Walk along Churchgate station and along with the hustle and bustle of the city; you may also hear the unexpected sound of classical violin. What’s this, you ask?
Presenting NSPA, the National Streets for Performing Arts organization. Started by renowned fund manager Mr. Ajit Dayal, the organization creates opportunities for budding musicians to showcase their talent at public, but unorthodox locations like parks and train stations.
So where did it all begin? “There were street musicians in Bombay till the late 1980s and we (Mumbaikars) would pay the performers with a combination of money, food, and clothes. As the price of real estate increased, I guess musicians could no longer live on a variable income. Therefore, they probably left the real world of music for office jobs,” Dayal explains. “Bombay had lost its soul. NSPA pays musicians and other performers a salary to perform in public places and bring a smile back to people’s faces and, by giving musicians a steady income, NSPA gives the performers the potential to boost their earnings from music.”
Started in 2012, NSPA started as most organizations do - small. It begun with just eleven artists, enlisted from the team's own network. Being new, the organization personally introduced the ideology of NSPA to each artist and attempted to convince them of the project's integrity. Since then, the idea has gone from strength to strength. Every subsequent artist has come from commuters that witnessed these street performances and expressed their desire to join. Today, it is estimated that the organization ‘touches’ an estimated 35,000 commuters a week.
The process of introducing the idea to the public was quite a straightforward one, and was started off by organizing railway performances. "The initial idea when presented to the railways was met with much enthusiasm,"Shrishti and Anisha tell us, performance and project coordinators for NSPA respectively. "However, the challenge was to test whether such a performance would garner a response at a crowded railway station. NSPA accordingly performed at a pilot performance of one hour with two musicians at Churchgate station on the 27th of June 2012." The performance was deemed a success, and NSPA proceeded to submit monthly performance calendars to the railway authorities, who turned out to be extremely cooperative.
Alas, NSPA's ideology didn't appeal to everyone at first. "The initial response from the city was one of warmth, but the response from artists and art organisations in the city was one of caution, wariness and sometimes even downright hostility," relate Shrishti and Anisha. "Such a project was viewed by prominent classical music institutions as degrading to musicians, and some even told us that we were committing blasphemy." Thankfully, once the project was in full swing, organizations noted the response NSPA gathered and gradually changed their opinions.
To be a part of NSPA's project, an artist must participate in a simple audition process in front of members of the NSPA staff and a trial performance at a public venue. This is to establish that the prospective performer can sustain a performance at a unique site like a train station.
“It’s a completely unique experience,” says Roger Mendonca, 21-year-old classical violinist, speaking of his performances for the organization. Roger has performed for NSPA on several occasions, at venues that include the Churchgate and Bandra railway stations as well as the Horniman Circle Gardens at Fort. “At first I was a little apprehensive about playing on the street, but you get used to it. You never know whether your performances will go well, but usually commuters stop to watch and we receive a positive reaction. People are especially not used to seeing a violinist play!” "I would definitely encourage people to join NSPA," Roger adds. "It provides a great platform to start off with for young musicians."
If you’re planning to join NSPA, there’s probably one thing you should know. “The attempt is to promote and publicize folk and lesser known art forms in the public arena”, Shrishti and Anisha say, members of Team ‘NSPAwaale’ as they refer to themselves. “We have a no Bollywood policy!”