Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

Music in Islam

I made a lot of new friends while living in Gwalior for the tour guide training and two of them were Muslims. Actually I shared an apartment with one them. He is a doctoral student from JNU. Basically he is from a very small village in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district. He did his schooling from a village school in Sitamarhi and then moved to Aligarh Muslim University for his B.A. and now finally he is in JNU doing his PhD. He works as an Spanish escort so makes very good money also. He is in love with music. A good amount of his computer hard-disk is full of music.

He would play music most of the time. I saw a big music system at his hostel room in JNU. Now he is going to get married in the coming December. His brother also lives in JNU and once I saw them discussing how they will arrange the music for the wedding. They want to have a band party for the wedding parade and music for the wedding party but Islam doesn’t allow it and his family and neighbors are very strict Islam followers. He said that nobody can even listen to the radio, not even news on the radio.

If somebody is found playing any kind of music in his village, the other people living in the village yell at him and stop the music immediately. He said that if he is found playing music then people would say that even after being educated and doing PhD, he is doing such a bad thing. Music is really a serious issue in his village. I heard him and his brother discussing about this issue for at least an hour and finally they could not find any way to have music at the wedding. I told him that change always takes place sometime in the society and maybe this is the time for him to bring a change but he said that it is kind of impossible to bring this change in his society.

I have never been to any Muslim wedding but I have seen a few from the outside and I saw music going on in those weddings so I told him about it and he said that rules are made by big people and if they break it, then nobody cares. If the same rules are broken by general people, then it always creates problems. He said that everything is allowed among the rich Muslim community, they can play music, they can have dances and they can enjoy alcohol but it is not possible for the general Muslims. I asked him what the general people think of rich Muslims enjoying music and he said that general people think that big people are out of their community.

Music has always been respected amongst most of the societies of the world. In Hinduism there is a goddess Saraswati for music and people do rituals of their music instruments. It is really hard for me to believe that there could be any wedding without music. Hindu weddings are so fun and this is what I am used to. There is always a lot of music and people dancing in the wedding. I have heard that Christian weddings are also very boring but I am sure they must have music. Music is fun and even scientific researches have shown that there are certain kinds of music which are good even for our health.

I respect people’s feeling but this issue is something which is hard for me to understand. Most of the Mughal emperors were fond of music. Akbar is a very good example. Tansen was among the nine Jewels at his court. I have noticed that in all the religions there are certain rules and regulations that are people made; it is not written anywhere in any religious books but people still follow it and even if it is written, there is wrong interpretation and people follow the wrong idea. After listening to this issue, which is definitely not an issue for me, I still don’t understand if music is really that bad…

Guide training program – week 5

I have passed five weeks in Gwalior doing the training, now just one more week of classroom teaching to go in Gwalior and then we will go for the tour. This week was also very interesting. We had classes about Indian Buddhism, Indian archeology & rock painting, conservation, Kailash Mansarovar, Ayurveda, Taj Mahal, Indian classical music, vocal and dance, virtual reality in tourism, travel legislation and there was one class about our project report. The class about Indian Buddhism and Taj Mahal was the best one and the class about conservation and Indian classical music, vocal and dance was the worst one of the week.

The lecturer delivering lecture about conservation was too fast. He spoke continuously for two hours, it was crazy. No time for anything else. He would just change the slide and start speaking about it, and then again change the slide and speak about it. He did not want anyone to go to washroom during the class. He asked us to use the washroom before the class was started and then asked us to lock the door of the class. The class about Indian classical music, vocal and dance was also not interesting. The performance was good, actually it was entertaining because they played instruments before us and performed a dance but the lecture was again terrible.

They were trying to teach us things that were impossible for a beginner to understand. They taught us little about the basics, and then started teaching us about different ragas which are impossible to understand for a person who doesn’t know much about Indian classical music. The class about Indian Buddhism was one of the best classes I have ever had during the training. The lecturer was a professor of Buddhism at Delhi University and was supposed to talk about Indian Buddhism but he did not talk about Indian Buddhism much. He said that he had traveled over 80 countries and had been to Mansarovar 7 times.

He started his lecture with Indian Buddhism but switched soon to the present politics, religion, politics in the past… He was more interested in teaching us about how life in India is good, why politicians are corrupt and how we discriminate and why we should not discriminate anyone on the basis of their country, state, sex or religion. It was really a nice lecture, we laughed most of the time and enjoyed it a lot. He told us really interesting things like over 40% of the heart attacks take place on Monday in the US and Canada because of too much work pressure.

Our program for the tour is also decided now. The classroom teaching at Gwalior center will finish on the 18th and the practical training in Agra will start on the morning of the 19th so we are taking a train on the evening of the 18th. The participants will have to arrange their own lodging and fooding, the institute will arrange five coaches to take us around and they will invite experts to train us. Our training in Agra is on the 19th and 20th, 21st is off.
The training in Jaipur is on the 22nd and 23rd, 24th is off and then our final training will take place in Delhi on the 25th and 26th.

Guide training program – week 4

Nandan in Bramhi (the oldest script)

Nandan in Bramhi (the oldest script)

The fourth week of the training is completed now so only two weeks to go and then I will head for the one week of tour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then finally to Benares for my field work. This week was also very interesting as we had a few very nice lecturers and very interesting lectures about the travel industry in India, Indian art, Varanasi, temples, Indo-Islamic architecture, cultural difference, epigraphy and numismatics, temples of Bateshwar, Indian classical music and tourism in Himanchal Pradesh but I liked the epigraphy and numismatics, temples of Bateshwar and tourism in Himanchal Pradesh lectures best.


Bateshwar before conservation

The lecture about Indian classical music was crazy. Nobody understood anything. The professor wanted us to sing. He was so similar to the professor who delivered the lecture about astrology last week. Astrology and Indian classical music, both subjects are kind of unknown to the participants. We know about them but we don’t have good knowledge about them and it would have been better if they would have taught us about the basics of these subjects but their lecture was for someone who already had at least basic knowledge of these subjects.

see the change

see the change

Mr. Mohammad K K, the lecturer who taught us about temples of Bateshwar was amazing. He is Superintendent Archaeologist of ASI. He showed us a slide show of his work in Muraina, MP. He said that Muraina had a group of over 200 temples but they were all destroyed during an earthquake about 1300 years ago. So these temples were underground for over a thousand year but nobody ever thought about them. This whole area was captured by really dangerous naxalites. They used to live in those temples so nobody ever dared to go there. Mr. Mohammad K K and other officers of ASI went there by taking help of the locals and met naxalites.

Naxalites also permitted them to work on the temples. They excavated that area and were shocked to see what appeared in front of them. The temples were completely broken. They collected all the materials and started reconstruction. They used the same material and built the temples again. They had to use new materials as well sometimes but most of the material is taken from the same place. It is hard to imagine how they did it. This presentation had not much to do with tour guiding profession because no tourist would go there in near future but I loved it. I loved the dedication of Mr. Mohammad K K towards his job. It was awesome.

The lecturer who taught us about Indo-Islamic architecture was an expert from ASI. He told something really strange. He said that foreign escorts who come to India with foreign tourist groups must be banned at the monuments. He asked all the candidates to write a letter to the Prime Minister of India demanding prohibition of foreign escorts at Indian monuments. I did not know anything about it so I asked my friends about it and they said that foreign escorts come to monuments, take a local guide but after the site seeing they pay to the local guide and that’s all.

Whatever they told me about the foreign escorts sounded fine to me so I asked them what was the problem and they said that the foreign escorts do not bring them with the group to the shops so no commission for them. It sounded like a genuine issue to me because a very important part of the tourism is to help the local community economically and the rate decided by the government for guides is not enough to support their livelihood, so they depend on the commission and tip given by the clients.

Tabla lessons in Varanasi

A student named Allen Roda from University of New York came to my guest house on the 12th. He is doing research on Tabla making which sounds like nobody has done before. He is going to write about everything about tabla making e.i. where does the skin come from, who makes them, where does the wood come from… just everything. He already knew few people in Varanasi and had already contacted them before. I thought it would be good for him to meet Mr. Deobrat Mishra. I introduced him to Mr. Mishra and Allen told me that he really liked Mr. Mishra’s suggestions.

I wanted to introduce Allen to Mr. Praveen Uddhav who is senior lecturererof Tabla at BHU and by chance Mr. Mishra also advised Allen to meet him. We went to Mr. Uddhav’s place and met him. Mr. Uddhav seemed a little bit concerned about Allen meeting with other Tabla makers in Varanasi. He introduced us to a Irish guy named Steve at his place who had been cheated by a tout a few days ago. Steve said that he came to Varanasi to learn Tabla. He wanted to do M.Mus. from BHU.

He met a guy named Siddharth who told Steve that he will have to buy different instruments even if he just wanted to learn Tabla at BHU. Steve believed him and went for shopping with Siddharth. Siddharth made him buy 30-40 different instruments worth $23,000. I don’t know why Steve believed him. He paid this big amount and bought all kinds of instruments that were available in the shop, even he bought western drums and other instruments. After it, Siddhrath stopped meeting him. After few days Steve went to BHU for admission and met Mr. Uddhav. He said Mr. Uddhav that he had bought all the instruments and wanted to get admission in M. Mus.

Mr. Uddhav asked him whey did he buy all those instruments if he just wanted to learn Tabla and Steve explained what had happened with him. He still did not know that he was cheated. Finally he came to know that he needed only a pair of Tabla to start learning which is something like $100. He went to the police and lodged a FIR against Siddharth. Police arrested Siddharath’s father because he was now not in the city. Siddhrath’s father gave Rs. 4,00,000 ($8,000) back to Steve and promised to give the rest in next few days. I feel so sorry for whatever happened with Steve but it happens in Varanasi.

I think this is the reason why Mr. Uddav did not want Allen to meet too much new people. I think it is Okay with Allen to meet as many people as he wants. I am sure he will never ever give even $23 to anyone without making proper enquiry. We saw Mr. Uddhav’s 8 years old daughter playing Tabla. She was too good on Tabla. Mr. Uddhav said that she can play all the different sounds. She just needs to boost up her finger’s speed on Tabla and she will be just like other famous players.

I think Allen met at least fifteen new people which is very good for his research. He is leaving on the 18th and will be back again for his research in June when he will spend one year in Varanasi. He wants to come with his wife, Nikki, who works for Federal Reserve Bank. Nikki wants to spend her time in Varanasi volunteering. She was looking for a organization that can give her some work related to economics and she found found one called Cashpor India. They are a micro finance trust and give small loans to poor people. I think this trust will be perfect for Nikki.

music classes in varanasi

A guy from California stayed at my place for one week. He was here to learn music and Sanskrit. This trip was only to know the city and get some idea about classes. He had asked me about music classes and I suggest him to go to Pandit Shivnath Mishra, who lives next door. It was funny that he had already met Pandit Shivnath Mishra and his son in California. He met them, played some tabla with them and got an offer to play with them in foreign countries as a white tabla player.

Josh was so happy to got this opportunity. He said that he would love to be part of Mr. Mishra’s crew. He went to Bunti’s school as well where he played tabla and taught African music to the kids. Bunti said that everybody at school liked the music a lot. Josh wanted to visit Bal Ashram, an Aghor monastery. I took him to this monastery. This monastery had a British doctor giving free eye checkup to the poor people. I really liked his devotion. Monastery said that he comes Varanasi ever year for few months and work for free.

Josh wanted to see this monastery for his friends who wanted to stay there and volunteer. I suggested him to go to Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram as well which is the mother Ashram but Josh did not seem interested. This mother Ashram doesn’t like Bal Ashram because some of Bal Ashram’s employee did some fraud with money. I know that the mother Asharm is a real ashram and I believe them. Josh said that he would visit them as well when he comes to Varanasi next time. He said he will back by first week of January.

Canadian Web Developer studies Music in Varanasi

I hosted a tenant from Montreal for one month in my guest house. His name is Will Eizlini but my family gave him a Indian name- Willu. His friend Bijay had contacted me through some Lonely Planet Forum posting where somebody had recommended my name. I still don’t know who did that but I was happy to get a long term tenant. Willu wanted to learn Tabla in Varanasi but he didn’t know any teacher therefore I told him about Pandit Shivnath Mishra’s school. Even though they are famous for Sitar but they have Tabla teachers also.

Willu works as web developer and he could work from anywhere in the world, he just needed Internet connection. So he asked me if I had Internet or not. I had Internet in my room but not in guest’s room but I always wanted to give Internet to all my guests so this was the best opportunity for me to spread Internet in my home. First I thought to buy Wi-Fi modem but my service provider suggested that Wi-Fi still doesn’t work well in India so I bought a router and spread the wire in all rooms. Thanks Willu to make me spread Internet in all the rooms.

Willu was happy to attend his office right from my room. I was also amazed to see him working for Canadian company right from my house. He would make over Canadian $30 per hour, it was a amazing salary for a traveler. I think his job was best for a traveler. Willu took Tabla classes at Shivnath Mishra’s school for 3 days but he was not happy with them because his Tabla teacher could not speak any English. Willu didn’t want a fluent English speaking tabla teacher but he wanted his teacher to be able to make him understand the things.

At the same time there was a live show of Pandit Shivnath Mishra, his son Pandit Deobrat Mishara and Fazal Qureshi (brother of Zakir Hussain) in Diamond Hotel, Varanasi. I was invited by Pandit Deobrat Mishra but Willu had to pay Rs. 500 to go there. We saw that show and it was amazing, really amazing. I loved seeing Fazal Qureshi as he was so fast on Tabla. Sitar was kind of boring for me but I loved Tabla. I had never ever seen someone playing that fast Tabla before.

Willu met few Canadians there who were also learning Tabla in Varanasi. They were going to Mr. Pravin Uddhav who was professor of Indian classical music at BHU (Benares Hindu University). All those Canadians recommended him and we also decided to meet him. We went to his residence next day which was inside the BHU campus. I left Willu and came back and when Willu came back to home he was so happy that finally he got the right teacher. Willu said that Pravin Uddhav was very good Tabla player and he could good enough English to make people understand.

Willu quit going to Pandit Deobrat Mishra’s school and learnt with Pravin Uddhav for one month. Willu flew back to Chennai after one month. He wanted to stay longer in Varanasi but his another instrument (don’t remember the name) teacher was going to perform a live show in Banglore which Willlu wanted to attend.