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Whether you’re listening to Hindustani, Carnatic or fusion music, there’s a distinctly unmistakable sense of intricacy and emotional depth in the reverberations of Indian musical instruments. Indian music is a sophisticated and soul-stirring tapestry of sounds and beats, which represents the diverse range of musical instruments whose traditions and practices reach centuries back, some towards ancient times.
Just like the interwoven fabric of Indian music, Esplanade’s Indian festival of the arts Kalaa Utsavam is a commingling of genres and mediums, ranging from film to dance to theatre to music. Expect songs inspired by revolutionary poetry, and bold retellings of ancient classics. Expect retrospectives from beloved established legends, and refreshing new perspectives from emerging young artists. The festival returns to Esplanade for its 20th edition from 19 to 28 November.
If you’re spoilt for choice, take our quiz below to find out which Indian musical instrument you are, and we’ll recommend you a few matching shows that might just be the tala to your raga.
You’re a deep and contemplative thinker. The veena is associated with the Hindu goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, and it follows that you value wit, learning and intellect. You’re likely well-read, and people often sense that you carry wisdom beyond your years.
Kaanalvariyum Kaarigei Nilaiyum – Madhavi’s story by Bharathaa Arts
19–21 Nov, Esplanade Theatre Studio
If you’ve a keen interest in the classics, this female-centric dance-drama rendition of the first great epic of Tamil literature, Silappathikaram by Ilango Adigal, will be right up your alley. Acclaimed bharatnatyam company Bharathaa Arts presents a new take on the much-retold story, bringing to life traditional folk dance and evoking the rich cultural heritage of the Sangam Chola period.
27 Nov, Theatre
How do the ancient Vedic scriptures pair with metal music? Let homegrown Vedic metal pioneers RUDRA show you through a performance of selected songs across their repertoire of eight albums. You’re in for a one-of-a-kind experience as they will be joined by three critically-acclaimed classical musicians: Aditi Gopinathan (vocals), Raghavendran Rajasekaran (flute) and Viknash Balakirshnan (mridangam).
You’re adaptable and quite the versatile cultural sponge. You're usually the first to try out a brand new fusion cuisine when most would stick to the traditional, tried and tested. The sitar is notable for being the most popular Indian instrument to be incorporated in Western music—from the Beatles and Red Hot Chili Peppers to Lorde. You’re likely well-travelled, and enjoy absorbing influences and inspiration from a diverse range of cultural sources.
These Brief Encounters by Chowk Productions
19 & 20 Nov, Annexe Studio
Nothing spells cross-cultural like Indian dance company Chowk collaborating with Chinese music company Siong Leng Musical Association. The festival commission brings to light the allegories and symbolism of the 1947 novel, The Plague by French philosopher Albert Camus.
Aikyam – The Oneness by Brahmastra
21 Nov, Annexe Studio
Fusion contemporary music takes centrestage in Indo-ASEAN musical ensemble Brahmastra’s concert premiering their upcoming album Aikyam – The Oneness. It promises a blend of diverse music styles from Indian folk, carnatic and Hindustani classical music to jazz, blues, funk, and more.
Raffee 50 – A Musical Jubilee
19 Nov, Theatre
A celebrated veteran of Singapore music, Mohamed Raffee is renowned for his distinctive world music sound with raaga-based compositions influenced by all kinds of musical genres, including jazz, pop, R&B, funk, and many more.
You’re practical, grounded and feel deeply attuned to the natural world. The ghatam is an earthen pot used as a percussion instrument, and it’s primarily made of clay. Precision, delicacy and speed are all key in playing this instrument. You tend to care about the environment, value simplicity and have a knack for cutting to the crux of a problem to find the most straightforward and uncomplicated solution.
Bhumi Pranām – A Musical Celebration of Mother Earth by Temple of Fine Arts
20 & 21, Esplanade Concert Hall
This orchestral performance is a musical homage to the abundance and generous nurturing spirit of the Earth. Amidst our current era of ecological crises and increasing attention toward environmental sustainability, this production compels us to think and feel more deeply about our connection with our home.
Athma Ghanam – Music for the soul by Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir
28 Nov, Concert Hall
The visceral healing energy of music inspires this diverse showcase from the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (SIOC). Together with conductor Lalitha Vaidyanathan, the ensemble presents a range of classical and contemporary compositions from around the world that seek to connect, and to move and inspire during these challenging times.
You often have your head in the clouds and are constantly imagining future possibilities. The flautist produces music through the varied closure of the holes on the flute, and it’s defined by the flow of breath and air, which lends itself to a sense of ethereality. You’re likely an idealist and are sensitive to aspects of the environment that most would overlook.
Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi – Legacy of Sahir Ludhianvi (Screening) with Javed Akhtar and Shankar Mahadevan
20 & 21 Nov, Esplanade Theatre
Two friends lovingly pay tribute to a revolutionary Urdu poet and lyricist to commemorate his birth centenary. This film on the legendary Sahir Ludhianvi features renowned lyricist Javed Akhtar reciting iconic verses from the poet and sharing fond memories of his friend. He is joined by acclaimed singer Shankar Mahadevan who puts the poet’s verses to music.
Nimirndha Nannadai – Bharathi's Poems of Strength by SIFAS Alumni
19 & 20 Nov, Esplanade Recital Studio
Independence activist, social reformer and pioneer of modern Tamil poetry: these are some of the facets of Tamil literary icon Subramania Bharathi’s remarkable life. His writings take on new form through the compositions of his great-grandson Dr Rajkumar Bharathi in this performance commemorating the revolutionary freedom fighter’s death centenary.
Your reserved and unassuming demeanour belies a powerful, expressive spirit of strength and determination. This small, handheld tambourine looks deceptively simple to play, but the complexity of the percussion patterns in Indian music make this a challenging instrument to master. Because of your deft ability to blend into a crowd, people tend to be surprised when you do assert yourself, but your voice never fails to make a lasting impression.
Marma Medai – Theerppu (The Judgement)
26, 27 & 28 Nov, Theatre Studio
Just like the beguiling kanjira, nothing is quite as it seems in this gripping and thought-provoking suspense thriller theatre production directed by Grace Kalaiselvi, with multimedia by K Rajagopal. Featuring characters borrowed from the long-running 1960s Tamil radio play series, Marma Medai by M K Narayanan, the play promises to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat.
Film Screenings from the archive of the Indian Foundation for the Arts
27 & 28 Nov, Sat & Sun, various timings – screenings in Annexe Studio
New and bold truths are unravelled in this series of acclaimed documentaries from the archive of India Foundation for the Arts (IFA). The compilation spans themes of class, aesthetics, celebrity, storytelling and musical traditions, among others.
You’re dynamic and exuberant, much like the mellifluous sound that a violin produces. Like the sitar, the Indian violin represents the fusion of different cultures, since it’s used in both Indian and Western music and in contemporary and classical styles. The difference is it’s a much younger instrument, having been introduced to the subcontinent in the 18th century. It represents a youthful and aspiring spirit.
Short films by young local filmmakers
19 Nov – 19 Dec
The dynamic spirit of Singapore’s young Indian filmmakers are spotlighted in these films, available for online streaming for the duration of the festival. If you’re curious about the works of emerging Singaporean filmmakers, especially of South Asian descent, this is a playlist of shorts you wouldn’t want to miss.
Ishq Sufiyana – An Evening of Love and Sufi Music by Amit Dhamelia
26 Nov, Esplanade Annexe Studio
Sufi music epitomises a profound spiritual quest or journey. Through its lilting melodies and evocative poetry, Amit Dhamelia and his band use Sufi music to dance through some of the most existential concerns of our time, seeking to kindle hope, encouragement and inspiration.
Celebrating 20 years of championing Indian arts
Mark this milestone year with a plethora of events across film, theatre, music and dance.