Published: 21st July 2021
From street gigs to performing on Instagram, Showtime Kochi is helping new performers kick stage fright
The team talks about their journey so far and how they are enabling young artists to take the stage virtually
From being witness to the music scene evolve in Kochi to introducing the busking culture and doing virtual street jams on Instagram, Showtime Kochi has seen it all in the last four years. The group of 18 youngsters has supported upcoming artists to showcase their talent and get noticed in the physical and virtual space. They continue to do so during these alienating times as well. Arjun Subrahmanian, Dixon Dennis and Rony Robert talk about why they care for the community and even speak out about the importance of mental health and how music can uplift people's moods. Excerpts:
How did Showtime Kochi come into existence?
There were a lot of people who were thinking about the monetary aspects of performing — like how do we get artists paid — but we were more concerned about how we can make it easier for upcoming artists to step up and perform. We wanted to provide people a safe and encouraging platform. After our first street jam in 2017, which was not even like a formal event, we had a lot of people come up to us and ask about when our next event would be. So we had a meeting after that where we discussed how we had stumbled upon something good. We began by pooling in our own money and hosted events.
TUNE UP: A street jam session during non-COVID times
How does one ensure a performance space is safe when so many new artists are on stage?
We very clearly wanted to make this a space for new artists. So we would absolutely not tolerate disturbances from the crowd. We would organise it in such a way that our whole group of 18 people would be scattered amongst the crowd. We would start cheering for the artists and the crowd, upon seeing us, would soon follow. This is how we ensured that our space was safe for artists. And this allowed a lot of people to grow into independent artists on their own.
How has the performance culture changed in Kochi?
Once we started, we slowly started to realise that there were a lot of new open mic sessions that came up in Kochi. Basically, Showtime Kochi was like a bridge for new, first-time performers to take their talent up a notch and then start performing for ticketed events or independent shows on their own. We are also seeing a rise in the number of people who are writing their own songs and composing their own music.
How did people take all this love for new artists?
Early on, many people would come up to us and ask, "What is in it for you guys? Why are you doing this?" I think it was barely believable for them that we genuinely cared about the music that young, new people were making. So we ran a hashtag that said #BecauseWeCare and that became a part of our event. Even the donation box that we put up was not for our own sake but to rent venues for the next show.
GOING SOLO: A performer on the Showtime Kochi stage
How have you seen the music scene evolve in Kochi?
We came to realise that the reason behind artists not getting paid is because there is no value for independent music among the public. One additional obstacle in the music scene of Kerala was that western music had no place here. People were more familiar with film music or ganamela. So when we started out it was a completely new genre of music that we were introducing to the people.
How has it been after taking everything virtually?
We were very surprised that we got a lot of support online with very little preparation. We felt this necessity to do a virtual jam because people were stuck at home and the entire public morale at that point was down. So we decided to make do with what we have and learn to accommodate others. Finally, we decided to keep it simple and do an Instagram live.
You talk a lot about mental health during these jams. Why though?
I think a very crucial part of our online Instagram jam is that we not only enable performances to come up but also converse with the performers themselves. We realise the importance of considering a person's emotional and mental state of being during these tough times. I feel like mental health is still a taboo in our state and that we can not live in denial of that. There is a pressing need to talk about such issues. So at Showtime, we make it a point to humanely converse with people to get to know them and their stories, especially about the lockdown and its alienating effects. We often see that there are two ways people deal with mental issues. Either they exaggerate it way out of proportion or they completely dismiss it as something trivial. We consider people as artists and not resources who perform their art despite their own struggles. Expressing art itself takes a lot of effort because you have to fight through your own vulnerabilities.
ACKNOWLEDGING ART: Arjun Subrahmaniam at the helm of a performance
Is there a lot of pressure of keeping up with the numbers on online platforms?
I will admit that we are not pulling in as many people for the virtual jam as we did for our street jams. But we are not just about the numbers either. We are driven by our cause for artists. Of course, getting more views and followers would benefit this cause but we like to say to ourselves that it is easy to get lost in the numbers game and lose the very purpose of why we started doing it in the first place.
How are you supporting artists online right now?
During our online jams, we feature artists by putting up their profile in the comments section so that people can reach out and appreciate them for liking their performance. It is similar to how we encouraged people to go backstage in our actual street jams and talk with the artist to support them. We are also active on Discord where you can chat with the people and have video calls. It brings in a community vibe to it.
You guys actually got a band in the bargain. Walk us through that
So our band, Chidakasha, was born out of Showtime Kochi itself. We were all members there and we soon started performing at the street jams and we evolved a lot. So much so that we were able to carry out an all-India tour and perform in six cities. We released a lot of original music and our debut single's music video got featured as one of the top music videos in Rolling Stone India for the year 2018.