The Commonwealth releases ‘Simple Gifts’ as a single music track contributed by each of its 54 member-countries in an attempt to lift people’s spirit and promote international camaraderie.

The Commonwealth has come up with a Covid Music Project that brings one musician from each of its 54 member-nations onto a platform, seeking to lift the human spirit and encourage trans-border camaraderie amid the global pandemic. The pioneering endeavour was realized three months after the Commonwealth Secretariat invited applications, wanting to ensure that one musician represents his or her nation.

The musical feat is “uplifting” and is “a powerful testament to our resilience” says Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth that launched the project led by its Secretariat in association with Dionysus Ensemble, a professional music group.

The project released a 5:40-minute soundtrack as a collaboration of musicians from the former territories of the erstwhile British empire. ‘Simple Gifts’ features strings, woodwind, brass and percussion besides the human voice of all ages. “Arranged in one powerful performance to the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s villages, cities and coastlines, it is a true reflection of the iridescent spectrum of our multidimensional culture,” notes the Secretary-General of the 1965-founded political association, headquartered in London.

Carnatic exponent Ranjani Sivakumar was chosen from India for the project. “It was a wonderful experience to become part of this programme and to sing along with other world-renowned musicians,” says the Hyderabad-based vocalist.

Léonie Adams, founder and artistic director Dionysus Ensemble based in the UK capital, describes the project as inclusive and intergenerational. “It aims to demonstrate the healing power of music. Music’s role as an international language of understanding, solace and jubilance,” she notes. “Whether you are in your village playing for no other reason than that you love it, or in a city singing at the end of a long day’s work, we want to hear you.”

Face and sound of one’s nation

Adams recalls that the competition was “fierce”. “Lots of people were there to win the chance to be the face (and sound!) of their country.” Each applicant recorded a short video with them introducing themselves and then perform the music, she reveals. “The chosen musician had music written specially for them — for their voice or instrument and at their level. We sent this to each person to prepare and they recorded it and sent it back. We put it all together into one audio track and a video.”

Layne Robinson, who heads the social policy development at Commonwealth Secretariat, music has the ability to “communicate the unspoken feelings” of these challenging and uncertain times induced by Covid-19. “We celebrate the contribution of the arts, music and culture in healing and inspiring the human spirit, even as we focus on rebuilding our lives and society. This project helps establish a bond and solidarity between people and communities in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Europe and the Pacific,” she said.

The Commonwealth Secretary -General explains the context of the project thus: “As parts of the world descend into lockdown, as we face the heart-wrenching moments of saying goodbye to loved ones, as economic turmoil and uncertainty become our new norm, this video will hopefully lift our spirits and inspire hope for a bright 2021.”

To her, this project “reminds us that we are not alone and that whatever we face, we face as a family, rich in talent and innovation. It reminds us that we have all the tools to build back better.” It was in September the Commonwealth Secretariat sent invitation to its members.

So, will this be a onetime project? “​I hope not!” says Adams. “Creating a worldwide network of Commonwealth musicians in this project is only the start of wonderful collaborations to come.”


Radhika is the Editor and Founder of India Art Review.

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