When Eyes Speak South Asian Choreography Festival
Ghadar Geet: Blood and Ink
May 12-14, 2023
Dance Mission Theater
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Joti Singh
Choreography Collaborators: Stephanie Chen, Jessica Pfisterer, Angel Adedokun, Nadhi Thekkek, Rasika Kumar
Performers: Angel Adedokun, Stephanie Chen, Rasika Kumar, Gargi Patel, Jessica Pfisterer, Sumaya Sidibe, Shabnam Sigman, Joti Singh, Nadhi Thekkek
Vocalist: Ishmeet Narula
Keyboard: Navi Mahey
Dholak/Tabla: Neil Prasad
Dhol: Bongo Sidibe
Spoken Text: Joti Singh
Believe Music (on behalf of Giraffe Pakistan), and 2 Music Rights Societies
Lyrics: Bhagwan Singh Gyanee
Composition: Ishmeet Narula
Lyrics and Composition: Ishmeet Narula
Music Director: Khhayam
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh
Original Beat composition: Dgijui on the Beat'z
Lyrics: Joti Singh
Lyrics: Bhagwan Singh Gyanee
Composition: Ishmeet Narula
Director, Motion Graphics: Joanna Ruckman
Motion Graphics: Brian Williams, Darlene Cruz
“Blood and Ink” Graphic: Nisha Sethi
Stage Manager: Chi Chi Okonmah
Technical Director: Harry Rubeck
Lighting Design: Harry Rubeck
Sound Engineer: Jaime Serra dos Santos
Duniya Dance and Drum Company Managing Director: Myisha Harden
Duniya Dance and Drum Company Social Media Manager: Kenta Despe
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 that were distributed in Ghadar publications throughout the world.
I: The Turning Point
What made Bhagwan Singh a radical? How did he end up in the United States? This piece explores the conditions in Punjab that prompted Bhagwan Singh Gyanee and others to dream of independence.
II: The Crossing
Wanted dead or alive by the British imperial government, Gyanee fled from India. He evaded capture several times during his journeys through Asia and North America.
III: Dot or Feather
Facing racism on two fronts–at home in India and in North America–the Ghadar Party strategized to mobilize citizens of Hindustan (the name for much of South Asia at that time).
What is the legacy of colonialism and how do we experience it today in the United States as "minorities" or people in the "margins?" 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.
IV: Jaldi Karo
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.
VI: 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.
VII: Inquilab Zindabad
Long Live the Revolution. This section was choreographed by Joti Singh and dancers Angel Adedokun, Stephanie Chen, Jessica Pfisterer. The lyrics were written by Singh, and a few lines are direct translations of Gyanee's poetry. The costumes in this piece were designed and printed by Joanna Ruckman.
VIII: I Dream of India
While India gained independence in 1947, Gyanee was not able to secure a passport 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.
IX: The American Dream
Where is it? Does it still exist? What would our Freedom Fighters think of what has become of the world today?
X: 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!
Special thanks: Deepika Tamuly, Riddhi Kapoor, Joanna Ruckman, Gracie, Josie and Tati, Dancers’ Group, Dance Mission Theater
Radical South Asian History Walking Tour
Mission District, San Francisco
Curated and Led by Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee
Performers on the tour: Bongo Sidibe, Shabnam Sigman, Rasika Kumar, Preethi Ramaprasad
When Eyes Speak curated by Preethi Ramaprasad and Shruti Abhishek