Moonshine – Backstage with Linda Gytri

The Norwegian folk band Apal arrive together, about halfway through when a collaboration between Daud Khan Sadozai, Joseph Tawadros and Dilshad Khan is playing out on the main stage of Jodhpur Riff. It is around 8.30 p.m., on October 19. Some members of Khan’s entourage, who were hanging around earlier, have left the green room and it is now quiet. The only people backstage are a handful of volunteers. However, the members of Apal prefer to sit silently on a raised stone slab, in a corner right behind the main stage where the performance ensues.

Apal is a group that has come together specially for Jodhpur Riff. They play traditional Norwegian folk tunes as well as original compositions by their accordionist 33 year old Linda Gytri.

The band members—Linda Gytri, (accordion), Kristoffer Kleiveland (diatonic accordion) and Vidar Berge (mandolin and guitar)—are dressed mostly in black, except for a cream and blue kurti with a floral design that Gytri wears. They have placed their instruments next to them, either on the slab they are sitting on or, in their cases, at their feet. They sit bunched together, occasionally speaking in quiet murmurs to each other, in Norwegian. Kleiveland and Berge are bent, their heads over their knees with expressions of intense concentration on their faces. Gytri, on the other hand is bobbing her head and swaying slightly to the sound of the music coming from the stage. Her eyes are closed. She has a slight smile.

After almost half an hour of silence, Gytri approaches me. She has an affable smile. “How do you say ‘Sharad Purnima’?” she asks. I tell her, repeating the words a few times so she can get the pronunciation right. She goes back to her band members and repeats it to them. They repeat it in turn. I compliment Gytri on her kurti. Has she had a chance to do any shopping? “A little. I bought this from a shop just outside our hotel. See?” She turns around and turns the back collar of her kurti. The label reads ‘Anokhi’, a brand which specializes in clothes made from traditional textiles, coincidentally run by John and Faith Singh, who also run the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, one of the organizers of Jodhpur Riff. “We bought this shirt too,” she says tugging gently on Berge’s black shirt sleeve. Berge and Kleiveland look up and smile politely. They listen to our conversation for a while, then return to staring intensely at their shoes.

Gytri will be staying for a day more after her performance is done. “The normal life here is so different from ours at home. It is very interesting. But I didn’t get a chance to see any of yesterday’s performances. When we were done with our rehearsals, we went back to the hotel, the food was good and the band that was playing was so nice we decided to stay in.”

There is more small talk. “Ok,” she says. “Now I’ve got to get on stage.”  She joins her band. Their set is delayed as the audience refuses to let Tawadros, Sadozai and Khan leave, demanding an encore. Apal return to wait, silently.

When it’s finally their turn they kick the set off with a composition written in anticipation of coming to India—‘Tuk Tuk’—followed by another they composed the night before, inspired by their time spent in a hotel, and named after it: ‘Ranbanka Palace’. But what the audience seems to love the most is a tune dedicated to the moon. “To Sharad Poornima,” Gytri explains on stage.


(Image: Apal performs onstage during Jodhpur Riff. Shantenu Tilwankar for Oijo/JodhpurRiff)