Sun-kissed fields littered with smiling faces; a place where friendships are born and rekindled. Holy ground for music, musicians and music-lovers alike, where bonds are formed by the hundreds, united by a mutual love for sound. Welcome to the Happiest Music Festival in the world, as it celebrates 10 years of bringing joy to the Indian sub-continent.
“It feels surreal. It’s been a long road- and now, 10 years later- it feels absolutely unreal!” says Supreet Kaur, Festival Director of Bacardi NH7 Weekender.
The year 2010 saw the advent of what is now known as India’s Happiest Music Festival, a place where artists come to connect with their fans. “The local music industry was largely unexplored back then, we wanted to create a space for artists to be discovered, and to play their music on a platform where they might be heard.” Supreet explains. “It was this community which inspired us, and which has been growing year on year since. It really has been a special journey.”
A Weekend to Remember
With an aim to further the relationship between the artist and the listener, Bacardi NH7 Weekender was born at Koregaon Park, Pune, with 35 artists spread across 4 stages. Little did they know that this would be the spark to ignite a fire that has raged on ever since.
“We wanted to create a safe space for people to come and have a good time, to discover music and listen to artists that they love, and just be happy.” Supreet explains, “We said, ‘we don’t want to be called the biggest, we want to be known as the happiest,’ – which is an emotion that we share with everyone who comes to our festival.”
As part of their ethos of blending both the old and the new, NH7 Weekender places a special emphasis on being a multi-genre festival, with something to offer every member of their eclectic audience. “No matter how many local artists we celebrate, or how many international artists we bring in, the top priority has always been to showcase artists who the audiences might not know very well, but would fall in love with.” Supreet says, “It’s really fulfilling to watch people who have never been to the festival come for the first time, just to see a specific artist.”
Owing to the multi-stage format of the festival, the NH7 team has had the opportunity to do this across multiple genres, catering to audiences from across the board, regardless of age, gender, nationality, and language. “The beautiful thing about our festival is that the kind of audience that we attract ranges from kids to full-grown adults, and the kind of music we provide, the kind of artists we feature on our lineup, they really speak to these fans, even across genres.”
However, things have not always been as rosy as they outwardly appear. “To do a festival like this- to do any large-scale festival- you need to have the stomach to do it, and to sustain it for a few years,” Supreet explains. “No festival is profitable for the first two years, so you have to stay true to your vision and continue doing what you do. What was truly challenging was just to keep going, to be gritty about it, and do what we do for as long as we have.”
Aided by the support of Bacardi, who have been long-time supporters of the vision that went into the birth of NH7, the festival has had a successful, decade-long run. “We were lucky enough to have Bacardi’s faith in what we do, and to understand that there is viability in music, to connect directly with fans, and to support us through all of this,” Supreet says.
Under Supreet’s watchful gaze, the festival has indeed come a long way since its inception all those years ago. However, the journey hasn’t been without its trials for the young entrepreneur herself. “Unfortunately, it takes a longer time to establish yourself as a woman working in India. It comes with a lot of conditioning over the years- that’s just how society in India is,” Supreet reveals. Explaining that her success is owed in no small part to her colleagues and work environment, Supreet tells of her early days in the company, and how it pushed her beyond her comfort zone, forcing her to explore the more unconventional and extraordinary.
“Without those opportunities, I would not have been able to achieve what I have. As a woman in India, you need to push yourself a bit more to be seen as an authority, which can be challenging, but all in all, it’s been a great run for me. I think I have been very lucky to have had these opportunities.” Supreet says, “It’s come with a lot of hard work, and a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s been great. I feel truly honored to be where I am right now, where so many women dream of being.”
When asked what advice she would give to young women who dreamed of following in her footsteps, Supreet says, “As women, we have to push each other. We have to push ourselves. The most important aspect is to understand your ground – nothing will come to you for free. You need to understand your craft. When you do that, and know what you are doing- when you’re confident in your ability- you will move forward.”
The Happiest Music Festival in the Nation
Bacardi NH7 Weekender has come a long way since its inception. As with many large-format festivals across the nation, the organisers began to notice an unsettling trend as the years went by.
“What ends up happening at music festivals is that there is so much waste that is generated, it is seriously counter-intuitive when thinking of the larger picture, and what is at stake when it comes to the environment,” Supreet reveals. “This was something that we wanted to address for a long time.”
Joining forces with eco-conservation outfit Skrap in 2016, the festival began its journey towards environmental sustainability. “In that year, we produced 7 tonnes of waste, and diverted about 70%- which was a big deal,” Supreet reveals.
From then on, a trend had been set for the future of Weekender, who in the last year managed to divert about 90% of waste in Meghalaya and 85% in Pune from going into landfills. “We realised that this is one of those feats that was very possible if only someone were to want to do it enough.” Supreet says, “Every year, those statistics have become better and better.”
The festival also places special emphasis on equal representation of genders and creating a safe space for all attendees. “We like to keep introducing fresh acts, and try to emphasise on female representation- 33% of the artists this year are women, and hopefully in a few years, that number will be up to 50%.”
Amongst the festivals other eco-friendly initiatives are on-site composting pits and a dedicated waste management crew. “There’s a lot that we do, and a lot more than can be done.” Supreet explains, “I believe we have come a long way since we started out in 2016, and my hope is to make our festival a zero-waste festival in the years to come!”
A Decade of Joy
This year’s festivities will feature new music, new stages, fresh acts and a whole lot of exciting surprises.
“This year is going to look very different, unlike any other year.” Supreet teases, “It’s been very exciting for us, and I think our audiences will feel the same way!”
The future is promising for Bacardi NH7 Weekender, with plans for expansion on the horizon. “What I would like to see is us moving out of the country, making this a global festival, even if only in Southeast Asia. I hope we can expand both in the country and outside, although that is yet to be seen!” Supreet says.
The Pune edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender goes live on the 29th of November 2019, at Mahalaxmi Lawns in Pune. Will we see you there?
The images used in this article are courtesy of Supreet Kaur and Bacardi NH7 Weekender.
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