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ABHIJIT GANGULY Contributing Writer

Artist Lab

Why this theatre "steels" the show!

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

August 2015

Indian Council For Cultural Relations (ICCR) presents Made In Ilva by Instabili Vaganti. The act is a masterpiece of physical theatre exploring the impact of the biggest steelworks in Europe on the environment and surrounding population. From an original script based on real life testimonies and poems from the workers at the Ilva steel plant which had caused severe damage to the environment by emitting toxic gases and causing deaths from cancer and leukemia. This theatrical performance has been bestowed with several awards such as 2013 Critics Award in Ermo Colle 2013, ward Cassino OFF Theatres of Life and 2012 Total Theatre Award Nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Nicola Pianzola and Anna Dora Dorno before their show on 11th September , 2015 at the Indian Council For Cultural Relations(ICCR), Rabindranath Tagore Centre, 9A, In Rabindranath Tagore Centre, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Central, Kolkata




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Why do you think theatre is the best way to convey the ills of modern/industrialized Europe?

I think theatre is a complete art in the sense that can join different artistic forms and establish a stronger communication with the spectator because the channel of this communication is a living body. In this way theatre has a great responsibility of intervention on the society dynamics and in our case on the industrialized and globalized Western world. In our theatre we search for new ways and possibilities of human expression through the performer work, we work on our esthetics and poetics, looking for the beauty of art, but at the same time we deal with social issues because we feel the urgency to say our opinion, to take our position through our artistic identity and our role of artists in this society. Being supported by Italian Institutions in this tournée in India with a performance such MADE IN ILVA is showing that in our country we have the freedom to talk of delicate and dangerous topics in order to attract the attention on them and to start to think to a solution. 

You have won many awards with this piece. Is it the subject matter or the dance that is the most compelling?

When we read the motivations attached to the awards won, what emerge is that the perfect combination of artistic quality and civil commitment was the most convincing element or the Jury of experts and critics. Theatre is social itself as it is a precious possibility of expression for the human being, a way to talk through art, to start from the ugliness of such a matter and reach the beauty of arts through a cathartic journey were the spectator is driven. So I would say that is the right measure through which all the elements and aspects of the performance are dialoging together. The simple and direct words of the workers with the poetic texts, the softness of a female voice with the rude orders, the cold setting with the warm living body of the performer, the social message with the poetics and the esthetics of arts.


Is social justice in theatre gaining resurgence?

Somehow yes. Theatre is one of the less censored and controlled mean of communication in a mass media world where we are bombarded by news, amplified by the use of social networks, a new channel where many new revolutions where passing through. Theatre is able to recreate a community that can meet and discuss on social issues and problems. Especially in our new piece DESAPARECIDOS #43 about the 43 students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, we are exploring this power of theatre of asking for justice.


How did this go from an idea to a produced, touring art piece?

It has been a long process started already in 2008. We have started to investigate the suggestion of the factory in general, in a universal way. First we were focusing on the effects that alienating working conditions could generate in a human being, in its body. We have explored the relationship between organic and not organic quality of acting incorporating rhythms, cyclic and repetitive movements and interacting with sounds, noises, live amplified voices video projections and lights, to discover the behavior of a body in such an environment. Then slowly we started to go from the general to the particular and the factory has taken a precise face and name: ILVA, a steel plant in the south of Italy, the biggest of Europe, a monster devastating the life of an entire city, Taranto, where Anna Dora, the director of the peace was born and grown up. So we have collected many witnesses from the workers and translated their stories into physical actions, texts, images, sounds and original music. In 2010 we started to work on these materials and to create the performance thanks to an artistic residency prize that was opening for us a long series of national and international awards. At that time nobody in Italy was talking about ILVA problems and the people barely know about the terrible situation the workers and the inhabitants of Taranto were living. We have received many political pressures and censorship in our country but finally the high level of the artistic work brought the show to be represented more and more, first in Italy, then in Sweden, in Spain, in Iran, and at the Edinburgh Fringe were MADE IN ILVA exploded like a bomb bouncing the ILVA case all over the world. In 2012 while we were for the first time representing the show abroad, in Stockholm, the scandal of ILVA was brought to the attention of the media generating a series of strikes and protests in Taranto and Italy. So in the exact moment
the scandal of ILVA emerged our show was ready to tour. We felt we were anticipating the destiny of this case and somehow provoked the rebellion against unacceptable conditions of work in ILVA.


What should young people in Kolkata know about giving their justice concerns voice through theatre?

As I was saying, even if we found resistances and tendencies of censoring our piece, we are basically in a country where is possible to express your ideas through arts. I guess that in India the situation could be different. But basically we should abandon the idea that theatre is only something traditional that should be respected and reproduced as it is or simply a form of entertainment and start to put our thoughts, worries, fears, dreams in the theatre we are searching for. Is a question of being brave and choose a way, that is not easy at all. Is a way going deep, questioning our identity and our role in the society we are living. It is a process that led to create new form of dramaturgy and original texts and to put in the poetic act of the performer something belonging to our life, history. To be here and now. To be a man of action.

"Disability awareness to us is a process of erasing fear and confusion." ~Ritika Sahni

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

August 2015

Ritika Sahni is a professional singer, performer, composer, producer of children’s albums and a social activist. She has been working with disability related issues for the more than two decades and founded Trinayani, a NGO working with disability advocacy in 2006 with the sole desire to inform, communicate and create awareness, tolerance and respect about the world of people with disabilities among the non- disabled population and explore and create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. 

From Bengali jingles to playback singing, Ritika Sahini has come a long way. How do you see your journey?

A It has been a long journey. Things have changed drastically. We had only cassettes those days. And now we are talking about releasing songs in pen drives. When I started we only had Doordarshan. Then Zee came in and was the first private Bengali channel in Kolkata. There was this influx of

interesting serials. I was fortunate to sing all their jingles. Being a singer and a songwriter was a big phenomenon at that point of time. In the last few years reality shows have become a revolution. Thanks to these shows, every episode throws up some brilliant singers but their timespans are very short. Plenty of singers now, lots of money but less recognition. We are creating vocalists from these shows and there is no stress on creativity. When we speak of Bollywood, we know the hit songs but unfortunately we don’t know the name of the singers. The songs are becoming more famous than the singers. Singers are just vehicles now. The economics have changed. You cannot survive just being a good singer. You better know the business of the game. It’s not just about singing any more.

During the last decade, you have created volumes of music for children, which work as great fun learning aid at nursery schools and developmental workshops. You have also composed prayer Songs and hymns that are derived out of Vedic spiritualism. Please share your thoughts.


I was always passionate about doing music for children. There are no good songs or rhymes left for the children of our country now. In 2002 Happy Day was the first album to be published with a book. Then in 2004, came Tim Tim Tara while Rhyme Time and Akkar Bakkar Bambay Bo were released in 2007. I HAVE THE POWER was released in end November of 2008. It is a special album by me and Shaan with mantras and prayers for kids and helps them understand the importance of mantras. I released GOL GOL GHOOME last year. This year, my new album will again be an original with nursery rhymes written by poets of this country. It took me many years of research. These are in shuddh Hindi and therefore I am going to release a book along with my album HALLAM CHALLAM which is going to have English and Hindi meanings for the words. It has been a hard journey and continues to be a hard journey as nobody wants to produce music for children, They feel it doesn’t sell. But even today people are buying our first album Happy Day! On the other hand parents are forever looking out for new audio albums. In these albums, I sing along with children, it’s never been me singing for the children, rather children singing along with me. These children have now grown up and buy these albums for their own children! And now, these songs are also available online.

You have an exciting dual career one as a singer and the other as a social activist. You have concentrated your talents towards the cause of disability. What has been your motivation?

A Many people are not aware that I did my B.Ed in DeafEducation before doing a Master’s degree in music. I have always wanted to be a part of the disability sector. I have no personal reasons. I was volunteering for Manovikas Kendra when they were in Short Street. I often visited a school for deaf children, which was on the same road. I often saw deaf children using Sign Language and communicating with each other, which really fascinated me. Being a musician I was interested in teaching music to deaf children. I was asked by the school to do my B.Ed for Deaf Education. After which to complete 16 years of education, I took the opportunity to do Masters in Bengali music. I am a gold medalist in music. Thereafter I got into professional music but never left the disability sector. However I tried to keep these two sectors separate as I was an entertainer and didn’t want people to question my motives. I have been in this field for more than two decades. I joined the Institute of Cerebral Palsy and also run my own clinic in Kolkata. When I shifted to Mumbai, I joined the Spastic Society there. Being part of the disability sector for so many years I had a different take on what was missing in our society and what was needed for people with disabilities to lead a dignified life. I started Trinayani in 2006. It works with a mission to include, honour and empower persons with disabilities by advocating their rights, and creating awareness about disabilities among non-disabled persons. It also aims at creating employment opportunities for PWDS. Disability awareness to us is a process of erasing fear and confusion and helping accept and understand people with differing abilities. Most of us are ignorant about issues related to disability. Our reactions are the outcome of this ignorance. We are attempting to expose the common man to a world which they might not be aware of.

Your advice for aspiring musicians.

Integrity is the key. Do your work with lot of integrity. Don’t forget your roots. It’s very important to hear music. Listen to world music. Listen to what’s happening in other parts of the country be it folk classical or pop. Expand your horizons and do not stick to one genre of music.

"There is a constant exchange between image, text, movement and sound."

~Vassilis Kritikos



Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

August 2015

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Vassilis is Artistic Director at Eilissos a company for culture.”Eilissos" micro-art space is the seat of the homonymous non- profit organization founded in 2006 by group of artists, scientists and entrepreneurs to overall research, study, preservation and dissemination of art in various manifestations. An old house - in the city center near the old bed of the homonymous river - converted into "pocket theater",  music scene,  exhibition space according to the needs of the event.  Abhijit Ganguly spoke to him on the sidelines of Celebrating 82nd birth anniversay of Jerzy Grotowski the event Celebrating 82nd birth anniversary of Jerzy Grotowski in Kolkata organized by Bibhaban In association with. Theatre House & Proscenium Art Centre.

What exactly is the philosophy of physical theatre?

For me the philosophy of physical theatre is the philosophy that I have seen in Grotowski’s attitude in his works. It is the philosophy to keep the essentials and throw everything else. This stands in the making of a performance as in life … a man should tend to evolve to someone who will be “perfect” if possible in the meaning I gave before as the actor also should tend to be the “total” actor if possible also …
Could you share with us some of the manifestations and forms typical of this style?

Physical theatre contains under his umbrella many styles or forms. Starting from one image that can be converted to movement and special atmosphere …  and finally to communication without hearing and understanding a text but mainly feeling the presence of the actor, the images he creates and the whole atmosphere …  
This is related also in our days with dance theatre or dance as the Japanese discipline of Butoh dance or forms like the tradition of Katakhali in India … The discipline of Japanese Butoh dance influenced already considerably  the aesthetic of the contemporary performance.   
All the above without the need of lights, of décor etc but only with the need of the simple and the essential : one actor and one spectator as Jerzy Grotowski – the Polish Director who influenced so much universal theatre in the 20th century – suggested with his “Poor” Theatre.
We can say that there are no concrete boundaries between theatre and expressive dance  in our days … as there is a constant exchange between image, text, movement and sound. 

What are the latest trends in performances in physical/movement theatre?

The latest trends are about this interchange between all disciplines : theatre, dance, dance-theatre, music, text, sound etc, also we speak about this extended relation between audience and performers …  Performance can happen in an old factory as in an abandoned house … and most of the times improvising … the attention is not in the form but in the presence and the experience of the performer …



Assamese singer creating ripples across India



American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

August 2015

Assamese Singer Simanta Shekhar is creating a sensation with his lovely and attractive voice and melodious songs.  His debut Assamese Album is Pakhila and is well known for his popular smash-hit song
"Toradoi" in Pakhila. Another hit song of dikhou noi eriba nuwaru was popular with Assamese audience. His first Assamese solo Album is Apsora.

He Studied Pharmaceutical Science at Dibrugarh University of Assam but abandoned this lucrative career option to follow his heart, that is
music. Talking about his initial journey Simanta says, “I was never a pharmaceutical person at heart. My parents always wanted me to take
education seriously. They didn’t think that one could make a career out of music. That is the perception of most Indian parents. The society accepts music, dance, sports, or any kind of performing arts as extracurricular activities. For instance during my B Pharm days my teachers asked me whats the relation between medicine and music. I said “The only relation I find is both starts with M”. I did get first class degree, but music overruled my passion for anything else. But I am glad to see that the society is changing and parents are encouraging their children to take up performing arts as career.”

He has showcased his soulful voice and unique style of singing on popular show MTV Coke Studio.  Simanta shares his experiences, “Coke
studio is fantastic! Coke studio is a big time platform for talented musicians all across India as well as the world. I met some great talented musicians. We shared our thoughts and I developed new kind of music. When we interacted we realized that we had the same thought process. It is place for exchange of thoughts and creativity. A folk band from Rajasthan who had performed in coke studio came to my room after the show and jammed with me.”

How has modernization has affected the Assamese music culture? How has it affected his music?

Simanta feels, “There was time when people used to think there was only couple of Assamese folk singers. Earlier they loved peppy numbers. But now with social media the new generation is getting attracted to folk songs or folk fusion. The most attractive thing about Bihu is the rhythm. Bihu is a pentatonic folk, which can create a rhythm in your body.These days everyone is doing fusion, because that’s what the new generation is interested in. Because in fusion, the heart, the soul, that bhav (feel), is the same. It’s just some of the outer structures that they use that are modern.

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

August 2015

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Preserving Sorbian identity through the lens of time

The Sorbs of Western Slavic origin  have been living in regions of Eastern Germany long before Germany as a nation state existed. Overcoming numerous obstacles like the terror aimed at them during the Third Reich, they have endured and are still holding onto their own language, rights, and traditions even today. They have become fairly integrated into German society but still place a lot of value on their Sorbian identity, which for them precedes their German nationality.


German photographer Yana Wernicke  through her work “Irrlicht” wants to go back to the mythical and fantastic roots of Sorbian life. Inspired by fairy tales and legends, she delved deeply into Sorbian history in order to bring to life an imagery that has long been forgotten. Yana explains to BE at the sidelines of her exhibition at the Goethe–Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata, “In Germany, not a lot of people know about the Sorbs, and their traditions are fading away. So, for me, it was a way photographing something that interests me anyway, that is, traditions, fairytales etc., and it was also about preserving some of their traditions.”


While photographing real events and real people she did not want to document Sorbian daily life as it is today. Rather, she wanted to use fragments of it in order to tell her own story, as she has  been infatuated with the magical and mythical aspects of the Sorbian way of life since childhood. This exhibition is a modern fairy tale that combines old conceptualities with new interpretations and portrays a world
somewhere in transition between reality and fiction.


What according to her is a good photograph? 

Yana smiles, “I think there is no fixed notion about what makes a good photograph. Everyone is different and such conceptions are too subjective to decide.” With “Irrlicht”, Yana hopes to trigger a thought process that talks about keeping alive the imagination within one self as well as the idea of being part of a greater identity.


Does she think there is such a thing as someone really having a “natural eye” for photography? 

Yana feels, “Yes I think that there are people who have a natural eye for photography. But photography, just like any other art form, can be trained and learned, but if you don't have the eye or talent, it is way harder and having the talent will make a good photograph an interesting one.”

Digital and SLR cameras have been selling like hotcakes as more people, especially youngsters turn to  photography. What are her views on this?

Yana says, “It doesn’t matter what type of camera you use. I shot my series Irrlicht in analogue with a double lens camera. I have seen great works by photographers only shot on their phone or with an analogue compact camera. It really doesn’t matter. A good camera won’t  make the image better. I personally have a Digital SLR, but I am not going crazy about lenses and types. For the camera, I have only one 50mm lens and it works great. If I need to zoom in or out, I walk and do the work myself and not let the camera control me.”


Her word of advice for photographers, “There are no rules and advises; it’s just important to stay curious and not worry too much about the technical aspects of photographing.”



An interview with Director and Dancer, Ramli Ibrahim, from Sutra Dance Theatre



"Indian classical dance is a marathon and not a short distance dash"-Ramli Ibrahim

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

March 2015

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Recently, a nine-member group of the Sutra Dance Theatre, Malaysia performed a 90-minute show entitled, ‘Krishna, Love Re-invented’ at the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) Kolkata. Accomplished in ballet, modern, and Indian classical dance, Director, Ramli Ibrahim is a cultural icon who has performed internationally for more than three decades. He is now curating the Dance Component of a comprehensive Arts Festival: DiverseCity: Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival 2015.

What led you to start Sutra Dance Theatre?


This is a long story. I formed Sutra Dance Theatre more than 32 years ago in 1983 when I returned to Malaysia from Australia after more than 8 years as a professional dancer. Sutra Dance Theatre was established in order to consolidate my activities - artistically and administratively - in a more organized manner. By artistically, I mean my choreographic forays and my teaching activities as I needed good dancers to execute my repertoire and choreography. Administratively, I wanted also to be more efficient in the way I organized our shows, get funding and brand our artistic products.

What is your opinion on the current climate of the performing arts for upcoming dancers?


There is a shift in young dancers’ mentalities as the digital and virtual world has become more pervasive, it seems to have numbed their imaginations, aesthetic senses, and preferences. Upcoming dancers now want instant gratification from the work they’ve put in.  Unfortunately, this is not the nature of classical arts - you can’t quickly achieve success and there are no short cuts. The discipline in all ‘seriousness’ and classical art systems, be it music, dance, visual or anything, requires time, energy and dedication. Young people are now easily distracted from the hard work of honing their talent. They consume cheap popular culture like they consume junk food. This affects their aesthetic choice. They don’t read anymore and don’t have time to get into the depth of their art. The current climate is not conducive to classical art as consumerist; cheap popular art has become very effective in distracting young people from dedicating their time, talent, and lives to real art.

What is the most important thing for a dancer in terms of creating his/her own niche—style, experiment, physique, or creativity?


 As I mentioned, serious art requires time, energy, and dedication. Of course, you have to have a mentor/guru who helps guide you to go about it the right way. I believe in this. A good teacher not only teaches the right technique and style, but also guides the right approach the dancer should take in making decisions about his or her career options. The wrong guru can simply wreck your technique or enthusiasm. There must be a certain amount of idealism and striving for perfection for a dancer. Then, there are the prerequisite qualities – aptitude and talent, right physique, determination, and passion. Last but not least, a great deal of luck!

Learning Indian classical dance requires great effort and long-term dedication. Are young people still willing to undertake the endeavor?


Indian classical dance is now so popular that it’s everywhere. This does not mean that all of it is good. There is now a sea of faceless Barbi-Doll classical dancers cavorting on stage which is painful to watch. Needless to say, very few will make it. The field is becoming more and more difficult as Indian classical dance has to compete for attention with other popular forms for reasons mentioned above. Indian classical dance is a marathon and not a short-distance dash. Only the talented, hardworking, passionate and intelligent will survive! 


What suggestions can you make for incentivizing dance in countries like India where dancers are forced to look for alternative professions to meet livelihood needs?


Dance is difficult and I think it is the same everywhere. I represent that generation which viewed dancing as a privilege and gift. We did not see it as a mere profession.

We did not dance to ‘meet our livelihood needs’. We danced to live… We now lament the passing of an era. This may sound far-fetched and clichéd but it’s true - the livelihood comes as a result. It comes as a natural result of dedication and success. I think if you want to have a comfortable livelihood, then dance is the wrong choice for a profession. Having said that, we have always fought for dancers to get paid for their work. But a dancer’s life is hard everywhere – be it in New York, Malaysia or India. I do believe that it’s one of the hardest and heart-breaking professions. So, be prepared.

There are many young dancers who are interested in taking up dance professionally. What is your advice to them?


I don’t usually give any advice as dance itself will decide for them. Truly, dance is not just a job but a calling. There is also ‘serious’ and commercial dance. Professionally, you have to seek what ‘drives’ you. Eventually, things will find their own level and settle equitably. The talented, hardworking, and lucky will seek further and ‘find’ themselves in dance and consequently, their own niches. Dance is experiential. You cannot ‘get it’ by watching it on the Youtube. I guess the rest, who do not realize this, will still be glued to their digital world and just watch as it goes by…

An Interview with Alvim Cossa about Jana Sanskriti an Experiment for Social Change

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

March 2015

“I learned a lot from them in Jana Sanskriti” ~Alvim Cossa


Jana Sanskriti was started as an experiment about 30 years ago by a group of dedicated people who saw it as an effective means of social change. Later, they came into contact with Augusto Boal of Brazil, the father of Theatre of the Oppressed, and Jana Sanskriti - Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed in Kolkata – was born.

Today Jana Sanskriti has more than 30 teams in West Bengal alone, most of whom are agricultural labourers. Their plays range from domestic and political violence, reconstruction of public institutions to resistance against aggressive forms of development. Recently, artists from 15 countries covering almost all the continents came to Kolkata to participate at the Muktadhara VI theatre festival, organized by Jana Sanskriti on December 19, 2014. "We have unsung theatre lovers from different corners of the world to doyens like Brian Brophy who heads the arts and theatre wing of California Institute of Technology,” said Dr Sanjoy Ganguly, Director & Founding member, Jana Sanskriti. Abhijit Ganguly interviews Alvim Cossa, from CTO-Maputo (Center of Theatre of the Oppressed).


Since how long have you been associated with the theater? How were you initiated to it? What is the most memorable and challenging incident of your career?


I'm working in the theater since 1993, when together with my friends from childhood created the "Colectivo Gota de Lume" that same year participated in the Amateur Theatre Festival of Maputo and were in 2nd place. It was a good start and never stopped. In 2001, I met the Theatre of the Oppressed and had the opportunity to learn directly from Augusto Boal, returned to Maputo, created GTO-Maputo (Oppressed Theatre Group) that since 2013, went to CTO-Maputo (Center of Theatre of the Oppressed). We are working with 120 theater groups throughout Mozambique, bringing community reflections on health (HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, leprosy) among others, but also our plays and performances bring governance, quality of services provided by the state to citizens – water and sanitation, among many.


How has been your experience at the Jana Sanskriti?


I learned a lot from them in Jana Sanskriti. The way they associate the pure Indian culture in their presentations, the way they work in the spectator's psychology, allowing them to step on stage consciously, and fight to change the reality in the play that is both the spectator’s reality as a person.


How do you see the future of theatre in the age of the internet?


Nothing will replace the theatre, yes it is a growing challenge, because we have to grow in our dramatic buildings, bring more joy even addressing pain and sorrow, we have to be more creative in the aesthetics of each presentation and create conditions for human contact is intensive in each show, we have to come to life in a visible and discernible for our different public!

An interview with Simon Cheong, Founder of the Classical Guitar Society in Malaysia

Abhijit Ganguly

ALT Contributing Writer

January 2015

American Laboratory Theatre Contributing Writer
Malaysian Guitarist

“What I love most of the classical guitar is the intimacy one gets when playing the instrument” 

~Simon Cheong


Simon Cheong was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia He founded the Classical Guitar Society (WP/Sel) Malaysia in 1993 and has been the President ever since. He is the festival director of ‘CGS Malaysia International Guitar Festival & Camp’. In 2004, with his students, he formed the Kuala Lumpur Guitar Ensemble II (2004-2014). He has performed at guitar festivals in Turkey, Thailand and Germany. Abhijit Ganguly speaks to Simon on the sidelines of Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition 2014.

What is it that drew you to the classical guitar and what do you love about the instrument?


Simon Cheong - “Firstly, on my mother's side of the family, I have two uncles who are violinists and an aunt who is a ballerina so you can say that music and the arts does run in my blood. I remember when I was 8, I asked my mother for guitar lessons but during those days I was of pretty small build and there were no smaller made guitars and when my mother asked her brother about teaching me the guitar, he said I was too small! This was the case again when I was 10 and then when I was around 13 years old, my uncle finally started giving me lessons. Why the guitar? I guess I have a natural affinity with the instrument although I have tried learning the violin and piano. What I love most of the classical guitar is the intimacy one gets when playing the instrument. The very personal touch where every sound that is played is with both your hands with no mechanisms or inanimate objects, cajoling a beautiful tone that really touches the heart.”


Who or what are your inspirations?


Simon Cheong – “If I recall correctly, I guess the family chatter of my uncle, Andrew Chye, getting scholarships and winning many awards at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then being the assistant first violinist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra ... all these would have been inspiring to a young imaginative mind. Obviously, there is Segovia, John Williams and Julian Bream. What are my own inspirations? My own development in my understanding of music and all the discoveries in my never-ending search for this understanding of music and of perfecting the art of playing the guitar through its interpretations, technique, performance and teaching within me spurs me on.”

Malaysian Guitarist

What recent trends have you been noticing with respect to the classical guitar scenario?


Simon Cheong – “The classical guitar scenario is getting on fine with the very many active people we see today. As we all know, any and every activity would not survive without the enthusiasm of those involved and even more importantly, the generating force who has the capabilities to bring in and to fulfill his dream that will benefit all.  For example, here with the Calcutta International Guitar Festival & Competition, attributed to Avik Saha for his forward-looking perspective and great dynamic energy towards bringing the very best to India, bringing India to international attention, creating enthusiasm and exposing the people of India to international standards that would be a benchmark to the Indian classical guitarists. This in turn creates a very healthy situation for the betterment of the classical guitar all over the world.







As the President of the Classical Guitar Society Malaysia, I have organized my festival/camp for many years in Malaysia and have helped inspire others to follow suit and now there are about four active festivals in Malaysia alone. This shows that the guitar is thriving and the general base for it is growing. I am also proud to say that those who had attended my festival were inspired to organize their own like when Matthew MacAllister was at my camp and saw what I did, he mentioned that he would do a retreat festival and the following year he started his Classical Guitar Retreat in Scotland. Just recently, I was just performing at the 1st Saigon International Guitar Festival (12-16 Nov 2014) and the organizers gave us credit in their opening speech. With all these festivals and competitions flourishing, the trend for the classical guitar will keep growing to greater heights despite the onslaught of the commercialistic popular music. Classical music, or as I would like to also call it intellectual music, would never have the popularity of the masses as the masses needs to be educated in order to appreciate. Hence, as music in history for its development has always needed patrons, today too, we would need well wishers, patrons of the Arts, sponsors and the vision of someone like Avik Saha.”


Over the last decade, we have seen significant usage of technology in music. Your take on it?


Simon Cheong – “Technology in music is a very wide topic. Firstly, technological improvement helps eases the people's basic chores and frees the person to explore more creative aspects of whatever he or she is indulging in or working on. It also has its drawbacks especially when there is an over-reliance on technology. As we are really in the midst of technological advancement, only history can really be able to define the effects it has on us and our music. The biggest advantage with the Internet is that information if used wisely is for the betterment of humankind. I have always forewarned my students to be able to differentiate the good and the bad, the amateurs and the professionals. One should not be impressed with views that are baseless without questioning the integrity and background check of the proposer especially the validity of extremist views or those that are for profits only. The biggest setback to musicians is the dwindling audience in life concerts caused by technology.  The experience of a life concert is something that cannot be replicated in recording. The eclectic feeling created by the enthusiasm of the audience, their expectations and the pleasant surprises of the personality of the performer, his demeanor on stage, his persona that emanates through his playing...all this will only be filtered out in a recording. A poor perspective by the techno-crazed person is the laziness to get out of the seat in front of their monitor to go and attend a concert! A poor excuse being, I hear on 'YouTube' what I want or I have a CD on it. The perfection on a recording is unreal and misses out on the human personal affections. Something which has affected everyone is the lack of interpersonal interactions. People have begun to not know how to communicate with each other and have become very impersonal.“


A word of advice for aspiring guitarists?


Simon Cheong – “Be true to yourself! Remember that success comes from hard work and there are no shortcuts to it. The fire within yourself is of utmost importance but yet it should not burn so fervently that it just dies when faced with a little setback nor should this fire burn so slowly that nothing happens! Just practicing for hours is not enough if the practicing is not intelligent practicing (that means solving and looking for problems during practice), one must read books and magazines on music , attend all live concerts no matter what instrument you are playing - a violin, piano orchestral concert... mix around, get views good and bad, learn from both. And finally, improving oneself means falling down often, yet not letting setbacks pull you down but take it as an experience to change and learn.”

Contributing Writer, Abhijit Ganguly, is an extensively published journalist based in Kolkata, India. His stories cover the global arts scene and the fusion arts movement with the culture and art of India. Ganguly’s work includes personal interviews with world renowned dance troupes, film directors, fine artists, sculptors, as well as jazz, hip hop and classical musicians. He is known for presenting an inside view of the artist's craft and what motivates their creativity. Ganguly also delves into the artist's take on what a young person in Kolkata can learn from each artist, so that the youth of the city can learn to master these skills.

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