Music Basti – Monkey On The Roof (world music/ children’s)

Music Basti, 2011, DD album, 36m 42s

£name your price (all proceeds to charity)

Monkey On The Roof is a document of, and a promotional, fundraising project for, an Indian charity called Music Basti. The charity brings music activities and education to street children in Delhi, in an organised, workshop based structure: their aim is to help give those children some hope for the future, and the skills of collaboration and concentration, and many other benefits, that music can develop. It is currently a small scale project, but by all accounts it has been expanding and developing rapidly, and plainly acts with the purposeful professionalism that will be essential if it is to prosper.

The workshops are led by professional musicians, some of them known recording artists, who make a real effort to teach useful musical skills, such as rhythm, and scale singing, as well as leading participation in songs. The workshops take place in charity run homes, particularly those of the Dil Se campaign, where children are invited and encouraged to participate, but the activities are never imposed on them.

Here’s the project’s founder Faith Gonsalves talking briefly about what they do.

So what about this here record I’m supposed to be reviewing? It was made with the assistance of British producer Ian Wallman, but seems essentially to document a number of the workshop sessions. There are songs, but some of my favourite moments are more educational ones, with two tracks of children practicing sargam (the Indian equivalent of solfege). The songs are performed with instructor accompaniment, and children singing en masse, and also contributing percussion, as on the closer, ‘Valentine Shipley’s “Kabir”’, a long track with by far the most ambitious arrangement on the album. This song is powerful evidence for the success of the project: it is no easy matter to persuade children to co-operate in such an organised way in a musical performance, even children with a background of instrumental tuition, let alone street children growing up in the deepest imaginable poverty. To have engaged in such a process must inevitably be of benefit to them in many, many ways.

These are obviously not young choristers, with perfectly honed, flute-like intonation, but therein lies much of the music’s charm. To hear these crowds of young voices, clustered loosely around the pitch, but filled with so much enthusiasm and desire is incredibly touching: this is definitely one of the most moving albums I’ve reviewed. It is not just touching for what it is, like the mad scribbling of a frenzied three year old, but, I feel, of real musical merit: that is to say, the experience of hearing it pleased my ears and enriched my life in more than one way, and I intend to repeat that experience on a regular basis.

Monkey On The Roof is conceived and presented as a children’s record; music by children, of children, for children. That’s a radical and empowering position, and it is only from empowered and aspirational children that we can hope to see the growth of empowered and aspirational adults, so I would not wish to contradict that in any way. But I would like to recommend to any adult with a taste for genuinely heartfelt and sincere music that they take the chance to eavesdrop on that conversation. And please, make a donation!

And if you were wondering why the album is called Monkey On The Roof, it’s because there was.

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