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What’s It Like Playing Kolkata’s Biggest College Fest At Jadavpur University, Musicians Answer

College and university fests have often been the arena where many artists have kickstarted their journey of live performance in front of thousands of people screaming and chanting their names – a place glowing with exuberance and happy faces all around. Celebration and hedonism have always been a part of the university/ college experience amongst other things, and a few days of letting loose and truly enjoying oneself has been at the heart of it all.

This year, Kolkata’s Jadavpur University revived its annual fest Sanskriti for the first time, ever since the pandemic hit the planet in 2020. After an involuntary hiatus of two years, the gala was back with a bang with extra limelight this year. Students from across the city had been patiently waiting for this moment for two whole years, and after months and months of rigorous planning and preparation, FETSU – a prominent student union of the university presented their chapter of the fest that continued from the 21st to 29th May. Scattered with multiple activities and competitions spanned across nine fun-filled days, the festival once again proved itself to be one of the most sought-after student-led cultural events in the city.

Sanskriti, like every college fest, has always been at the forefront when it comes to acknowledging and appreciating independently produced music both in the local scene and the country. From encouraging students to showcase their musical aptitude in front of a big audience to providing the independent scene a space to display itself in all its glory to old and new fans, they have ticked all the boxes on the list. And this time around too, it was no exception. The fest had lined up a string of entertaining events to provide musicians of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to come and perform their music live, with an extensive number of people whooping and hollering for them.

They had events like “Raag n’ Josh” (eastern band competition) and “Jam It” (western band competition) to help create a platform for upcoming bands from the city’s local music scene to showcase their music in front of an audience. Similarly, they organized “Tarana”, an eastern solo vocals competition, and “Rendition”, its western counterpart for young singers to perform their music live. The fest had also lined up some other fantastic music events like guitar wars, instrumentals, beatboxing, and rap battles to give musicians across all genres and backgrounds an opportunity to broadcast their talents.

For the headlining acts of each day, they had in store a tight line-up. The opening night saw Alif, an independent act from Kashmir performing their electrifying numbers to a crowd of animated fans. Although that day had been plagued with heavy rains that resulted in the damage of a lot of equipment, the organizers made sure to keep the show going by arranging for fresh equipment and a new performance spot all within a very short duration. After all, the show must go on. According to Alif who fronts his eponymous band, the musician had been performing in fests ever since he himself was a student. “It was a long time ago during my engineering. The experience still remains the same the rush and adrenaline to make things happen. The performance at Jadavpur university was yet another example of that. Due to rains they had to shift the venue. Start from scratch again. We got on stage at 2 am and performed till 3:40 to a full house crowd. If that is not tenacity what is. Often these experiences go a long way in inspiring. A remembrance of things is possible,” he said.

The musician who has been introducing the independent scene with the grace and beauty of Kashmiri music blended with a dash of blues and rock, is all for playing more gigs that would help him attract new listenership. Be it in-house intimate gigs or fests like these, he believes that both help him showcase his art to new people although contrasting heavily in vibes. “Both [in-house gigs and college fests”] have perks. College fest brings in incredible high energy and intimate brings in calm energy. Every performance in every gig improves reach and listenership,” he said.

The fest also had Joler Gaan bringing in some good old folk music from the soils of Bangladesh into the game, whereas Prithibi and Shironamhin took it to another level with their performance of hard-hitting Bangla rock originals. Anand Bhaskar Collective and Swarathma also dazzled the attendees with their mesmerizing numbers.

This was the first time Anand Bhaskar Collective was performing in a college fest in Kolkata.  Although not new to the city, they were thoroughly impressed by the university’s irresistible energy. Violinist Ajay Jayanthi also joined them on stage. “It isn’t the first time we’re in Kolkata – but it is the first time we’re playing a college show in Kolkata – and what better way than for it to be at Jadavpur University. We’ve been told by friends and colleagues who’ve played here before, that the energy at Jadavpur is unmatched – so we are all excited!” And all their wishes did end up coming true when the entire open-air theatre started singing along with them at their gig on 27th May.

The band also reflected upon their first time playing a college fest fondly. “It was an energy that we had never experienced before. The experience made us all crave for more! Thankfully we’ve had many more come our way, and we hope these shows continue to happen,” they said. And they have always been fans of playing at shows like this more than anything else. “Smaller club shows are more intimate, and it allows us to experiment with new arrangements or songs – to judge audience response. Playing at college fests, of course, is when we can really go all out. The energy is infectious, and we’re always grateful to receive so much love from the students,” they added. Leaving their impression on the grounds of the university with a beautiful showcase of their genre-defying music, they took back home some new fans and good memories.

Swarathma kicked off their gigging career with a college fest. Playing at Sanskriti revived some amazing memories and energy for them. “Believe it or not, but the first ever Swarathma gig was at a college! It was at Teresian College, Mysore where the band with the previous line-up played to a great audience (it was a girls’ college!). I wish I could tell you what it was like, but if Vasu’s enigmatic smile is to be believed, it was pretty killer,” says Jishnu, who plays bass in the band and also takes on the role of their manager. Although they faced a few setbacks during their performance (no thanks to heavy rainfall), they managed to return to the stage with a blast. And no wonder, the audience followed their cue. With hundreds of people screaming and cheering for the band, they put forward an ebullient set that made everyone’s night.

Jishnu was also of the opinion that college gigs bring out a sort of sentiment that you won’t find anywhere else. “I recently heard an interview with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Nightwatchman, Prophets of Rage) where he was talking about why the Rage concerts were such a feral release. He said, ‘There is something in our reptilian brains that responds to a communal gathering with rhythm, right from the time of campfires and mammoths.’ And nowhere is it more true in the Indian indie scene than in college gigs. There is an explosion of energy, and it is hard to replicate that in any other setting. This sheer level of energy in colleges is how our music resonates with the crowd the best,” he said. And it seemed like all the expectations that they had from this concert was lived up to. “We’ve played in Kolkata quite a few times before, although not as many times as we’d love to. It’s a tricky sector to cover while planning tours. People in Kolkata love music and they’ve always come out in numbers and enjoyed it. I remember our packed house gigs at Someplace Else in The Park in our initial days of touring. We’re looking forward to nothing less on this tour and more than anything else, I’m looking forward to the fun onstage. I must also say this, when you perform at a land with great desserts, you can’t possibly have a bad gig!”

FETSU’s Sanskriti 2022 was a special moment for a lot of people. Given the fact that it is one of the coolest college cultural festivals in the city, students from Jadavpur University and across the city have always made sure to make time for it despite their busy schedules. The last two years only brought forth disappointment due to the cancellation of college fests all across the country, so this year’s Sanskriti was a little bit more special, to say the least. And with so many amazing acts from all around the country and outside singing their hearts out made it even more so. All those who attended the event, both the audience and the performers took home memories that will find a place in their heart’s treasure chests.

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