World fusion music going India way: Melange maestros

November 2nd, 2010 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) The sounds they are a-changin’. World fusion music is going the India way, says veteran American fusion rock-jazz musician Larry Coryell, who has grown up on the music of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.

“The boundaries between what is Eastern and what is Western music are no longer relevant. At the heart of music is a good artist. A good santoor and morchang player is better than a lousy guitarist,” Coryell, known for his experimental rock music, told IANS.

He notes that Indian music is the only classical genre that can be easily improvised. “It is the only classical music in the world that is not on pen and paper unlike music in the West.”

Coryell was part of Melange 2010, a world fusion music concert here late Sunday. Melange brought together six fusion maestros - sitar exponent Nishat Khan, Larry Coryell, percussionist Trilok Gurtu, violin virtuoso Lily Hayden, keyboard jazz veteran Frank Martin and funk jazz guitarist Itai Disraeli - at Pragati Maidan in a two-hour concert.

“We have grown up on the music of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Bhimsen Joshi,” Coryell said.

He has recorded over 75 albums in his 35-year career. He has performed with musicians like Jack Bruce, Jimmy Webb, 5th Dimension, Charles Mingus, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea and John McLaughnin, to name a few.

The ensemble featuring a selection of Indian classical-American jazz fusion tracks was led by Nishat Khan, the US-based sitar exponent.

“I refuse to brand collaborative music as fusion. When musicians from various cultures come together, they undergo the profound, the experience of which is a sum total of their collective cultural identities. I play inspirational music taken from my own identity and style - and assemble it with my fellow musicians from the West so that they can identify with it,” Nishat Khan told IANS.

According to rock and classical violinist Lily Hayden, when “Western music assimilates into a new country - its most popular features get amplified like the McDonald’s and Western T-shirts”.

“But that doesn’t seem to be the best the West has to offer. I find the extremism of slide play, heavy drums and heavy guitar riffs in rock ‘n’ roll music similar to Eastern sounds. The pain of change - or the anguish of slide - is common to every evolving genre of classical music in both India and abroad characterising its journey to modernism,” Hayden said.

Master drum-and-base percussionist Trilok Gurtu says it took him “15 years to make the world understand his genre of music”, adding the media had trashed it initially.

“I have named my new album ‘Massical’. Roughly interpreted, it means classical for the masses. I believe that music should reach out to people and hence must vary in sounds. The problem is that very few people in our country have access to good quality collaborative music,” Gurtu told IANS.

“I realised early after moving to the US that I didn’t want to be a second class citizen and musician…so I developed an idiom that was very Indian fused with heavy drum and base from the West,” Gurtu told IANS.

The musician, who spends most of his time in Germany, has collaborated with several noted African musicians.

Broadly speaking, the fusion trend in Indian music began with a performance by Ali Akbar Khan in the US in 1955. Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar began fusing jazz with Indian traditions with jazz musician Bud Shank.

Nishat Khan, however, argued that the concept of Indian fusion music is a misnomer.

“The genres of khayal, ghazal and other traditional north Indian music came to India from Persia in the 14th century with the Muslim holy men. We are exporting the same music back to the West as our music. How do you qualify fusion?” he asked.

(Madhushree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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