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'Where I Stand': A Collaborative Work Between Scottish & Indian Artists - by Eilidh Firth

Back in January this year, I was browsing through the Creative Scotland website when an opportunity jumped out at me. Open Call for Musicians for A New Conversation.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh were partnering with a G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Mumbai, India to create a new collaborative work between Scottish and Indian artists based around storytelling, drama and music over three weeks. This sounded like a pretty exciting project but was it something I could do? They were looking for Scottish traditional musicians, preferably with a background in composition and collaboration – yes, I had done both of these things but I knew competition would be tough!

Flash forward three months and a complicated visa application process, and I find myself being introduced to three artists with whom I will be spending three weeks creating a new piece of work on an undetermined theme. A scary prospect!

I had been matched with Daniel Allison – a storyteller from East Lothian, Sheena Khalid – an actor/director from Mumbai and Mohammad Muneem Nazir – a musician/poet from Kashmir. We spent the first week and a half doing exactly what it said on the tin – having conversations and looking for something that led to the first spark of inspiration. We talked about the similarities and differences between our two countries and cultures, items we had seen in the newspapers that day, ancient myths and religious stories. What spoke to us very early on was the idea of ‘land’. When we arrived in Mumbai there was a huge protest involving local farmers who had marched over 180km to demand better terms from the government. We listened to harrowing stories from Mohammad’s childhood in war torn Kashmir. We talked about the effects of industrialisation on Mumbai and my hometown of Dundee. Daniel spoke passionately about the myths and stories surrounding the creation of the earth and we also looked at the role of cattle in ancient Scotland and modern day India.

Initially, I had envisioned myself taking a backseat in the process until all the stories were chosen and scripted, then I would step in and create the music. In reality, I found myself taking part in the formation of the piece from the beginning, and really enjoying it. I suggested that it would be a great idea for someone to take on a story of women mill workers in Dundee inspired by The Jute Mill Song by Dundonian trade unionist Mary Brooksbank, but I suddenly found myself at the helm of the storytelling. Having never attended a storytelling event before, this was definitely a new experience!

Throughout the project, I had the opportunity to try my hand at scriptwriting, storytelling, researching, song writing and of course there was a lot of music making. I can safely say that this has been the widest ranging learning experience I have ever had and it was amazing. The end result of our three week endeavour was a show entitled ‘Where We Stand’.

On the 24th and 25th of March we took to the stage in G5A’s Black Box theatre space. The first night was incredibly nerve wracking, even for the seasoned theatre performers. We were totally overwhelmed by the positive reaction of the public and I can definitely say that Indian audiences aren’t afraid to pass on some constructive criticism either which was very welcome.

I felt immensely proud of our work, and impressed at what can be achieved by four strangers who are put in a room together and told to ‘make something’. I think what I’ll take from the project is the knowledge that it’s a good thing to throw yourself into the unknown even though you may feel lacking in experience! Creating this show in India has really allowed me to grow in confidence and see the new directions where my music can take me. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

On the 4th of May we will bring ‘Where I Stand’ to Edinburgh as part of TradFest and I’m really looking forward to it. There will be some aspects of the performance that may need altering for a Scottish audience but I think most things will remain largely the same. It will be really exciting to see the reaction of a Scottish audience to our cross-cultural collaboration and I hope you can be there!

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Where I Stand @ TradFest Edinburgh, Netherbow Theatre

Friday 4th May @ 8pm

TICKETS here.