“Diwali is a special festival for my family. It marks the mythic victory of light over darkness. For me, during the pandemic - music was my light. Music allowed me to break the silence of the pandemic and bring together otherwise isolated artists to fill vacant arts spaces with beautiful sound. We made strings, voices and beats echo through the hallways of empty museums, auditoriums, cinemas and nightclubs. So this Diwali we celebrate it all - light over darkness, sound over silence, offering this album as a message of joy.” - Soumik Datta
Reclaiming iconic cultural spaces, performance halls and empty museums that have been out of action during the COVID-19 pandemic, and breaking their silences with new music, dance and hope, Silent Spaces is a powerful new project, a 6 part series of videos and brand new music album led by musician Soumik Datta and a diverse community of musicians, dancers and artists.
Original Compositions: Soumik Datta
Film Series Director: JIJO
Producer: Melanie Cura Daball
Lighting Gaffer and Second Camera: Jerzy Gudjonsson
Documentary DOP: Natalja Safronova
Lighting partners: Yellow Cactus, Pixi Pixel, Provision, VI Rental, Canning 24, Shift4, Simeon Geyer
Manager: Minal Mehta
Associate Producers: Oliver Carruthers, Clare Freeman
Royal Albert Hall: Soumik Datta (Vocals, sarod, poetry, composition), Rosabella Gregory (Vocals & Strings Arranger), Midori Jaeger (Cello), Meera Raja (Cello), Mithun Gill (Dancer), Monique Jonas (Choreographer)
British Museum: Soumik Datta (Vocals, sarod, poetry, composition), Amahla (Vocals), Yasmin Ogilvie (Saxophone), Monique Jonas (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Ihsaan de Banya (Dancer & Co-choreographer)
Depot Mayfield: Soumik Datta (Composition, Electronics), Daisy Howard (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Dominic Coffey (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Karishma Young (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Juliana Fapohunda (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Amber Calland (Dancer and Co-choreographer), Theo Fapohunda (Dancer and Co-choreographer)
Hawkwood College: Soumik Datta (Vocals, sarod, spoken poetry, composition), Matthew Barley (Cello) Ashnaa Sasikaran (Vocals), Lois Olaleye (Actor), Olivia Olaleye (Actor), Caleb Olaleye (Actor)
Sage Gateshead: Soumik Datta (Vocals, sarod, composition), Ruth Patterson (Vocals), Calum Howard (Pianist), Benedicta Valentina Mamuini (Dancer & Co-choreographer), Lila Naruse (Dancer & Co-choreographer)
A creative lockdown response driven by a pervading sense of Covid-induced personal and professional loneliness, Silent Spaces was envisioned by musician, composer and TV presenter Soumik Datta (Rhythms of India – BBC Four), and directed by award-winning filmmaker JIJO.
It sees the brothers join a diverse team of British Asian, black and ethnic minority musicians and dancers as they venture into iconic venues like British Museum and The Royal Albert Hall in London, as well as Depot Mayfield in Manchester and The Sage in Gateshead. Produced by charity Soumik Datta Arts (SDA), the resulting six films explore resonant themes in keeping with the choice of venue - confronting issues around mental health, activism, the environment, colonisation and identity. Ultimately - by reconnecting and facing these pertinent and often uncomfortable issues through creativity - the performers were rewarded with a sense of hope for the future of the arts industry and its role in shaping cultural conversations for the better.
The series of films will be released online in late April, in partnership with the venues, Arts Council England, Timberland, WeTransfer, Bagri Foundation and Dishoom, coinciding with an album release, a behind the scenes documentary film commissioned by WePresent and a radio documentary co-produced with BBC Radio 3.
From loneliness to empowerment
As the pandemic continues to develop, so does the inertia for artists and musicians. For Soumik Datta - a sarod virtuoso, composer and co-founder of Soumik Datta Arts - life was affected profoundly by lockdown. Like many of his peers, work immediately dried up and suddenly Soumik was tested by the fragility of his mental health. This all took place under the backdrop of the George Floyd murder, the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement and a new and mainstream conversation about race and identity.
An ongoing process of reflection with peers and his brother and filmmaker JIJO led to lockdown projects such as @ourhopenotes and Sounds of Silence for BBC Radio 3, forging a sense of community and solidarity. Silent Spaces was born out of this, as a collaborative arts project - aiming to inspire hope through adversity and engage with the critical issues of our times.
Taking place over a 12 week period in early 2021, Soumik and JIJO, alongside producer Melanie Cura Daball and manager Minal Mehta, organised a series of complex and Covid-secure shoots involving over 40 cast and crew across the country. Reactivating each space through a series of collaborative and creative outpourings, the teams recorded their every breath and move, immersing themselves within the buildings peering through a historical lens, unwrapping, evaluating and connecting with the purpose of the specific architectural shell and incredibly for the participants, often exploring corners that in normal circumstances would be off-limits or impossible to enter.