The festival of Holi, which celebrates the coming of Spring in India, is known for being a joyful, colourful and somewhat chaotic occasion. Renowned musician Vijay Iyer has teamed up with filmmaker Prashant Bhargava to bring us "Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi". Commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of composer Igor Stravinsky’s "Le Sacré du Printemps" (The Rite of Spring), Iyer and Bhargava have reconsidered the ideas linking spring to rituals and transformation in this work.
"We were particularly interested in the lived and felt reality of individuals on the brink of change: the transformative role of myth in earthly life," the duo wrote have written in their notes on the project. "Our attention turned to the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, India, the mythical home of Krishna, the Hindu deity whose youthful flirtations with his beloved Radha (or fondly Radhe) and her friends form one of the origins for the holiday."
Although Holi is generally portrayed as a fun and joyous time, the festival is also known to be an occasion for some men to be sexually aggressive towards women; there have been countless occassions where women have been inappropriately grabbed and mistreated in the name of the "fun" of Holi. At a time when the safety of women in India (or lack thereof) has been prevalent in the media on an international scale, "Radhe Radhe" sheds light on some of the lesser-known aspects of Holi celebrations: "Men, high on intoxicating spirits, make a pilgrimage to Radha’s village dressed in vibrant garb from the region of Krishna’s playground and equipped with ceremonial shields; as the men boisterously taunt with sexually provocative chants, women await armed with large wooden staffs, which they then use to beat the men ferociously."
Prashant Bhargava is an award-winning filmmaker whose feature film "Patang" received critical acclaim and won awards at film festivals all over the world. Last spring, Prashant and his film crew travelled to Braj to record footage of the eight-day Holi celebrations in the region. With visuals that present both the colourful and darker sides to the festivities, the music for "Radhe Radhe: The Rites of Holi" has been composed by Vijay Iyer and performed by International Contemporary Ensemble.
Iyer, who is of Indian Tamil heritage, has received numerous accolodaes as a jazz musician, including Jazz Artist of the Year in the 2012 Down Beat International Critics’ Poll. In early 2013, his album Accelerando was named #1 album in the Rhapsody Jazz Critics’ Poll, and his album "Histrocity" was nominated for a Grammy in 2010! In this project, he has reinvented Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring" on his own terms. Iyer’s score follows the episodic structure of the original, encapsulating the celebratory nature of the festival and contrasting it against the more harrowing aspects.
The world premiere for the 35-minute film will be taking place next Tuesday at Carolina Performing Arts in the USA, and the event will feature a live performance of Vijay Iyer’s score! Tickets can be purchased from Carolina Performing Arts by clicking here.