Music for the Mind and Soul, food for thought

Check out Milapfest

Not being a born and bred scouser, I’ve always had an interest in understanding what makes Liverpool tick, and in particular how that compares with the still widely held preconceptions other ‘outsiders’ have about the city.  Take the cultural stereotypes that still prevail among those who haven’t spent time in the ‘peoples republic of merseyside‘ – the tracksuits, the football, the car theft.  Now, I’m not denying the exsistence of such things in Liverpool.  Tracksuits are still a staple wardrobe choice for many young Liverpool lads (or lids, depending on your accent, or La’s, if you’re trying a bit hard), football is still arguably the biggest cultural force in Merseyside, and cars do get nicked here.  But all of these stereotypes can be applied to any city or large town in the UK.

There is so much more to Liverpool.  There is a busy and thriving arts scene here, I think,driven by the  natural scouse spirit, guts, creativity and wit.  Now, I’m talking purely anecdotally now, so don’t expect statistics or references to back up my claims, but there is always something interesting going on in this city.  Every weekend seems packed with events, many of them free, to entertain and educate the lucky people of Liverpool.

Take my afternoon yesterday.  The Indian Arts organisation Milapfest (which is celebrating it’s 25 year anniversary this year!) hosted a lunchtime concert by Indus, a phenomenal east-meets-west ensemble made up of Tabla, Sitar and Santoor, with jazz-tinged Flute.  Now, i’m not normally one for ‘fusion’ musics.  Jazz-rock, urgh.  Jazz-funk. ARGH!  And anything that brings together any form of ethnic drums with a thumping four-to-the-floor house beat makes me want to strangle myself with my wooden beads.  But this fusion worked for me.  It was a tasteful and accomplished blend of North Indian Classical  instruments and tradition, with some of the more familiar phrase structure and harmony of western music.  Some would argue it was world music ‘lite’, but if it’s making other cultures and traditions more accessible to western audiences, I say, great.

So, it’s fair to say I’m a huge fan of what Milapfest does.  An Arts Council and Liverpool City Council-funded organisation, it promotes Indian music, dance and culture at regular events in Liverpool, Manchester and London.  I’ve been to several of their free ‘Music for the Mind and Soul’ shows, and every one seemed to me to feature the highest quality ensembles around.  A good Indian ensemble is like taking the best classical musicians and teaching them how to improvise.  There’s something mesmerising and ecstatic about a Sitar and Tabla player in full flow that can match any classical symphony, drug-fuelled club DJ, or heavy metal band for intensity. ( in fact, I regret using the latter two examples, but I hope you get the picture).  Thanks to funding and the hard work of the Milapfest people, this event is free – anyone in Merseyside can enjoy top quality Indian music – for free!

So I was worried to find that Liverpool Council, on announcing their potential forthcoming budget, have targeted the voluntary and charity sector as an area where savings are to be made (along with care in the community and much more).  One Liverpool Echo article states cuts would be made in funding for the cultural programmes ‘non-key activities’ .  It’s an obvious but important question – what will be defined as ‘non-key’?  I’m not going to claim that a charity funding the search for a cure for cancer is less important than an arts organisation, but it is disheartening to feel that, as soon as money gets tight, the arts suffer.  I’m obviously making assumptions here, and I hope I’m proven wrong, and that the kind of activities being cut will amount to the corporate back-slapping dinners and launch parties, rather than actual events.  But I am worried that many of the great voluntary and charity arts organisations in Liverpool may suffer from council belt-tightening in the coming years.

Many people involved in the arts leading up the Capital of Culture year were quietly sceptical about the award, knowing as I did, that culture exists all over Liverpool with or without the council’s help or the spotlight of the world on them.  There was also the fear that once 2008 was over, that would be it for us – we’ve had our fun, now get back to work.  Up to now, I’m happy to say this hasn’t happened, but with this recent budget talk, should we be worried?

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