ‘unIslamic’ nature; Vishwaroopam, a film by Kamal Haasan has been heavily edited before being allowed on general release; Salman Rushdie cancelled plans to attend a book fair in Kolkata (Calcutta), after threats from Muslim leaders; a painting of a nude Hindu goddess was removed in Bangalore after vocal protests from those who ‘took offence’.

Next week will see more sessions with all of the groups and organisations, as well as concerts by the Symphony Orchestra of India (the first professional orchestra in the country), meeting with the Furtados School of Music, and also with RCS Principal, John Wallace – we really are taking over the city it seems!

Just now I’m off to a children’s birthday party. Wish me luck…

(No eunuch curses this week)

Written by Jamie Munn