Stories Untold (Menaka Thomas)
Fringe Brisbane Hub
This year’s Women in Voice performance was regarded by many as one of the franchise’s best. Part of this elevation came from the debut involvement of Menaka Thomas in showcase of the intersection of traditional and contemporary music. Thomas’ classical Southern Indian Carnatic musical origins are similarly drawn upon in “Stories Untold”. The hour-long Fringe Brisbane show sees the songstress humbly sharing her stories and experiences of life in an intimate and raw musical portrait shaped around her tales of growing up as an Australian-Indian in Brisbane in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, the confronting realities of visits to India, transitioning to motherhood and a chronic disease that nearly claimed her vision.
Starting with a soothing meditative number of gentle percussion accompaniment, the show’s original soul-stirring music is tapestried into the narrative. The unique melodic sounds and rhythmic foundations of South Indian classical music form the base of the setlist, including through inclusion of the soothing drum-like rhythm and bell-ish melody sounds of the handpan, played by accompanist Tsoof Baras. The talented Baras, aka the percussion octopus, is of particular note and difficult to take eyes off as his each hand and leg operate separately from each other with different instruments. He also has a key role in the glorious highlight number, ‘Salaam’, featuring lyrics in Hebrew. The joyous proclamation that peace will come upon us features increasing percussive crescendos into an amazing whole audience sing and clap-along celebration. In contrast, ‘Hold You In My Arms’ is a serene almost-lullaby of love from mother to child, which showcases both Thomas’ smooth vocals and the versatility of pianist Meg Burstow, who seamlessly switches styles and musical patterns throughout the show.
Whether you let the music wash over you, engage in the call and response numbers or clap along to the soul-stirring ‘My Eyes Can See’ prayer to be led forward out of the darkness, there is much to appreciate about Thomas’ “Stories Untold”. The Brisbane-based Indian fusion singer and songwriter has a unique vocal style, that blends sweetly with those of her fellow performers. Indeed, the musical fabric is fascinating in its diversity of its vocal harmonies and multi-layered instrumentations a. In the intimate location of the Fringe Brisbane hub, the world premiere performance of “Stories Untold” is particularly special. As a classically trained Indian devotional singer, Thomas is clearly talented, however, she is also a genuine and generous performer, and her show serves as a lovely, thought-provoking reminder of how we are all the same in our humanity and how music can connect us.