Enter Ziro Focus: A Portal Against All Odds

How the pandemic forced artists and cultural organisations to reimagine festivals and collaborations

As the COVID-19 pandemic coursed through different parts of the world leaving a trail of despair, noted author Arundhati Roy in an essay imagined the pandemic as a portal. While unpacking the rapidly changing global politics and the challenges that the pandemic posed, Roy also added that this pandemic is the opportunity to imagine the world afresh. Ziro Festival of Music, a DIY eco-friendly outdoor music festival in Arunachal Pradesh, too adapted to this challenge that the pandemic posed. 

What came out of this adaptation is possibly a pioneering effort in India to bridge all the lockdowns, and simply bypass the impossibility of movement that came with the pandemic. Ziro Focus, an ongoing cultural collaboration between India’s Ziro Festival of Music and UK’s Focus Wales, took shape in 2020 and was supported by the British Council and Art Council of Wales.  

In 2020, the collaboration was supposed to be a regular on-ground exchange programmes at both festivals.

“However, the pandemic forced the team to look at alternatives that led to the creation of Ziro Focus, a virtual festival in an interactive space with visual elements of both festivals. We had 60+ Indian and Welsh musicians, arts professionals and audiences from over 10 countries come together to discover new music at the listening sessions, and learn about new cultures,” says Lubna Shaheen, Programmes Director, Ziro Festival of Music.

This set the ground for the start of something which could easily be a first for Northeast India despite the pandemic. In 2021, Ziro Focus brought in a musician from Manipur, Mangka, an established folk singer and an international performer, and emerging solo producer and singer-songwriter Eadyth from Wales to produce new music together over several online meetings.

“Coming from different backgrounds, cultures and sounds, Mangka and Eadyth were the most unlikely duo to work together on a piece of music. Yet they managed to collaborate without ever meeting each other in real life. Their first collaborative piece, ReRaReHei, was co-written and produced over several Zoom meetings,” says Anup Kutty, Co-Founder of Ziro Festival of Music.

To mix both their diverse musical styles, Miti Adhikari, a sound engineer who previously worked with international acts like Foo Fighters, sat in Goa and created an ethereal soundscape.

From just being a virtual collaboration, Ziro Focus turned to the metaverse in 2022 and will be releasing their debut song ‘ReRaReHei’ as a non-fungible token (NFT) with holders getting access to future live events and other utilities.

The collaboration has also been made into an augmented reality (AR) which has been designed by 3D artist, Adrian Dominic. When Mangka visited Wales in May 2022, one of their performances in St. Giles Church at Wrexham became a part of the Ziro Focus metaverse, where people from across the world could access the event with their phones. During this performance, the church in itself transformed into a prop while their song is experienced through AR with the help of visual aids. The second AR live experience will take place at the Ziro Festival of Music where Mangka and Eadyth are scheduled to play on October 1, 2022. The duo will also be talking about their collaboration and journey at the Ziro Literary Festival in Saint Claret College on September 30, 2022.

Ziro Focus has successfully traversed both the online and offline worlds and has now begun its journey into web3.

Jonathan Kennedy, Director India, British Council says, “India/UK Together, a Season of Culture aims to establish a global network of Indian and British artists in order to strengthen a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable arts sector, and to provide opportunities around digital innovation. We are really excited that Ziro Metaverse is a part of the Season of Culture with partners Focus Wales. This collaborative project is to empower musicians to connect with their audience and create a fantastic live and digital experience. The collaboration with wonderful women musicians Mangka and Eadyth promises to be something really special at Ziro Festival. Phones and mobile tech are an essential part of our lives, and creativity like Ziro Metaverse where musical experiences are transformed through the use of augmented reality is sure to bind audiences together in both countries. We are happy that Ziro Festival and Focus Wales will be spotlighting fantastic artistic collaborations across both countries.”

While there are many metaverse experiences now coming up, do these match the real life experiences?

“It would be unwise for one to try and replicate a real experience to the metaverse. Instead, these newer forms of technology should be used as decentralised ways to collaborate, promote and distribute one’s work to a wider audience. We are really excited about this collaboration and hopefully this will pave the way for many more,” says Kutty.

This article is authored by Anupam Chakravartty and first published on EastMojo.

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