The ZerOclassikal Project

The zerOclassikal project is an initiative by zeroculture in partnership with Collage Arts, aiming to offer a radical approach to south Asian classical music (SAC) by facilitating progressions, experiments and developments in the genre, through a mindset of a British identity.

In addition to the progressions of the form, zerOclassikal is setting up infrastructures for an industry for nextgen south Asian classical musicians, trained in the UK.

The project explores developments in performance – a key component to the scope for engaging the contemporary. Our performance spaces are intimate settings, deliberate to enforce a type of engagement between the musician and the audience that is at the heart of south Asian classical music.

Commissions Our central activity is commissioning new work. We recognize that this is relatively a new approach within SAC music, and as such we have developed an artist development programme to support our commissioned artists, working closely at every step of the process. We consider a new work to be either a new raga structure or exploration of existing ragas in collaboration with other genres or forms; composers will have opportunity to notate Indian nuances that are workable for other musical structures. We select our commissions from artists who have performed at our basement series sessions, progressing them through ‘work in progress’ sharings before committing to full commissions. Our commissioned works are toured nationally through our partner networks.

The Performance Series

At the heart of all Indian classical forms, performance is key in the maturing of an artist. The engagement with the audience is fundamental in any performance rendition, which is why we place emphasis on intimate spaces. The ‘basement sessions’ allow a freefall experimentation and opportunity to present new ideas, keeping the classical precept dominant, and staying away from notions of so called ‘fusion’. Check here for the next series of basement sessions


The project encourages creating infrastructures through which Indian musical thought may express itself better with other musics. An example may be the creation of universal notation symbols to represent SAC nuances so that such nuances may be included in scores written for Western Classical music. Another example may be illustrations of “extended techniques” by Western Classical musicians to make SAC musicians aware of the wide vocabulary of techniques and sound effects they have at their disposal. An example of this is how we are allowing harmony work to take shape within the SAC genre. Intrinsically, SAC music is seen as a solo art form and focuses primarily on improvisation; we are now encouraging a new generation of artists to delve into harmonies which can equally be accommodated within the Rag structure and in that our commissions explore these ideas further.

Project’s Genesis

The project has its roots in an evaluation of a project that zeroculture produced:  a dance season – UKGharana in 2011. It identified two main areas for development – First – there is now a large cohort of highly skilled and talented SAC British born musicianship which has been trained from a very young age in this country but do not have pathways or incentives to professional careers. Secondly, as sector of musicians themselves identified – their artform lacks their own ‘British identity’. The music is treated as a ‘package’ of cultural traditions that are all adopted along with the musics – some of which may not reflect the upbringing of the musicians themselves. For instance, “why do I need to wear a kurta to perform, I never wear one otherwise”. – Whilst the music has firm foundations, many are not given the tools for looking beyond their teaching to create new pieces of work. Musicians do not feel the need to provoke intelligible responses within their music, but rather concentrate on performing the ‘correct’ repertoire which we believe needs to be adapted for contemporary audiences and opening up artists to think outside of the box is a change that needs to take place.

The project is doing no more  to south Asian music what the south Asian dance industry has achieved with the emergence of artists such as Akram Khan, Shobna Jeyasingh, Akash Odetera, Nina Rajarani, Amina Khayyam and many more…

With those main drivers, zerOclassikal has set out to deliver a unique and fundamental approach to SAC development in the UK: a) form in relation to its structural progression; b) industry development – in relation to performance and presentation. The starting points are • Treat SAC music termed as classical or traditional as contemporary. Historical perspective makes a strong case for this. By approaching as contemporary, artists are enabled with a ‘current’ mindset – making possible an exposition of a current narrative. • The distinction of approaches to dramaturgy for a framework that incorporates the aesthetics of a British south Asian mindset whose evaluators are not necessarily the national press but the vernacular of that community base. This approach is to enable a strong sub-culture in the work both in ownership and branding. • Accommodate a new culture of learning – away from the ‘Guru-Shishya’ model, where students are restricted by their ‘gurus’. And in this way, it allows for a confidence to a British trained musician to be independent from the Indian sub-continental hierarchy.

Industry development

The project aims to build infrastructure for industry

  • Audience Development
  • Production standards
  • Network initiatives for musicians to benefit further opportunities
  • Professional Development Initiatives
  • Publishing
  • Recording and Broadcasting

One of our features is the touring networks and partnerships we are building in key UK cities – London, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Canterbury etc. We invite further partners.


Photography : Ayesha Begum