Ghadar Geet: Blood and Ink
September 10, 2022
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
Artistic Director: Joti Singh
Choreography: Joti Singh, Stephanie Chen, Jessica Pfisterer, Neha Giridharan
Dancers: Stephanie Chen, Neha Giridharan, Jessica Pfisterer, Shabnam Sigman, Joti Singh, Tiyamike Tisatayane
Singer/Composer: Ishmeet Narula
Keyboard: Navi Mahey
Dholak/Tabla: Neil Prasad
Dhol: Bongo Sidibe
Song Lyrics: Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, Ishmeet Narula, Joti Singh
Music Director: Khhayam
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh
"Inquilab Zindabad" Original Beat composition: Dgijui on the Beat'z
Spoken Text: Joti Singh, Ishmeet Narula, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee
Painting: Sunroop Kaur
In the early 1900s, Joti Singh’s great-grandfather, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, lived in San Francisco and was the president of the Ghadar Party, a political party fighting for the independence of India from the British, through militancy (blood) and revolutionary literature (ink). “Ghadar Geet: Blood and Ink” interweaves the political action of the Ghadar Party with present day activism, linking the party’s strategic diversity with today’s uniting of minority movements. The performance explores the Ghadar party’s desire to restructure society, not only overthrowing the British but creating a new economic equality as well. Several of the songs (geet) in this piece are originally poems written by Joti Singh’s great-grandfather in 1915 which were distributed in Ghadar publications throughout the world.
I: Dot or Feather?
The legacy of colonialism and what it's like to live today in the United States as "minorities" or people in the "margins." How does capitalism constrain our abilities to dream and turn us complacent? This section calls on South Asians today to rise up, to look beyond material wealth, to reject the model minority myth and work towards liberation of all people.
II: Jaldi Karo
This section opens with Punjabi spoken text from Bhagwan Singh Gyanee's poem "Jaldi Karo":
If you want the enjoyment of freedom
If you don’t want any destruction
Then you declare it to the world
Don’t doubt it at all
Declare revolution right away
If you want spring in the world
If you want to destroy slavery
If you want to be happy
If you want to earn the respect of the world
Declare revolution right away
The dance mixes Joti's Bhangra and West African dance training--a creative vocabulary. The Ghadar movement was about alignment and unity with other colonized countries fighting a common cause. Internally, the movement sought to unite Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, as well as economic classes.
Gyanee was forced to run from place to place, away from British counter-intelligence, and change his name and identity several times. The dancers embody this struggle: changing rhythms, tempos, dance styles. The music recontextualizes a traditionally joyful Bhangra rhythm to bring forth feelings of urgency, militancy, revolutionary movement.
The lyrics describe how the European powers are going all over the world trying to take
over other countries. Indians are characterized as brave soldiers put on the front lines by the British, who stay in the background devising schemes and looting India of all its riches. Gyanee’s poet name was Pritam, and at the end of this poem he tells all the brave Indians to rise up against the British and that he will be there with them.
IV: Harbans Kaur
We all have different parts to play in the revolution. In this section, with an original song composed by Ishmeet Narula, we pay homage to the women, to Singh's great-grandmother, who stayed back in India to take care of the home and family. She was often harassed by British counter-intelligence who wanted to know the whereabouts of her husband.
V: Inquilab Zindabad
Long Live the Revolution. This section was choreographed by Joti Singh and dancers Stephanie Chen and Jessica Pfisterer. The lyrics were written by Singh, and a few lines are direct translations of Gyanee's poetry. The shirts in this piece were designed by artist Nisha Sethi. Original beat by Dgijui on the Beat'z.
VI: I Dream of India
While India gained independence in 1947, Gyanee was not able to secure a visa to return until 1958. In that year, one of the most popular songs was "Chin O Arab Hamara," a satirical song with lyrics written by celebrated poet Sahir Ludhianvi. The song paints a picture of an India struggling with the paradox of perceived greatness and optimism post-independence and the realities of poverty and inequality. The choreography was created by soloist Neha Giridharan and Joti Singh.
VII: The American Dream
Where is it? Does it still exist? What would our Freedom Fighters think of what has become of the world today?
VIII: Sachi Pukar
The closing song comes from Gyanee's poem of the same name, and is composed by Ishmeet Narula. It is a call to action that we hope will stay with you well after the show.
Rough translation of some of the lyrics:
Everybody is restless and in trouble
Why don’t you wake up?
Your clothes are torn, body is weak
Why don’t you have courage and strength?
The whole world is calling us thieves
Why aren’t your children (Indians) living comfortably?
You’re not left with any of that beauty that you used to have
Not the honor and nice appearance you had
Why don’t you have that anymore?
Get up brave lions!
Ghadar Geet: Blood and Ink is co-commissioned by Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, and supported in part by awards from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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We are collecting donations for The Citizens Foundation's Pakistan flood relief appeal. TCF plans to provide meals, help rebuild homes, and fix schools in areas ravaged by the floods. If you're unable to donate at the show, you can find out more and donate online. Thank you!