Music, Poetry And Art Come Together With Irish-Canadian Music In Air India [Redacted]

“Thirty years after the Air India bombing, an Irish-Canadian musical brings music, poetry and art to Vancouver’s SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts” in an adaptation of Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s award-winning poetry, children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections.

VANCOUVER – Thirty years after the 1985 Air India bombing, an Irish-Canadian musical, air india [redacted], will bring music, poetry, and art to Vancouver’s SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 W.Hastings Street, as part of an Irish-Canadian collaboration.

The production, presented by the acclaimed Turning Point Ensemble, SFU 50th Anniversary and SFU Woodward’s., will be staged at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre November 6-11,  is based on Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s award-winning poetry, children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013). Tickets are available at sfuwoodwards.ca or turningpointensemble.ca.

Saklikar was 23 at the time of the bombing and lost her aunt and uncle in an incident often described as Canada’s worst mass murder. To this day, despite one of Canada’s longest criminal trials whose acquittal result lead to an exhaustive inquiry, the bombing of Air India Flight 182 continue to be remembered more on the margins of collective consciousness than at the center of Canada’s public imagination.

The award-winning poet shares that she didn’t start out wanting to write about this controversial and painful story, not only because of the deep personal wounds—the bombing devastated her family and hundreds of families throughout Canada—but, also, as an Indo-Canadian she states, “I knew I’d have to find the courage to engage with difficult subjects. However, the more I avoided the Air India story, the more I could not write at all. It’s as if I had to find the strength to delve into this painful chapter of our history, that the voices of the dead needed to be honoured through art.”

Saklikar speaks of the outpouring of compassion and interest in her book, with deep gratitude and cites her respect for community leaders such as Major Singh Sidhu (who lost his sister and a niece and nephew) in the Air India bombing and Komagata Maru curator, Naveen Girn, who moderated her 2013 book launch, an event which drew hundreds of people from many walks of life.

“Finding the spiritual strength to write about trauma, opened me to wanting to break down cultural bias, when writing about Air India and I’m proud of the collaborative work with Indian Summer Festival, where, through music and art, we’ve situated Air India in a Canadian historical context.”

Saklikar describes her journey in writing about a loss both personal and public and adds, “inside the Air India/Canada archive, I found hundreds of documents: court transcripts, coroner’s reports, witness testimony, search and recovery logs, newspaper clippings, and the plaintive stories of loved ones, my own family and the families of the three hundred and twenty-nine people who perished that fateful day, June 3, 1985.”

The award-winning poet explains that until conducting her research, she hadn’t fully comprehended the enormity of loss: not only where whole families wiped out in an instant, eighty-two children under the age of thirteen were killed in the bombing.  Saklikar also stresses, “part of the writer’s journey in creating these poems was to examine prejudices and to confront stereotypes, those that diminish our ability, as Indo-Canadians, to remember such a huge loss of life.”

She hopes that all Canadians, including Indo-Canadians, will find much to contemplate and experience in this Irish-Canadian musical and stage experience: “it’s been incredibly moving and a profound learning-opportunity, to work with some of Canada’s finest musicians (Turning Point Ensemble), with a composer as sensitive as Jürgen Simpson (Limerick), and a director as thoughtful as Tom Creed (Dublin). “The Irish people embrace this tragedy as their own, with sensitivity and compassion, and you really hear that in the music and the singing.”

Five years in the making, Irish composer Jürgen Simpson creates evocative music based on his extensive research of the Air India tragedy and inspired by Saklikar poetry. air india [redacted] showcases the skilled musicianship of Turning Point Ensemble with the vocal talents of Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson, countertenor Daniel Cabena and soprano Zorana Sadiq. Under the direction of internationally renowned Irish director Tom Creed, with music direction by Owen Underhill, and visuals by Irish media artist John Galvin.  air india [redacted] is an innovative and sensory experience that will give testimony to the lives lost and the stories of those who remember them.

In addition to the Nov. 6-11 8pm evening performances, with a Sunday Nov.8 matinee at 2pm, there will be a free community event that Saklikar describes as “thought-provoking” and “an opportunity to “discuss, debate, share, and remember”:  on October 28, at SFU Woodward’s, at 7pm. Sharing their work, thoughts, and practice will be Kamal Arora, Dr. Chandrima Chakraborty, Gurpreet Singh, and Dr. Milan Singh. Delving into the larger implications of silenced histories and redacted traumas, our panel sheds light onto the cultural memory of our shared experience in being not just Canadian, but citizens of this fractured world.


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