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'A bouquet of emotions and celebrations:' Mushtari Begum Festival returns to Massey Theatre

The annual Mushtari Begum Festival of Indian Classical Music and Dance returns to Massey Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Come Saturday, the lights at Massey Theatre will dim and a spotlight will shine — yet again —  on a handful of musicians devoting their time, money, effort and love into keeping ancient Indian classical art forms alive.

The world-renowned, powerful Indian classical arts couple of New Westminster, Cassius Khan and Amika Kushwaha, will return to spread the divinity of Indian classical music and dance with their 12th annual Mushtari Begum Festival at Massey Theatre on Sept. 23.

The festival, with the motto: “When your ears begin to see, the eyes listen” began 12 years ago as an ode to Indian classical art forms — creating a strong footprint for the arts in the western world in the years that followed.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. Khan, a Juno nominee, a ghazal singer and tabla player, will be joined by his wife-dancer-harmonium player Kushwaha, in another special Mushtari Begum Festival and create music for the souls in Massey Theatre.

The 12th year will also bring more renowned classical musicians on stage — including vocalist Kamaljeet Gill from Edmonton and singers Mateen and Mobeen Qiyam, a brother-duo who trace their roots back to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Additionally, the special year will also bring Pandit Salil Bhatt, a Juno Awards-nominee, on stage in Canada. Bhatt, who hails all the way from Jaipur, Rajasthan in India, comes from a legendary musical background.

“We're very optimistic since Salil has come to Vancouver. Amika and I have this renewed sense of energy and happiness now, and he's brought all of the good vibes and energy from Jaipur here,” he said.

“We also feel like we've been lifted in our spirits and our emotions.”

Much like his father, Grammy winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who created the Mohan Veena, Bhatt created the Satvik Veena — ultimately earning several accolades.

Just his presence is exciting, Khan told the Record.

“I believe music should reach everyone; breaking barriers breaking and building new bridges. That's our aim. That's what Mushtari Begum has always been about,” Bhatt added.

Despite all the odds and the challenges, the festival has run for more than a decade, and Bhatt coming from two continent away signifies the success of this festival already, Bhatt said.

He added people in the area will realize the impact and feel the spirit of the festival and what the entire team of Mushtari Begum Festival and Massey Theatre have created.

12th Annual Mushtari Begum Festival — a "celestial" experience

Each year, the festival tries to make things a little bit different, Khan said.

“Sometimes we think of a theme,” he said. “What normally happens in our Indian classical music festival is that the music speaks for itself.”

But with a special performance by Bhatt awaiting, Khan said the best way to describe this year’s festival would be a “celestial” one.

Without revealing a lot, Khan said Bhatt’s performance is “something that is going to be very special, based on a huge achievement that India accomplished recently.”

For this special performance, Bhatt has created a whole new raga, taking the musical experience “out of the world.”

“Our Indian classical music is said to have over 63,000 ragas and the fact that he's still able to create a special raga for this “celebration” is a great achievement and we're so happy that he will be the first Indian classical musician in the world that will present something like this,” Khan said.

Kushwaha added, “every artist has something in mind when they do their presentation…the highlight, of course, is having Salil from Jaipur. So his theme is going to perhaps overshadow a lot of the other performers because of his personality on stage.”

She said there will be a total of four acts: Bhatt’s with a separate theme, Bhatt will join the stage with tabla maestro Khan for a performance, a ghazal performance from Gill and Khan’s solo performance. And, Kushwaha’s dance performance as well.

All of which she said would create “a bouquet of emotions and celebration.”

“We want to inspire those who need inspiration, including us…we need inspiration from each other.”

The couple said they have added a special invocation piece called “the tabla invocation” for the first time this year.

The invocation will be presented by a now-local, longtime resident Pandit Haripal on tabla. “He's crossed his senior years into his 88th year and we wanted to show that Indian classical music is beyond age… is beyond any of those limitations,” Kushwaha said.

“It's going to be nice and short, but it's going to be super meaningful for all of us.”

Where: Massey Theatre (735 Eighth St.)

When: Sept. 23, 7 to 10 p.m. 

Cost: $44 for adults; $25 for students and seniors; free for children under 12; tickets can be purchased here.