New Delhi: A true cultural friendship has blossomed between India and Africa with the meeting of traditional African free-flowing performing arts and the structured grammar of Indian classical music and dance at a two-day Africa Festival here.
The participating nations are Zambia, the Syechelles, Ghana, Senegal, Sudan and Mali.
The two-day festival June 18-19, an initiative of the Indian Council for CulturalRelations (ICCR), began with a "Namaste India" fusion concert choreographed by noted Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran featuring performers from Zambia, Seychelles and Ghana at the Kamani Auditorium.
Chandran, clad in a traditional South Indian sari embroidered with golden zari motifs, led the musicians to the rhythm of Carnatic music as they paid tribute to the host India with a group performance. The evening ended with yet another India-Africa group concert conducted by Chandran in which the African percussionists departed from their free beats to play improvised renditions of the seven Carnatic tales using rhythms of three, five and nine beats - the basis of Indian classical rhythm.
"It is an India-Africa bonding in the real sense. When you see so many heads of African states and performers, their brightly coloured traditional dresses and an Indian Bharatnatyam dancer attired in atraditional sari, it is true friendship. Culture plays an unique role in underlining the links and the growing relations between India and Africa," ICCR director general Suresh Goel said.
For Chandran, who worked with the troupes for two "hectic days" to package the performances, the experience was one of learning.
"I had to edit the performances of the six participating countries into 25-minute renditions. It was difficult because they have free-flowing and fantastic performing traditions. They are free of the structure and grammar that marks Indian classical arts," Chandran told IANS. The dancer said she wanted to "open a dialogue between the African traditional performances and Indian music by teaching the African percussionists and musicians to play the `adi talams` (old rhythms) of the Carnatic cycle of talam".
The first to perform on the opening day Monday was the Zambian Cultural Dance Troupe, a group of professional artists drawn from nine different community-based cultural ensembles with the view to supporting the "One Zambia, One Nation" moto through their arts and culture. Clad in their traditional costumes and elaborate feathered head-gear, the performers showed off their skills on traditional percussion instruments and ritual dancing from the villages.
"We always appreciate good things and we think they (the Zambian performers) are the gifts of god," Susan Sikaneta, Zambia`s high commissioner to India, told IANS. Sikaneta said she was "following a tradition" practised in her country when she danced on the stage with the performers.
Sikaneta said two years years ago, when a dance troupe from Punjab visited the Zambian capital of Lusaka to perform on the Indian Republic Day, she was struck by the "similarity of energy between the Punjabi and Zambian dancers".
She said Zambians were trying to preserve the traditional cultures "the way things are in the villages". A traditional performance arts centre in Lusaka allows tourists to watch performances in the evenings, Sikaneta said.
The National Cultural Troupe of Seychelles, which represented the multi-cultural post-colonial culture of the island nation, rendered a performance in two parts. The first segment was devoted to the 18th century culture of Seychelles, the traditional slave performances and that of their white colonial masters.
The second act captured the spirit of contemporary multi-racial Seychelles with a combination of games, songs, plays, ceremonies and dances.
"The traditional cultures of Seychelles originated at its beaches where the slaves brought from countries like Mozambique and Madagascar lit bonfires and sung their woes to their colonial masters," Marietta Matombe, head of a dance troupe from Sychelles, told IANS.
The dancers of the Nientan Dance Company from Ghana preserve the high-energy traditional dances with their motto of "nkabom" or togetherness. "We undergo physical training, breathing exercises and attitude building to control our movements on stage," Juluis Yaw Quansha, the artistic director of the troupe, said.
The La Ballet National Du founded by the poet and national leader of Senegal, Leopold Senghor, in 1960 displayed physical discipline on the stage while the Sudan Folklore Group and the Ensemble Instrumental National DU from Mali virtually transposed the traditional spirit of their countries to India.