Report on Steve Young's tour of India, sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Office of the American Embassy in India
Date: March 1. 2004  
 
SUBJECT: Evaluation of North India Program of American music expert, Steve Young
 
1. Steve Young, singer, songwriter and guitarist from the American south, toured North India, January 15-26, 2004. Young mesmerized Delhi and Jaipur audiences with five concerts and one workshop. He also held one fusion interaction with folk musicians of Rajasthan, which became the highlight of his North India tour.
 
A. DELHI: Young began his India tour in New Delhi with a highly interactive music workshop with 50 classical and popular Indian musicians, music lovers, and music students, many of them Muslim and Christian minority students from northeastern India (studying in Delhi) who have an intense interest in Western music. Young gave three performances in the capital, which included a concert at the PAO residence to more than 100 enthusiastic high-level contacts and third-country music lovers. His explanations during concerts and workshops about the roots of American music and the social and cultural context allowed audiences and participants to enter into the world of Appalachia and the south. His public concert at Delhi's premium cultural venue saw a full house of 400 intensely appreciative Indian professionals and young people, including many minority university students from the Northeast, tapping their feet to the rhythm of the music and asking for encore after encore. Young's Delhi visit ended with a special performance dedicated to the "fight against alcohol and drug abuse" for 300 university students at Delhi's Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. Young, through the lyrics of his songs and in discussion afterwards, talked about the need for young people to be aware of the suffering and destruction that drug and alcohol abuse brings to the users and their families. Although the problem is not so widespread in India as in the U.S., the potential for its increase among young people is great, with society's increasing urbanization and sophistication. Young emphasized the importance of dealing with the problem candidly at its infancy.

B. JAIPUR: Young continued his North India tour with two concerts and an interaction with Rajasthani folk musicians in Jaipur. As part of the second annual Jaipur International Virasat (heritage) Festival, Young performed in a soul-baring fusion interaction with Rajasthani folk musicians for an audience of 150. The outdoor amphitheater of Jaipur's premier cultural center echoed with the amalgamated sound of the American south and traditional Indian folk music. The intermingling of the strings of the guitar and the North Indian traditional bowed instrument of the sarangi to the beats of the nagara (drums) made the morning mystical. In the evening, Young gave an hour-long performance to about 250 key Embassy contacts and other leading citizens of Jaipur, in co-sponsorship with the Jaipur Festival, leaving audiences mesmerized and asking for more. Young also performed for 300 adoring women students at the largest women's college in Asia, Maharani's College, Jaipur, where his music was described by the college principal as "eternal."

C. MEDIA COVERAGE: Young's programs received excellent press coverage both in Delhi and Jaipur, including three segments broadcast by Doordarshan (India's government-owned television network) -- two on the regional news and one on the national network -- and a four-minute segment by NDTV 24-7. (A copy of the interview on Doordarshan is being sent separately by pouch.) Other TV networks like Sahara, Aaj Tak, and Bhaskar TV also covered Young's fusion performance with Rajasthani folk musicians. Times of India, Hindustan Times (both Hindi and English), Financial Times, Indian Express, Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi) and Rajasthan Patrika (Hindi) all carried stories of Young's performances between January 16 and 23, 2004. All-India Radio's External Services -- heard in 90 countries including the U.S. -- recorded a half-hour interview with Young, which was broadcast on Delhi B stations and over its External Services between January 20 and 23. Post-produced Span Magazine, which appears in English, Hindi, and Urdu, will run an in-depth interview and photos in its March/April issue. Young's Indian cultural programs will be featured in a new book-length publication being produced by post on the Transforming Relationship between India and the U.S., as an example of increasing cultural interaction.

 2. PROGRAM EVALUATION AND IMPACT: Young's unassuming and modest personality, his intelligence and wit, and his appreciation of Indian music and culture, when coupled with his extraordinary voice, songwriting, and guitar-playing skills, make him an ideal cultural ambassador. It is no wonder that he has been called "A Living American Treasure," by the likes of Van Dyke Parks, that Billboard called him "a singer of major stature, and that Dolly Parton recently remarked that "all Steve Young's songs are great songs." Despite his virtuosity as a guitarist (playing, picking and frailing in numerous acoustic styles); his sensitivity, humor, and maturity as a songwriter; and his warmth and richness as a singer, in his demeanor both on-stage and off, he always remained authentic and true to his roots, demonstrating an innate respect for others and other cultures. In his Doordarshan interview, Young was asked what Indian musicians could learn from him. He responded that he didn't know what they could learn from him, but that he felt Indian music was the most advanced in the world and he hoped to learn from it. The response from viewers was tremendous, according to the network, which received an unusually high number of positive call-ins to the interview. This comment was repeated in numerous interactions and media interviews.

Young's humility allowed him to establish a deep rapport with his audiences, of whatever status and economic level. Young cherished his interactions and encounters with local musicians and audience members. He repeatedly remarked on the depth of the response and appreciation of his listeners, and observed that music seems to play an integral role in Indian life. The universality of the message of many of his songs, which concern the human condition, human love and the spiritual quest, resonated with the Indian audiences. He was curious about, and sensitive to, many social issues affecting India, such as the status of women and children, governance, and religious tolerance. Expressing his compassion on a practical level, Young inquired about worthwhile charities where he could send part of his earnings as a donation. By the end of his tour in India, Young was galvanized and electrified by his experience, commenting that this had been the most wonderful tour of his life.

During his workshop, he demonstrated his accessibility by permitting a young guitar student to play his guitar, and he played the student's guitar. Several teachers and students at Indraprastha University remarked that his candid discussion of drug and alcohol abuse, based on his personal experiences, had greater credibility and made a deeper impression on the students' minds than days of lectures, meetings and workshops conducted by 'experts' and social workers would have had.

This program was a first for Post in combining performance with workshop in the area of Americana roots and we consider it an overwhelming success in reaching all levels of our audiences, especially the youth. Several audience members and cultural figures in both cities complimented post on "finally" doing the kind of cultural programs that everyone could appreciate, and which demonstrated the authentic, non-commercial "soul" of American culture. Post cannot stress enough the importance of exposing Indian audiences to American performers and artists such as Steve Young and others of this genre, if we want to create a positive mindset towards the U.S. and its values among Indian youth.

According to the 2001 Government of India census, India's population exceeds one billion people, making it home to roughly one sixth of humanity. Just as striking is the fact that 54 per cent of the Indian population is now below 25 years of age, representing some 555 million youth. Of these, approximately 12 per cent are Muslim, representing some 67 million Muslim youth below the age of 25. This is a population we need to target in programs such as these.

Young's participation in the Jaipur International Virasat (Heritage) Festival marked the Embassy's initial participation in this high-profile festival, which has just received confirmation of Prince Charles' patronage for the next 5 years. The festival director and public were highly appreciative of U.S. support for their efforts in highlighting the importance of preserving cultural traditions.

FOLLOW-ON PROGRAMS: Commenting to the ACAO several times on the interest he encountered among Indian audiences in his style of music, Young expressed his desire to return to India to teach guitar and song-writing, and to study Indian stringed instruments. Post intends to identify possibilities for such continued cultural exchange. Post also expects to receive in the next couple of months a DVD of a documentary film on Young made by graduate film students at the University of Florida, which we can use as with more young audiences.

In addition, the director of the Jaipur International Heritage Festival proposed that Young return for four days next year, in order to rehearse with the tribal musicians and create an even more intense musical fusion.

Post would welcome Young back again either in a teaching capacity or as a performer to reach more of this receptive and enthusiastic audience.

 

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