EKTA: Music to heal hearts

There's arguably no greater champion of unity and harmony than music. But what makes it such a powerful force, able to crumble impenetrable walls of centuries-old hate and fear to dust, yet tender when it reaches hearts, nursing back to life the love it holds for the humanity around us?

Our curiosity led us to a conversation with classically trained Carnatic vocalist and extraordinary veena player
Ramya Tangirala. In her most recent collaborative performance EKTA: Healing the Heart – part of Leeds International Concert Season's lunchtime series – Ramya and Jazz pianist Paul Wilkinson infused the afternoon with the rich melodies of South Indian music and the warm and earthy tones of jazz rhythms. Together they created a powerful elixir of music that aimed to unite the audience in heart, mind and soul. Could this hold the key to our burning question?

SAA-uk: You mentioned that the aim of EKTA is “uniting arts to heal hearts”. Please can you tell us a little more about what you mean by healing hearts?

Ramya Tangirala: Music impacts one's state of mind, promotes hope, joy, cheer {and] is motivating. Thus, music promotes emotional well-being [and helps in] maintaining positive mental health. [Ultimately, this] is healing the heart while uniting people from different walks of life through unifying different genres of music.

The future holds a fervent hope for social solidarity and harmony through the exchange of cultural experiences and empathy, but for Ramya, this future seems to begin on an individual level, namely the care given to sustaining and prioritising our mental health. Worryingly, conversations surrounding our emotional well-being are far too often ones we suppress which raises the alarm that much more needs to be done to raise awareness and end the stigma. Currently studying the role that music can play in sustaining our mental health and well-being, Ramya is in the midst of exploring how this artform can be that powerful tool of change.
Uncertainty may gnaw away at some at first; can music and art really hold such an enormous value? Well, for the doubtful and intrigued, we turn your attention to perhaps one of the greatest examples of music's power, The Civil Rights Movement. 

At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, a new chapter would begin as slavery was formally abolished and 4 million enslaved African Americans could finally see their freedom. But tauntingly, that vision vanished just as it came, and in its place stood the grievous reality of Jim Crow laws and vicious racist practices that denied African Americans the liberation and civil rights they were vowed

Just as it had been during slavery, music would once again offer a place of refuge where solace and the right to self-expression and identity could be found. And during these treacherous times where racism and gruesome violence sought to suppress, the birth of Jazz at the turn of the 20th century would empower and rejuvenate tired spirits, driving the march to long-awaited freedom. Jazz's synonymity with improvisation would bring together musicians of different backgrounds and disciplines to release their emotions of fear, hope, and frustration and in doing so gave a platform for African Americans to release their voices to the world, finding the strength and resistance to tell of their experiences and stories.
“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy.” 
These words issued by Martin Luther King Jr and read in 1964 at the Berlin Jazz Festival paint a poignant picture of just how emotionally life-giving music was for African American people.

We return now to the present moment and back to Ramya's performance that brought together Jazz and South Indian music.

SAA-uk: How do you think that bringing together South Indian and Jazz music can make music's uniting and healing impact all the greater?

Ramya Tangirala: The audience will enjoy a high-quality cultural experience. I hope to reach out and broaden horizons, to engage the wider audience and remove barriers to enjoyment. The audience will feel charged and energised at the end of the concert and spread the cheer around.

Interestingly, the energy and zeal that Ramya precisely predicted the audience would experience after the musical experience was also rife while they eagerly waited for the doors to open and the lunchtime recital to begin. A curiosity around the veena electrified interests, and floating around were a few enthused remarks of mystery at what the instrument would look and sound like. 

It was heart-warming sight, not only because it illuminated how open the audience was to delve into acquiring new, cultural experiences, but it showed that in doing, cheer did indeed make its way fast around the room. 

We were interested to know if this musical experience had been akin to something they had encountered before, and while for many, it was their first time, for most of those who had attended similar in the past had only done so through the work of SAA-uk. This begged an important question, is the access to culturally enriching and diverse experiences in the UK good enough, and what can be done to promote this?

There's not just one way to answer this, but perhaps a good place to start is for recognition to finally be given to the importance of music and the arts in promoting the well-fare of individuals, society, and the future. And this is exactly what Ramya hopes to achieve. 

Ramya Tangirala: Through EKTA my aim is uniting arts to heal hearts. I will study the impact of my music through survey and publish with medical peer review, devising techniques to making it a multifaceted and holistic exploration. [It] is a way of giving back to the community.

We hope you stand with us when we say, art can most certainly heal hearts!

by Dimple D'Cruz 
SAA-uk's Marketing and Communications Assistant

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