On Friday 25 October 2019, our offices at British Council Scotland were enchanted with dulcet tones and an eclectic mix of Indian and Gaelic music thanks to a visit from Glasgow-based, inclusive arts organisation, Paragon Music and artists from the Devasitham Charitable Foundation (DCF), based in Chennai, India.
Along with guests from Scottish Government and Creative Scotland we gathered together to deepen our learning and celebrate a long-term collaboration between these two charitable organisations.
Their collaboration has been facilitated through British Council Scotland’s partnership with Creative Scotland and with funding from Scottish Government.
An initial grant was awarded in March 2017 to Paragon Music to support their visit to Chennai to perform and deliver a series of workshops, performances and training sessions. The project formed part of Scotland’s participation in the UK/India Season.
Then, thanks to additional funding from Scottish Government in 2018 to enable a legacy for some of the UK/India funded projects, Paragon successfully bid for additional finance to support an exchange visit to Scotland by DCF representatives and a mixed group of disabled and non-disabled artists.
Enjoying a packed programme of workshops, seminars, performances, meetings and cultural visits to develop the knowledge and skills learned when Paragon trained DCF staff in Chennai in 2017, we were thrilled that the group could spent some time with us during their two-week visit.
Aside from being enthralled by the impromptu performance, we were able to hear a first-hand account of the shared experience of the two partner organisations. Both strive to exemplify inclusive practice, remove barriers to empower disabled people and provide artist opportunities. They spoke about the importance of language to inclusivity and the significant infrastructural issues in India in relation to restricted mobility for wheelchair users.
We heard about DCF’s mission as a charitable organisation and its dependency upon a charitable model to secure funding. As part of their experience in Scotland they learnt more about the social model of disability which underpins Paragon’s ethos (and British Council’s own approach to inclusion).
During their visit the group learned Gaelic songs and took part in a singing workshop by young singer and Gaelic Ambassador of the Year, Eilidh Cormack. They also performed with Paragon musicians, Ghanaian singers from the Ha Orchestra, Gameli and Cecilia Tordzro, and renowned Gaelic singer, Kathleen MacInnes, at the CCA and Tron Theatre.
There was a very memorable visit to Sense Scotland’s Touchbase in Glasgow where the group were inspired to create new music under the auspices of David McCluskey, the Director of music at Sense.
The group have taken back new pieces of Scottish music, including jigs, reels and Puirt à beul (Gaelic mouth music); and DCF has taken back their learning to the hundreds of disabled people with whom they work in Chennai.
Paragon Music were left with a number of Indian raags and some original music written by DCF musicians, including the uplifting song, Let Your Light Shine which had our toes tapping at British Council Scotland and has apparently become a popular favourite with the young musicians that attend Paragon’s Saturday music programme.