A Music Festival for 

Peaceful Coexistence

Iris C F Gomes

The journey towards the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival begins with the birth of an idea to promote peaceful coexistence, an ambitious project spearheaded by Professor Santiago Lusardi Girelli who has been part of the Visiting Research Professor Programme of the Anthony Gonsalves Chair in Western Music for the last two years. ‘Last year we had some collaborations with a sitar player, a table player, a bansuri player, an Indian singer. So from those experiences I thought we should try to build a full festival of sacred worship,’ says Prof Girelli of his motivation to bring different traditions and religious music together under one standard.

It started with initial discussions about the venture with Goa University, some members of the Goa University Choir and Rudolf Ludwig Kammermeier, who partners with Prof Girelli in his work in Goa. Later the project was broached with the Church in Goa, the Archaeological Survey of India, some European universities, the Government of Goa, and the Entertainment Society of Goa to deliver it to a state of fruition. The laborious task of seeking permissions and gathering funds started last year, with the bigger institutions focusing on providing accommodation to host the musicians, and venues for various programmes related to the festival. Funds from abroad, such as from the University of Seville, are being used to sponsor international musical artists.

The festival’s concerts will be held at three different locations: The ruins of the Church of St Augustine and Nunnery of St Monica, the Christian Museum and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. The third is yet to be confirmed and the main area for concerts will be the ruins of St Augustine Church. The Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival will have two weekends of concerts on the 12th, 13th, and 14th, and 19th, 20th and 21st February. On the week days there will be other programmes.

Around 45-50 European musicians are expected to play at the festival and four Indian maestros, including flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, slide guitar player Debashish Bhattacharya , and Utsav Lal who plays Indian classical music on the piano. ‘We are still waiting for confirmation from an Indian singer called Aruna Sairam of the Carnatic tradition,’ informs Prof Girelli. Apart from these musicians there will be concerts by Professor Marialena Fernandes (pianist), the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, the Seville Chamber Choir, the Goa University Choir and others. In addition, Jewish Sephardic music is part of the festival programme. Representative of the motto of the festival, which is A Musical Experience of Coexistence, there will be some fusion concerts bringing together Western and Eastern traditions. In the case of Ustad Chote and Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde, Indian classical music and flamenco will be synthesised.

A symposium sponsored by Goa University, the Anthony Gonsalves Chair in Western Music, and the University of Seville, will be conducted with three days (16th to 19th of February) of lectures and conferences at Goa University and Central Library, Panjim . There will be participation from professors within and outside India. Discussions will be convened on Christian sacred music and Goan sacred music on one day and other Indian sacred music, which could be related to the sacred traditions in Goa, on the second day. The third day will have a round table discussion between lecturers of the first and second day.

Another three day programme will be the Ketevan Music Academy in association with Kala Academy, where Goan and Indian students will be able to attend masterclasses and workshops involving varied musical instruments, singing in Western and Indian classical traditions and choir and orchestra conducting, etc.

During the week days there will be a social project underway where artists will visit villages and put on performances in schools, hospices and old age homes.  Prof Girelli says, ‘The aim is to share music in areas where you would not usually find it and give people the opportunity to enjoy music not only at the ruins but we are trying to reach out to the other strata of society.’

The Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival is named for St Queen Ketevan, the queen of Georgia who was kidnapped and transported to Iran. She eventually suffered martyrdom following a life rife with adversity. In using her name, the festival has brought to the notice of the Goan people this saint who is little known to them. The Augustinian monks are supposed to have clandestinely brought her remains to Goa. They were discovered at the ruins of the St Augustine Church, Old Goa. Prof Girelli says of St Queen Ketevan, ‘Her life was a journey through many traditions. She was born in East Europe under the Turkish Empire and brought up in the Orthodox tradition. Then she was taken to Iran and lived under the Muslims and finally she was brought to India with the Hindu and Christian traditions. Her life is an inspiration for the idea of coexistence.’

The Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival promises to be a recurring event which will perhaps draw international attention and put Goa in the spotlight as a beacon of multiculturalism and religious harmony. The effects of the festival can be seen even now with the Church in Goa dispensing permission for Sufi, Jewish music and music from Hindu traditions to be performed in Old Goa.  

The role of Goa University is significant, as Prof Girelli says referring to the higher plane of thought required to bolster the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival, ‘Its support on academic, philosophical, social and religious levels is important and this is the sort of institution that support should come from for a festival such as this.’

The idea of using the universal language of music to reach out to people, and evoke a sense of togetherness in a country of diverse cultures comes as a form of respite from the everyday strife encountered in a world torn apart on the basis of religion and race. Let us endeavour to learn lessons in peace through the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival.