The Pettah Interchange

My review and photographs of ‘The Pettah Interchange’ published in The Nation on Sunday 19th August 2012 –



One normally wouldn’t put the words party and Pettah together in the same sentence.

Last Saturday however, the heart of old world trade in Colombo became a platform for the exchange of new age ideas. Artists & musicians from Bangalore to Berlin came together for a spectacular evening of music and visual arts inside the old rundown Gafoor Building in Pettah in an event titled, The Pettah Interchange. Despite it still housing some of the head offices of leading banks and other key corporate entities in the country, Pettah and this once iconic angular structure, seemed to have become a little lost over the years, standing for a forgotten colonial era that holds little or no relevance to the movers and shakers of today.

None of that meant a thing on this particular night though, because out of nowhere the once magnificent building, shut down during the war and even becoming a parking lot at one time – had transformed into what felt like an underground rave of art and music, to a packed audience spread out over two floors of performance, dance and display areas. For a moment there, I felt I had walked into the set for a very local rendition of La Vie Boheme.

This sort of event maybe the norm for European countries and Berlin is no exception – one that combines the value of local culture with a growing global fusion of art, but for Sri Lanka, it’s a new way to do things, a learning we need to hold on to in order to keep things constantly fresh, especially when one tends to get very used to the norm and delves comfortably into it.

Fresh seemed to be the objective of the collective of organizers because the poster announcing the event itself was intriguing enough to make me want to see what all the fuss was about. What I remembered as the facade of practically every goods lorry in Colombo as a child was now a poster announcing a party. Kudos to the artist or art director who reclaimed tradition as an art form to tell a very relevant tale of how the event combined itself with its very novel choice of location.

The event was actually the closing party of Sound Camp South Asia, a 12 day residency of electronic musicians held on Ruskin Island on the Bolgoda Lake. Sound Camp South Asia is a project of Border Movement, an initiative supported by the Goethe Insitut, whose aim is to promote a creative dialogue and exchange between artistes in Germany with those in South Asia. What audiences experienced was the result of musicians and DJs from Germany, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan coming together, outside a performance space to collaborate and experiment with no goal in mind but to be a participant in the exchange of concepts and skills. The result witnessed on Saturday night was more than evidence that this system of artistic collaboration is a resounding success for a very real and truly beautiful cultural exchange that defies the forced formulas that we have done things by thus far. The music was unusual to say the least and everyone seemed to want to at least twitch a few muscles to the beat of this refreshing new sound. That Sri Lanka was considered to be the venue of such an event and residency speaks volumes of how the country seems to have slowly but surely embraced a new wave of creative expression as a valuable medium for its ideas in the last few years.

The featured artists included ASVAJIT (Sri Lanka), AMMAN MUSHTAQ (Pakistan), ANDI OTTO (Germany), GAURAV MALAKAR (India), GEBRÜDER TEICHMANN (Germany), ISH LESS (India), JACKMATE (Germany), JAHCOOZI (Germany), KINI RAO (India), KHAN (Germany), MAX TURNER (India), RAHUL ANAND (Bangladesh), RAUMAGENT ALPHA (Germany), QASEM FOUSHAN (Afghanistan), and YASHAS SHETTY (India).

A initiative of the Goethe Institut in Sri Lanka, CoCA (the Collective of Contemporary Artists) was also involved in putting the final event together, creating a fitting visual ambiance for these multifaceted artists to perform in. The location, whilst still maintaining its cobwebbed corners, now had its seeming demise become a canvas for a myriad psychedelic displays, seating areas, dance floors and a stage that actually had an old transport lorry as its backdrop, all elements that allowed the audience to become a part of the experience instead of a mere passive viewer.

In a nutshell, the evening carried many contrary tunes to the conventional ones that have insisted for far too long that art alienates, that artists are abstract and don’t relate to the actual goings on inside the minds of the everyday man. Not many parents are happy when their children seek careers that don’t seem to have a guarantee for success, as with practically any artistic avenue. It hasn’t been the most popular of career paths in Sri Lanka and South Asia as a whole, save the traditional ones that have been handed down from father to son as more of a trade than a craft. All of a sudden however, this seems to be changing. Over the last year a whole new set of arts and crafts have entered the Colombo playing field creating new sub genres of art from photography to interior design to music to fashion and many more people are opting to follow the maverick paths their innards crave for instead of what tradition has pre-planned for them. Moreover, Germany has always been a nation that has reveled in celebrating their artists from Bertolt Brecht to Hans Zimmer, a valuable practice for any nation to adopt.

An evening that grabbed a forgotten corner of Colombo and made perfect sense of local culture and global fusion, one that brought in an audience from many walks of life and most of all a party that allowed a sense of togetherness and an exchange of ideas that was a pure joy to not merely witness, but be made to feel a part of; The Pettah Interchange was an affirmation that a nation is finding new perspective on how to tell its story to the rest of the world. If this is a trend to look forward to, and if we could find a way to give the rest of the country an opportunity to be a part of this apparent movement, just imagine where we will be in the years to come.



One thought on “The Pettah Interchange

  1. Nat,

    Can I use this for iSrilankan? I hav revived the website and plan to give it direction and dynamism . Linking talented experts artists and writers from within and outside srilanka !

    Will Skype you or call you when am backin Florence. Right now in the alps. Hot as a henhouse in Florence. So everyone has literally taken to the hills.

    How are you doing luv in yr pregnancy ? All ok?

    Please can u email me one or two images to insert into iSrilankan post ?

    This sounds great btw.. Petah interchange… Amazing stuff …

    Big hugs


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