There is this global trend of music festivals hitting a “sustainability” note somewhere along the line. Those organised on a massive scale in an outdoor setting, and for days on end, obviously can’t duck out of addressing the issue of garbage. There will be too much of it, and it is out in the open. Not dealing with the offscourings then and there will soon have noses wrinkling in revulsion and protest.
The annual four-day, camping-style Bonnaroo festival of arts music in Tennessee, United States, is a popular example of how massive-music experiences come fitted with a sustainability plan that demands the participation of everyone involved, and also gets it without much ado. Bonnaroo promotes a uniquely-sylised 3Rs mantra, “Rooduce, Roouse and Roocycle”, as part of a larger green plan (the curious may visit www.bonnaroo.com/experience/sustainability/ for a peek into it).
With responsible disposal of garbage expected of such music festivals, any waste-management programme they launch will be organically built into them. In contrast, a music festival with a quiver full of concerts staggered over a two-month period, and organised by a multiplicity of groups at various auditoriums, comes with an in-built challenge to starting a “recycling and sustainability” campaign, let alone sustaining it.
The annual margazhi music season is that kind of a festival. On the question of having a sustainability master-plan in place, there are factors inherent in its design that may militate against it. It is just too scattered to have a combined communication-and-implementation strategy. There is only one way the attention of the distributed group of stakeholders can be drawn — that is, having a powerful online campaign that is followed up with equally sustained offline interactions.
Two Margazhi seasons old, “Masilla Margazhi”, a campaign to check the use of single-use plastics at the concerts, started by Namma Ooru Foundation, a voluntary organisation focussing on sustainability issues, has taken exactly this trajectory.
And it seems to be getting its “targets” right. When it saw the light, last margazhi music season, the campaign appealed to the musicians, asking them to bring their own reusable water bottles and share a selfie or a video of them doing so, on their social media handles.
“We need to remember that the plastic mineral water bottles have not been placed on the list of banned plastic items, and so we could only appeal to their conscience,” says P. Natarajan, founder of Namma Ooru Foundation.
“Let us assume there are 30 sabhas — and that is an extremely conservative number — and each of them conducts three concerts every day. So, there will be 90 concerts every day. Assuming that each concert features five musicians, the sabha will provide each of them with one plastic mineral water bottle, making it 450 water bottles every day. Again the number is on the extremely lower side, as some musicians may drink three bottles of water during the course of a concert. But, let us stick to just one bottle per musician in a concert. Still, 450 plastic bottles multiplied by 60 days gives 27,000 plastic bottles,” a volunteer of Namma Ooru Foundation Viji Ganesh explains what the musicians can help achieve by the simple act of bringing a reusable water bottle and refusing the plastic mineral water bottle that is offered to them.
“The musicians are influencers, and when they share their photos and videos promoting the campaign, they will be leading by example, and rasikas will surely take note. The number of music-lovers we reached in this manner last year is testimony,” says Viji, adding that Carnatic vocalist Nisha Rajagopalan has played a stellar role in connecting with fellow-musicians and getting them to throw their weight behind the campaign.
“Last year, when I asked a bunch of contemporary musicians to participate in the campaign, ninety percent of them readily agreed. This year, we asked senior musicians with a significant social media presence to join the campaign, and the response has been equally good. With a lot of awareness about the dangers of single-use plastic, people are willing to make the change with the least amount of encouragement to do so. The change is happening organically,” says Nisha.
Carnatic vocalist S. Sowmya is on the same page.
“With my background in chemistry, I know the value of certain plastics. We can’t do without plastics entirely. But we have to say ‘no’ to single-use plastics because of the damage it does to the environment. As I have been saying ‘no’ to single-use plastic over the years, I could easily understand what the campaign is all about. The younger musicians, with whom I have a good rapport, are particularly receptive to the message. Even post-2015 floods and the Gaja cyclone, when the musicians’ community was offering relief, the younger musicians would avoid packing the relief material in single-use plastic bags, and use cloth bags instead.”
Sabhas on board
Called “Masilla Margazhi 2.0” this year, the campaign is reaching for the further reaches of the music season, and is getting sabha officials and caterers on board.
“Four sabhas have officially joined the campaign. Narada Gana Sabha, Parampara, Arkay Convention Centre, and Brahma Gana Sabha have signed the pledge to not use single-use plastics. There are other sabhas that have shown interest in the campaign,” says Natarajan.
“The receptivity to the sustainability message among sabhas is impressive today. Last year, Music Academy effected sustainability changes on their own,” says Nisha.
Small, but promising
“We are going back to the old practice of providing water in stainless steel tumblers and jugs. And there is the larger exercise of avoiding single-use plastics in various forms. As the government has banned single-use plastic covers, carrying this out should not pose many challenges. We have given clear instructions to our caterer to avoid the use of single-use plastics at the food counters. The food will be served in banana leaves, and water will be served in stainless-steel tumblers. We have put out small posters urging rasikas to bring their own reusable water bottles. All sterling initiatives start in a small way, and this is one of them,” says K. Harishankar, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha.
Carnatic violinist-vocalist Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi has a suggestion on how Sabhas could refine the idea further. “When the sabhas finalise concerts with musicians, they can clearly specify that the artistes have to bring their own reusable bottles. Or, they can specify this requirement in the personal mail to musicians. The itinerary sheet can have a mention of this. It would be greater still if they could even add a line about it in their advertisements; this way, it would reach a great number of rasikas.”
Caterers are taking cautious steps, even as they join the campaign. Though they may believe in the cause whole-heartedly, uncertainty over customer response can be holding them back, says Natarajan.
Sastha Catering Services, which operates at Brahma Gana Sabha, has taken the bold leap, and signed the Masilla Margazhi 2.0 pledge.
“We are offering food and water in stainless-steel utensils. While we offer mineral water only in stainless-steel tumblers, there are a few factors limiting how much we can do. So, what we have done is kept aside a few half-litre mineral water bottles, and that is entirely for an exigency. We reach for them only when a customer refuse, point-blank, to have water from stainless-steel glasses. Though we explain to them that it is mineral water being served in tumblers, the explanation sometimes doesn’t cut ice with them. Some customers will question if the tumblers are cleaned properly. Though we clean it thoroughly with hot water, it is often difficult to convince them of it,” says Venkatesan Krishnan, owner of Sastha Catering Services.
On a positive note, he adds, “After the Masilla Margazhi campaign kick-started, the number of rasikas seeking bottled water has reduced four times.”
Musicians believe the small beginning will create a positive ripple effect, and they are particularly impressed with the fact that they themselves have nailed “the mast to the colours”.
Says Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, “When musicians have shared their own videos supporting the initiative, they will be naturally impelled to continue with it. And it will surely spill over into the events they themselves are organising.”