By Aadya Arora
The 12th annual Mushtari Begum Festival, curated by tabla maestro Cassius Khan and his wife and renowned kathak player Amika Kushwaha, was a night filled with great musicians, energy, and enthusiasm. It was a true celebration of Indian classical music at Massey Theatre.
The couple began the show with an honour ceremony for Coast Salish chief Rhonda Larabee and New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone, as well as with a thank you note to the theatre.
For the first part of the show, Khan took to stage with Juno-nominated veena player Pandit Salil Bhatt, who has been a constant part of the festival. Bhatt dedicated his composition to India’s recent successful expedition to the moon. He also invented satvik veena: a variation of the classical string instrument, which the audience seemed to really enjoy and appreciate. In his collaboration with Khan, the two artists provided an electrifying jugalbandi—fun but repetitive in style.
Ghazals, a famous form of poetry written in couplets, was performed first by Dr. Kamaljeet Gill—a classical ghazal artist who has her own music festival in Edmonton—and then later by Khan. Gill’s singing was charismatic.
Khan finally took to centre stage, where he performed a ghazal while simultaneously playing the tabla—before ending with an instrumental solo. He was accompanied by other local artists: a student of his who played an instrument called swarmandal, and his wife Kushwaha on the harmonium. His talent definitely stands out and ended the show on a high note.
The festival promised Kathak dance performance by Kushwaha, but she was unfortunately not feeling well enough to perform. The audience seemed happy with what was presented, though; it is the festival’s aim to build a strong South Asian community in the region, which makes it stand out as a must-see annual event.