The Monks of Majuli UK Tour 2016

In July 2016, Sound Travels organised a UK tour for eleven performers from Assam, Northeast India.

The tour consisted of ten monastic dancers from the Island of Majuli, one professional musician from Assam, one French impresario, an Irish production assistant, a Welsh driver, three film-makers (English, Argentinian and Italian) an English producer (me) and my 2 1/2-year-old son.

The tour was funded by the Arts Council, the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations), King’s College London and LAHP. It was also made possible by support from GemArts, Utopia Festival, Akademi and a huge number of well-wishers and friends.

Here is a photo diary of the ten beautiful days we spent dancing, singing, conducting workshops and making friends in London, Hampshire, Newcastle and Gateshead.

Day 1 – 7th July 2016

Arrival at Heathrow airport


Welcome Bhabananda Barbayan, Gobinda Kalita Bayan, Jadumoni Saikia, Niranjan Saiki, Pradip Kumar Neog (Basanta), Nitul Borah, Boloram Saikia, Dwipendra Sarma, Naren Chandra Boruah, Dina Nath Boruah, Mukunda Saikia

Day 2 – 8th July 2016

The monks encounter the Vrindavani Vastra – a holy tapestry depicting scenes from the life of Lord Krishna – on display in the British Museum


In the evening, the monks give a spectacular performance in the Great Hall of the British Museum (photos by Vipul Sangoi).

Jadumani (centre) lights the ceremonial candles to inaugurate the performance, before a demonstration of Mati Akhara – yogic exercises to prepare the body, mind and stage for the main performance


Vrindavani Paal – a dance performance in Oja Pali style, choreographed by Dr Bhabananda Barbayan, based on the stories and avatars depicted in the Vrindavani Tapestry on display at the British Museum from January – August 2016.


Day 3 – 9th July 2016

Georgie Pope, doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, presents her PhD research on Sattriya dance at a conference at the British Museum, including a critique of the book Sattriya: Classical Dance of Assam (2013)


Dr Bhabanada Barbayan speaks, as part of a panel on ‘Staging the Vrindavani Vastra’ with Arshiya Sethi (centre) and Anwesa Mahanta (left)


Bhabananda leads a Sattriya dance workshop in the Clore Foyer of the British Museum:


Day 4 – 10th July 2016

Performances at King’s College, University of London, as part of the Utopia Festival

‘Gayan Bayan’ in the Quad


Oja Pali performance in the foyer (impromptu setting because of the rain!)


Happy family! With friends visiting from France


Day 5 – 11th July 2016

Workshops in Somerset House


Day 6 – 12th July 2016

Bhabananda pays a visit to Blythe House to see the V&A-owned Vrindavani Vastra fragment


There was some time for sightseeing!


We filmed the whole tour… so watch out for the movie! Jadumani took selfies with the film crew who were usually on the other side of the camera.


Day 7 – 13th July

Workshops and performance at the Barn at Burycourt, Hampshire


Day 8 – 14th July

The performers meet musician and producer Sam Mills


And we stage a performance for the cameras


Picnic in the beautiful gardens of the Barn at Burycourt (the monks cooked their own pure vegetarian meals throughout the tour – which the rest of the crew enjoyed too!)


More of the crew. Jadumani, Clara and Mathias Coulange


On the road to Newcastle


Day 9 – 15th July

Workshops in schools in Gateshead and Newcastle. Thanks to GemArts for connecting us to the schools.



Workshop and performance in the meeting room of Newcastle Hindu Temple (followed by a tour of the temple, and amazing food laid on by the temple committee)



Day 10 – 16th July

Performance at the Sage in Gateshead, as part of GemArts’ Masala Festival.


The concert was preceded by a panel discussion between GemArts’ Director Vikas Kumar, Bhabananda Barbayan and Georgie Pope



What joy, what energy, what fun!

If you would like to meet the performers – come on a Sound Travels trip to Assam 🙂

Like this one: Assam Musical Adventure


Feedback came in emails, texts, applause and handshakes. Here are some responses…

The energy. The history. Everything.
The fact of having a traditional event from a (not much heard of) place in Assam, India, Majuli is truly wonderful. I hope that this exposure will continue beyond the NE of England, into the wider world”
Excellent, talented, exciting, exotic. Needs more exposure.
Having been connected with the Bharatanatyam Tradition, I could see the connection with odissi, kuchipudi and folk element – wonderfully presented
Excellent, amazing. Recognised the stories being told. Lovely
Good, very good, excellent
The style of the movement and the groove and sound of the music. Wonderful to see the humility with which the monks performed their dance
A very pleasant performance indeed
Very good
Wonderful, felt a priviledge to meet the monks
What a wonderful experience. It was indeed an honour to be part of it. Well done on such a special mission.
A wonderful window into such a beautiful culture. Also nice to see the ancient roots of more popular dance forms like kathak & Bharanatyam



Article for Rough Guide

The state of Rajasthan – a land route for trade and culture between the Arab world and Asia – could obsess a musicologist for an entire lifetime. With the right guidance, at every five paces you can meet singing genealogists and poetic percussionists, flute-playing farmers and dancing snake priests, living alongside child stars and living legends.

In 2011, I created the Rajasthani Musical Adventure to show off the region’s traditional Indian music. I planned a people-led pilgrimage to the RIFF festival, starting in Delhi and heading west via the musical villages, shrines and characters that feed the festival its musical delights. In the first of a two-part series, I’ll take you behind the scenes to discover how I made the connections (by accident and design) to formulate my Rajasthani music tours.
Read more:


Assam Musical Adventure – April 2013

In April, Sound Travels headed to the luscious land of the mighty Brahmaputra river, to experience an explosion of music and dance in the north-eastern state of Assam.

We started with singing lessons with Probin Saikia and Roshmirekha

Singing lesson with Roshmi

After the lesson we were presented with our gamosas – traditional hand-woven scarves used as scarves or towels.

Group shot at Probin and Roshmi's

Then we visited music enthusiast Prasanna Gogoi and his incredible collection of Assamese instruments. He gave us all gogonas – bamboo mouth harps – and taught us how to play them.

Practising Gogona at Prasanna's

I tried out Prasanna’s proud creation: his adapted Veena – or local violin – fitted with ‘sympathetic strings’ like the ones you hear reverberating on a sitar, and give that unmistakably Indian sound.

Georgie learns veena

Then he brought on the Bihu dancers – wearing the traditional gold and red Mekhla Sadors that are symbolic of this time of year.

Bihu dancers at Prasanna's 2

We ate a traditional Assamese lunch, served in bronze bowls and cooked by Prasanna’s wife and the ladies of the house.

Lunch at Prasanna's 2

Next stop, after Guwahati, was the beautiful Kaziranga National Park

On safariWe saw Rhinos, Elephants, Water Buffalo and then… an incredibly rare sight in Kaziranga… a family of tigers! I didn’t get a good enough shot of the tigers… so here’s the famous One-Horned Rhino

Rhino in KazirangaFrom Kaziranga, we headed across the Brahmaputra to the magical river island of Majuli – where we met the dancing monks of Kamalbari Sattra (Monastry)

Monks at Kamalbari Sattra

We stayed in eco-huts, built ‘Mishing’ style – out of bamboo and on stilts. The Mishings are a dominant tribe in this part of Assam. They showed us their beautiful dance form, while we drank local rice-based beer.

Mishing dancersTheir Mekla Sador (traditional two-piece dresses) are made from hand-woven cotton. I love the rich colours of the Mishings.

Mishing dancers 2

We met an eighty-two year old dhol player – an oja – or master of drumming. His friend accompanied energetically on the tal (bell).

Oja and tal-player

The next morning, Angie and Jeff went Birdwatching

Jeff and Angie birdwatching

South Rajasthan Music and Art Tour – January 2013

In January, I jumped on a bus with an extraordinarily colourful group of Sound Travellers. We were nine altogether… three musicians, three designers, two architects and an artist.

We were trying out my new Jaipur – Bundi – Bijaipur loop, full of music, storytelling and painting. Here’s the story, in pictures.

The trip starts and ends in Jaipur, home to the beautiful Anokhi Museum of Hand Block Printing.

Here is the block.

Hand block printingHere’s how it’s made

Making a printing blockAnd here’s Lee, one of the guests on the trip, printing his own hankerchief

Lee handblock printing in Jaipur

And sisters Philippa and Rebecca having a lesson in printing

Phillipa and Rebecca with printer in Jaipur

On the road to Bundi, we stopped off in an extraordinary arts centre, where we made papier mache on the roof

Papier mache on the roof

Next we visited the felt-makers

Felt making in Tonk

We stayed in Bundi for two days and saw a lot of beautiful miniature painting and music.

First we visited the exquisite Bundi Palace, home to the famous ‘Bundi Lady’

Bundi Palace

Bundi wall painting of lady

Wall painting Bundi2

Bundi Palace2Next we met some ‘Mashak’ players – bagpipers from nearby Thikarda village

Mashak (bagpipe) players of Thikarda village, Bundi

Lee and Issi danced the Mashak dance!

Issi and Lee dance to MashakLee took over the drum, and the drummer took over the dance floor

Lee and the Mashak players

We watched in awe

Listening to Mashak

We visited a hugs step well

Step well in Bundi2

That night we had a private dinner and concert on the roof of the lovely Hotel Haveli. The next day we went to Bassi, a small village where artists make miniature painted temples known as Kawad. Made of many panels on hinges, they tell stories about the deities. We then visited Bhilwara – home to the Joshi family who paint the Pabuji phad – a 30-foot scroll in vivid colours, depicting the life of god Pabu. For some reason I can’t find my photos of these, but I’ll be looking out for them.

We stayed at the beautiful Castle Bijaipur, and celebrated Fra’s 70th birthday with drumming from Nathoo Lal Solanki, and a whole show of theatre, bhapang and dance!

The next day we visited the beautiful Bijaipur lake

Nat and Di on the lake

We drove north to Pushkar

Issi in a rickshaw

Lee and Issi on a camelThen we headed back to Jaipur! What a beautiful trip that one was.

(Photos courtesy Issolde Freeth-Hale and Philippa Thomas)

Rajasthani Musical Adventure – October 2012

Over the next few days I’ll be going through the archives to show you what Sound Travels has been up to over the last year. We’ll start with the fabulous Rajasthan International Folk Festival trip of October 2012, where ten happy Sound Travellers, who booked through Songlines magazine, explored the music of my favourite desert state.

We began the trip with a party and an interactive session with Iranian daf and tonbak maestro Fakhroddin Ghaffari… and out came the cameras!

Sina's demoNext we headed to Shekhawati, where we received traditional Rajput hospitality from Jai Sinhh and his family – here are the group outside his ancestral home in a village near Churu


The darun-playing worshippers of Gogaji, the Rajasthani snake god played to us in their village of Bajrangsar. Their twin-faced drum resembles the African ‘talking drum’, and similarly, its pitch can be changed by squeezing the leather strap wrapped around the narrow centre. The musicians sing, jump up high and make rhythms by stamping their feet and jangling the gunguru bells wrapped around their ankles.


Nick enjoys a shisha(or at least he claimed to) with Mamphula Ram, the famous chang player.


Playing the chang drums – Mamphula Ram and party demonstrate the music and dance usually performed during the February festival of Holi at celebrations and in competitions


Next we headed to Jaipur where we spent a magical evening meeting dancers and musicians from the snake-charming Kalbeliya community. Bad lighting, but you get the feeling!

Meeting the Kalbeliyas

After a day of site-seeing and shopping in Jaipur, we then had a surprise dinner in Amber, and concert from UK beatboxer and sound artist Jason Singh, in collaboration with morchang-player and multi-percussionist Rais Khan.


Our next stop after Jaipur was the holiest of holy pilgrimage sites, the Ajmer Sharif.

Nizamuddin Durgah

It’s an intense experience visiting the shrine to Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chisty, and the group came away feeling inspired


Forty-minute drive from Ajmer is the the beautiful lake-town of Pushkar, home to Nathoo Lal Solanki, the best nagara player in the world! After a tour round Pushkar with my favourite babu/guide Mukesh, Nathoo led us in a drumming workshop.



Last stop – the glorious Rajasthan International Folk Festival – with beautiful music from dawn…


…throughout the day…

IMG_0362… til the small hours.

Colombian band CimarronWhat a fantastic fortnight with a wonderful bunch of people. Was sad to wave goodbye, but have met up with most of the group since, in London, Delhi and Assam (for those who came back for more on my Assamese Musical Adventure)


“This trip opened up a box of magical music for me and in surroundings that were absolutely stunning. Georgie put it all in context and added her own great knowledge which made the journey unforgettable…. She really ‘made’ the trip for us all. Her research, knowledge and good humour were excellent. Full marks! Give her a bonus!” – Nick Hudson

Click here to read more about how the group felt about the trip

Musical Expeditions in Rajasthan, Assam and Bengal