533 Souls Festival celebrates mental well-being in the post-pandemic world through serene, contemplative renditions of ragas and yoga. Filmed and recorded live at England’s premier venue - The Curve Theatre, Leicester - this performance is part of the 533 Souls Festival. Curated exclusively with UK-based musicians.
The concert, curated to exclusively feature the finest UK-based musicians, has been filmed in partnership with Curve, a state-of-the-art theatre in the heart of Leicester’s vibrant Cultural Quarter, and continues Darbar’s longstanding partnership with De Montfort University to help enhance well-being and combat looming mental health concerns for a population still grappling with the repercussions and in the throes of a global pandemic. It is conceptualised as a mechanism to help audiences become attuned with their natural rhythm, once again, and embark on the winding road to healing and recovery in a post-pandemic world.
A mental health crisis
Messaging by the World Health Organisation around mental health underscores the ramifications of experiencing fear, uncertainty and isolation in the context of COVID-19, with the #HealthyAtHome vertical stressing the need to find alternative ways to establish social contact safely. And with this virtual, free of cost festival, Darbar has moved to do just that.
It is well established that the pandemic poses a worldwide emergency for mental health, with experts bracing for widespread psychological fallout. Some early 2020 studies found 54% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the Covid-19 outbreak as moderate or severe. Emerging research from the UK posits 69% of adults feel somewhat or very worried about the effect of COVID-19 on their lives. Soberingly, recent studies show that young adults underwent maximum psychological distress.
To help this most susceptible segment, Darbar has also been having online concert sessions during the pandemic, shares artistic director of Darbar, Sandeep Virdee, OBE: “Depression skyrocketed, and we truly believe music is a powerful healer.”
But now, an unabridged festival is being hosted online.
Why 533 Souls?
For at its essence, 533 Souls is a tribute—to the people who would have been at Curve, had the city not been under strict lockdown. One of the worst COVID-affected areas, Leicestershire was moved to tier three restrictions by the UK government—a category that completely banned household mixing and led to the shutting down of pubs, restaurants and universities, thus greatly changing the university experience and aspirations of the student community in Leicester.
“During the pandemic, there had been a complete absence of socialisation as we stayed locked in our houses,” says Virdee, “Actually going back into a theatre, getting the artists and technicians in there...this time after so many COVID protocols, it was a profoundly moving experience. It was very special.”
533 represents the number of people—the number of souls—who would have inhabited those empty seats. Virdee says that while surveying the theatre, which had been set up for Christmas when the second wave hit, he started counting the empty seats, which were socially distanced at the time. “The idea of 533 Souls just stuck,” he says.
Virdee and, by extension, Darbar, believe that human interaction forms the basis of community. As an innate function, being with others and coming together, even when we’re technically apart, constitutes the basis of healing. So while the 533 souls may not have been present, their spirit—and the spirits of the entire community—was there. Just as our collective conscience will always pulsate to a congregational rhythm. Just as our souls will always unite and find a way to recuperate, even under the worst of circumstances, especially when aided by the holistic artform on Indian classical music.
As Jaya Chatterjee, digital content writer at Darbar, says, “As the 533 seats lay empty, the musicians disappear into a world of their own in unpretentious, sublime performances, stripped of all the inessential. Their eyes gleam in tender submission to the grinding impact that the pandemic brought to human lives. Yet, embracing stark reality with an unwavering, steely placidity, they bring hope, resilience and determination through their music. Nothing—not even the empty seats—could deter them from showing up – an important ingredient that has constituted human resilience since time immemorial.”