FEATURE: In The Further Soil, report from Mumbai

In The Further Soil, courtesy of British Council India

SAMPAD, the Birmingham based proliferators of South Asian music, arts and dance, have teamed up with the British Council India in an internationally reaching agenda of cross collaboration.

In The Further Soil is an original piece of musical theatre, directed by Harmage Singh Kalirai and devised by Indian and UK artists, that celebrates the rich cultural heritage spanning the two nations. Touring both India and the UK this autumn/winter, In The Further Soil will establish a platform of opportunities for musicians and artists from both territories, creating a bridge between arguably the world’s most influential (UK) and potentially lucrative (India) music and arts markets. The Birmingham Observer met with SAMPAD founder Piali Ray OBE for an exclusive interview at In The Further Soil’s final production in Mumbai.

Piali Ray, photo by Ian Reynolds

“The show aims to reflect how traditional and contemporary arts, from both India and England, can mix creatively”, say Ray. “We didn’t want to produce something that just concentrates on traditional music and dance, that would be like taking coals to Newcastle, we wanted to showcase what can be achieved by bringing this collage of skills and talent together and performing it in a modern environment.” Before closing in Mumbai, In The Further Soil was performed in Delhi and initially Calcutta, Piali Ray’s home city. “I was terrified of the opening show in Calcutta,” admits Ray, “it’s where I was born and a lot of people there still don’t fully understand what I have achieved in the UK. We had a packed opening show, we even had to put up a screen outside so the extra people could see, but thankfully it came together beautifully and the response was incredible.” Apart from a trail by her peers, what motivated Ray to put SAMPAD’s weight behind the production? “I get very excited by whole the creative process,” says Ray, “it’s being able to have an idea like this, put it into motion and then see it exist that I love. We created something really different, and it worked. That’s the biggest success to me.”

In The Further Soil was inspired by the writings of Bengali poet, novelist, painter and Nobel Prize for literature winner, Rabindranath Tagore. Written solely by its cast, it follows the journey of five individuals from various cultural backgrounds, riding a train together and exploring the issues of fear, suspicion, similarity and understanding.

Repertory Theatre actress Shelly King leads the show’s narrative with dancers Anusha Subramanyam and Sanjukta Ray reflecting the story in grace and movement. Ratul Shankar Ghosh and Dibyendu Mukherji provide a strong musical backdrop through percussion and guitar, with Birmingham’s Soweto Kinch adding his distinctive blend of Jazz saxophone and rhyming lyrics.

“It’s been amazing,” says Kinch, “tiring and exhausting but a fantastic experience. I’ve never performed in India before and I didn’t know what to expect, but the reception has been incredible. People seemed to really respond to the combination of styles and appreciate what we were trying to achieve.”

Outside of In The Further Soil, Kinch performed alongside Mukherji and Ghosh, at Mumbai’s fiercely independent Blue Frog music venue. He also held musical workshops for the slum children in Mumbai, many of who were in attendance at the final performance. Kinch is now exploring the possibility of recreating the Flyover Show, his annual community festival held underneath the Hockley flyover in Birmingham, in Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum dwelling and the backdrop for Danny Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire.

In The Further Soil is part of the British Council India’s Connections Through Culture project, one of its ongoing initiatives to increase opportunities for musicians and artists between India and the UK. “We’re focused on building a cultural bridge,” says Tasneem Vahanvaty, Head of Film, Music & Interaction for the British Council India & Sri Lanka, “to create unique and special productions that bring Indian and UK artists together. We’re building an atmosphere of cultural exchange, one that could be seen as a risk to commercial event managers, Our only criteria is quality, we want to showcase the best artists we can.”

In The Further Soil finishes touring the UK this winter, performing at the MAC in Birmingham on Oct 22nd. With further collaborations being planned from both the organisers and performers involved in the show, SAMPAD and the British Council India are encouraged by the ‘legacy’ they can see unfolding. SAMPAD itself is in planning stages for a new production to parallel the 2012 Olympics in London called Moving Earth. A significant dance production involving twenty groups of twelve performers each, the show is again set to create a wealth of opportunities for artists looking to join a growing Anglo-Indian bohemia.

For more details on this and other projects visit www.sampad.org or www.britishcouncilindia.co.in