© Ruhail Kaizer

The only way is up: REProduce Listening Room in Leh

Rana Ghose tells us about the recently concluded REProduce Listening Room session that took place in Leh. He details the challenges of taking the event up a mountain and how the locals reacted.
Written by Rana Ghose
5 min readPublished on
We need oxygen; I know, it’s boring, we’re human, what else is new. On this particular planet, the suggestion is that, depending on how close to the sky you are, there is less oxygen to breathe. This can present a problem. The common effects are feeling as though you’ve not slept properly after a marathon drinking session the night before. Up to a relatively recent point in my life, I’ve considered myself immune to (most) hangovers. However, in those times where I have experienced the limitation of being hungover, I certainly did not feel like doing anything. At all. Especially not playing music, let alone producing an event.
In August, we brought REProduce Listening Room to Leh. At an altitude of about 3.5km above sea level - surrounded by one of the highest altitude deserts on Earth - the city does not present the most obvious place to do an event; or, looked at another way, it is, in fact, the most obvious location. We chose the reconstructed remains of a former minister's residence of Leh Palace - a 17th Century structure that served as a crucial link in an overland trade route that historically connected the Indus Valley to Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west, and of course India and China.
The Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation, or LAMO, exists here; housed in the former residence of either the Togoche or Munshi family - ministers to the king at the time - the initiative aims to encourage local engagement in the arts by both preserving traditional forms, as well as encouraging new ones. It was the latter aim that drew us to LAMO.
Ruhail Kaizer began performing with us as SISTER at an LR session almost two years ago. Last summer, he went home to see his family and visited LAMO. When he came back and told me what he found, I struggled to keep myself from screaming with excitement. Leh is not the easiest place to reach. The roads are closed all winter, effectively locking land travel (read: cheaper travel) to and from the city, and while yes, you can fly, how were we going to fly seven artists from different parts of India to Leh and back? As much as I love these sessions for what they present aesthetically, I also love the fact that they pay for themselves. Doing a show in one of the world's highest deserts is aesthetically pleasing but the travel, well, not so much.
We’ve partnered with Red Bull this year for a number of events; that has allowed us to do a number of things, but I’d say getting to Leh to produce a Listening Room Session was a real manifestation of what this partnership can really mean in practice. This event in Leh was, in many ways, the litmus test of just how far we could take this.
Which isn’t to say that we didn’t face challenges. If you’ve been to the old city in Leh, you will recognise that there is a lot of inclined walking, also known as climbing. That’s fine, but as soon as you factor carrying PAs around, it gets a little more arduous. Electricity isn’t, shall we say, constant, which means more effort spent on carrying a generator set through hills and alleyways. And of course, residents in Leh might not be accustomed to the kind of work we showcase at these sessions.
As Ruhail puts it, “Ladakh is definitely not a place where left-field art is praised or lauded. If anything, it’s most likely to be repressed. [Yet] there is an endless inspiration within our culture and homeland. As I grew up Old Town, those sounds are a very important part of my art, yet those memories have become very distinct and fragmented. The pandemonium of Muharram that made the ground beneath shake, or the chants during Go-Chag which would reverberate and resound within these very sacred valleys." While the following holds true for all the artists who performed - Jamblu, Lifafa, Hashback Hashish, D80, and the Ladakh Folk Ensemble, for Ruhail there was one additional element in that performing here was a sort of homecoming. Not only did everyone succeed in holding a room of seated observers in utter silence (as well as, in Ruhail’s case, incentivising his aunt to literally run out of the venue in fear), they also succeeded in formalising what we can now state as fact - there is an audience for these forms in Leh, contrary to what others may suggest or think.
It’s fair to say that Leh has never had anything quite like this happen in the city. There certainly have been concerts, and in the past, there have been international artists, who come through during festivals. There have been few efforts towards showcasing local Indian talent. I’m personally very excited to see what can happen in the future with LAMO and the others we met there who saw value in programming more events there. Perhaps most importantly, I think we can encourage local talent to take on their own production and to put on events themselves.
In the end, altitude sickness affects people in different ways. Kartik, for instance, decided to counter the effects of this with a red cloth, which may or may not have had the intended effect of making him less dizzy, which in turn may or may not have influenced his take on primordial hip-hop beats in a good way. Perhaps limitations bring out the best in all of us.
REProduce and Red Bull will partner to showcase a Listening Room sessions in the future keep up with the events here.