When I first heard about Music Basti, I thought it was a great name for a music class or institution. It is, in fact, the name of a unique two-year-old project that attempts to provide music education, and an exposure to music and the arts to children living in three shelters in the Okhla, Qutub and Kashmere Gate areas of Delhi. In doing so, Music Basti addresses children who have faced homelessness, abject penury, and trying circumstances of a nature that many of us with privileged backgrounds could never hope to comprehend. But by garnering support from musicians and young volunteers, Music Basti is able to bring to the children it works with the opportunity to engage with music and the arts. That in itself is an admirable mission, but what makes it even more commendable is that the programme is run by young people between the ages of 18 and 35 with immense conviction and dedication. Headed by founder Faith Gonsalves, the Music Basti team consists of a handful of volunteers and location managers, one of whom I had the opportunity of meeting recently, albeit briefly.

Right notes: A volunteer with children at a Music Basti session. Photo: Shiv Ahuja

Nikhil Rao, a chemical engineer by profession with a full-time job, spares time to be a location manager at one of the three shelters Music Basti works with. A self-taught guitarist, Rao has been part of a metal band, and has also studied Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, as well as jazz. He shoulders the responsibility of managing workshops and creating programme content for the project and describes some of the challenges he deals with. Each workshop or class deals with groups of children, ranging from 4 to 14 years.

Therefore, the younger children, or the less musically inclined, find it hard to keep up with more mature participants or with those who have an aptitude for music. Practice regimens are also difficult to implement in the weekly exposure to music that has currently been possible and, therefore, the project is now aiming to increase the music interactions to twice or thrice in a week.

Finding musicians who will understand the aims and objectives of the project, and volunteer to work with the children, is equally challenging, although several young musicians from diverse musical backgrounds and sensibilities have so far provided generous support.

Young sarangi exponent Suhail Khan and percussionist Suchet Malhotra are among the Indian musicians who have supported the project, while UK-based music producer Ian Wallman, and Dubber and Jez from the Interactive Cultures Research Unit have initiated an ongoing project with Music Basti. The following link will give viewers a brief outline of the nature of the project: http://dubberandjez.posterous.com. Very soon, Music Basti also hopes to launch an online album of children’s songs recorded with the support of professional musicians.

Although it focuses on working with children termed “children-at-risk", the project, with the many challenges it faces, is a reminder to society that an involvement with the arts and music is known to be enriching and beneficial in the overall development of young minds. Our mainstream government-controlled system of education has failed to implement recommendations made years ago to introduce arts education as a regular and compulsory subject in schools. Music Basti, on the other hand, has taken up the task with a determination and resolve that is commendable, and should be supported generously.

Log on to www.musicbasti.orgto find out how you can help.

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com