Strunz & Farah
Genre: World music
Venue: Tata Theatre, Mumbai
Date: December 4, 2012
THERE may be no standard way to define the music of Strunz & Farah. The layperson may describe them as two outstanding acoustic guitarists. The more serious listener may call them ethno-jazz. Wikipedia puts them in the ‘new flamenco’ category. Yet others may call them improvisational acoustic guitar, or even more simply, guitar-based world music.
But then, what’s in a name? What one witnessed at Mumbai’s Tata Theatre on Tuesday, December 4, was nothing short of pure magic. For around two hours, guitarists Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah transported the audience into another universe with their amazing virtuosity, breath-taking improvisations and sheer artistic wizardry.
Ably assisted on flute, clarinet, bass and percussion, Strunz & Farah played 11 original compositions in their two-hour set. Many of us would have heard exceptional acoustic guitaring by the likes of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell, but this wasn’t any different in terms of musical genius.
The event was organised as part of the Music Gurus series conceptualised and produced by Indigo Live, which had earlier done a show featuring Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Mohan Veena, an adapted guitar, and Toumani Diabate of Mali on kora, a type of harp. On Tuesday, though one sadly saw many empty seats in the side wings, those who attended were left with warm memories.
Interestingly, one spotted many Mumbai musicians in the audience ― Gary Lawyer, Leslie Lewis, Ehsaan Noorani, Ranjit Barot, Sridhar Parthasarathy, some members of Indus Creed. And that’s something that happens only when the concert features performers of the highest calibre.
The duo has been performing together since 1980. Strunz, a Costa Rican, met Farah, an Iranian, in the US, and quickly they decided that though they were from different parts of the globe, they could team up to produce something unique.
While their music was heavily influenced by the Spanish style of flamenco, they added jazz improvisational techniques and diverse elements of Latin American folk, Cuban rumba, traditional Middle Eastern/ Iranian music and European gypsy music, thus sounding truly eclectic. The 80s marked a revival of flamenco music, thanks to guitarists like Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena and Tomatito, and the band Pata Negra.
Stunz & Farah sounded distinct through their unique mix. The term ‘new flamenco’ (or nuevo flamenco) became popular after an album of that name was released by guitarist Ottmar Leibert in 1990, and Strunz & Farah were classified in that genre, though their actual mix is much wider.
The distinct influences were definitely visible at Tuesday’s show. The group began with the tracks ‘Luxuriance’ and ‘Night Jasmine’, but the obvious highlights were ‘Vela al Viento’, which featured a stunning guitar stretch by Strunz, ‘Raggle Taggle’, which had charming European gypsy influences, ‘Jamilah’, which blended various Iranian motifs with a global sound, and ‘Amber and Musk’, which had a good amalgam of Middle Eastern melodies and Latin American rhythms.
For the last piece, Strunz announced ‘Twilight at the Zuq’, but an ardent fan in the audience requested the popular ‘Bola’. The guitarist accepted, and the dazzling guitar coordination on this track brought the show to an astounding finish.
Of the guitarists, Strunz had the more aggressive style, filled with lightning-speed solos, whereas Farah was more melodic, playing in a manner reminiscent of Paco de Lucia. Though one doesn’t know whether it was done deliberately, the volume of Farah’s guitar seemed a bit lower.
For variety, there were excellent solos by flautist Rob Hardt, who also played the clarinet on a few songs, and percussionist Majeed Ghorbanian, who had a very unusual set-up that included a cajon, cymbals, a frame drum and chimes. The bassist, unfortunately, didn’t get too many exclusive parts, and simply played the role of an accompanist.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and a special treat for world music fans. Overall, Mumbai does not have too many concerts of major artistes in this category, and in the past two or three years, only the performance of African singer Angelique Kidjo and, of course, Toumani Diabate, come to mind. Next week, the Idan Raichel Project from Israel will play at the Tata Theatre and that should also be worth checking out.
Indigo Live has promised to bring down at least two such acts every year. While that will surely expose Indian audiences to music from different geographical regions, one also wishes someone thinks of a full-fledged world music festival in Mumbai.
The city organises festivals in western classical, jazz, the blues, homegrown rock and various genres of Indian music, and a multi-artiste event featuring various global talents would be more than welcome. Is anybody listening?