Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘Percussion’ Category

The drum chums

pete lockett 2

Pete Lockett

THE variety was simply amazing. A few days ago, on July 30, British percussionist Pete Lockett wowed the audience at Mumbai’s Blue Frog with his stunning display of drumming. He played the bongos, the African djembe, the Arabic goblet drum darbouka, the Peruvian ‘seat’ instrument cajon, the one-handed Brazilian frame drum pandeiro, and also the tabla in a standing posture. He even showed mastery in ‘konnakol’, the Carnatic art of performing vocal syllables.

These were only some of the drums Lockett played that day. A look at his website and study of some albums he’s recorded reveal that he also plays various Carnatic instruments like ghatam and kanjira, the Irish bodhran, duff, congadrums, Japanese taiko drums, ocean drums, rattles, shakes, the works. And if one types ‘Pete Lockett’ on YouTube, one sees many videos demonstrating the guiding principles behind various instruments. Clearly, he’s one of the most versatile international percussionists India has seen.

We’ve seen many Indian percussionists playing different instruments. Trilok Gurtu and Sivamani play a variety of drums. Though famous for the tabla, Zakir Hussain plays the conical batajon at some shows, and has a couple of cymbals in his kit. At one event, he even played the Japanese taiko drums. His brother Taufiq Qureshi plays the regular drum kit and tabla, and has also mastered the African djembe, on which he plays north Indian rhythms.

What Lockett played was an entire spectrum, something that literally seemed like a world tour of drumming. He has, of course, has been regularly exposed to Indian rhythmic and melodic culture. In 2009, he released the album ‘Made in Chennai’ with ghatam exponent Uma Shankar, son of the great maestro and former member of Shakti, Vikku Vinayakram. Recently, he worked on another album ‘Made in Kolkata’, with tabla maestro Pandit Shankar Ghosh, whose son Bickram Ghosh is also a well-known tabla player.

Featuring seven tracks, ‘Made in Kolkata’ has Lockett playing the ghatam, kanjira, tabla, cajon, darbouka and bongos. Pratyush Banerjee makes an appearance on sarod and electric sarod, and Supratic Das chips in on vocals.

Watching Lockett in concert, one’s mind flashed back to the other great international drummers India has seen over the past decade or two. In the latter half of the 1990s, one distinctly remembers jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s show, in which African drummer Paco Sery and Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena were joined by tabla wizard Zakir Hussain. It was sheer magic.

From 2000 onwards, India has seen some top-notch percussionists, many of who have performed at the Homage to Abbaji tribute held annually in Mumbai in memory of tabla legend Ustad Allarakha on his death anniversary on February 3. Here, we list down 10 outstanding international drummers the country’s music lovers have been lucky to see in the 2000s. This list comprises only those drummers this blogger has seen.

billy cobham

Billy Cobham: He’s played with jazz great Miles Davis and more prominently with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, started by guitarist John McLaughlin. Later, he did a lot of solo albums, and played with stars like bassists Jack Bruce and Stanley Clarke, guitarist Larry Carlton, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and keyboardist George Duke (who passed away on Monday, August 5).

He played in Mumbai in 2002 with violinists L Subramaniam and Jean-Luc Ponty, and a few years later did a solo appearance at the Allarakha tribute. In both cases, he proved why he’s rated one of the world’s best drummers.

ian paice

Ian Paice: As part of rock band Deep Purple, Ian Paice visited India first in 1995 and then in 2002. One of the greatest drummers in rock music, Paice has also played with the band Whitsenake and has collaborated with Paul McCartney, guitarist Jeff Beck, keyboardist Steve Winwood, bassist Rick Grech and bluesman Johnny Winter. His tight drumming style was a lesson for Mumbai’s rock buffs.

dennis chambers

Dennis Chambers: Some time in the late 1990s, the American did a drumming workshop in Mumbai, besides a private gig. Last year, he played with guitarist Scott Henderson in Mumbai, before joining the great Carlos Santana in Bangalore and Delhi.

At the Santana nites, Chambers was accompanied by percussionist Paul Kerazzo and conga champ Raul Rekow. Santana’s wife Cindy Blackman also chipped in with a scintillating drum solo.

charlie watts

Charlie Watts: The outstanding Rolling Stones drummer was part of the band’s shows in Bangalore and Mumbai in 2003. Despite the stage presence of frontman Mick Jagger and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Watts held his own with some really tight drumming.

A jazz fan, Watts was spotted a night before the show at Not Just Jazz By the Bay on Marine Drive. The venue had specially changed the programme to feature a jazz band instead of a ‘not just jazz’ one, but unfortunately, the Stone wasn’t impressed, and walked out after 15 minutes.

virgil donati

Virgil Donati: Known for his double bass drumming, the Australian played at the Jamshed Bhabha Hall in a show also featuring jazz fusion guitarist Frank Gambale. His 15-minute solo was arguably the best drum solo ever seen in Mumbai, and he received a five-minute standing ovation for it.

This blogger had gone with music buff friend Amul Kapadia, who’s specially clued in to various percussion instruments. After Donati’s solo, both of us decided that no matter what anyone did later, they wouldn’t be able to match that drumming passage. So both of us left the venue, even though another half an hour was left. Something we never regretted as Donati had taken us on such a high.

james kottak

James Kottak: One of the best solos seen in a rock concert in India, this one was by James Kottak, the American drummer of German rock band Scorpions, which played in Bangalore in 2001.

At that point, Kottak was unknown in India, and everyone had come to see vocalist Klaus Meine, and guitarists Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker. All of them were just brilliant, and though they had primarily come to promote their unplugged album ‘Acoustica’, they devoted half the time to an electric set.

simon phillips

Simon Phillips: The English jazz, rock and pop drummer has played with a variety of acts, including Toto, Judas Priest, the Who, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Mike Oldfield, the Michael Schenker Group and Indian drummer Trilok Gurtu.

He played at the Abbaji barsi two years ago, first doing a 30-minute solo, and then in duet with Zakir Hussain. Later, he was part of an amazing jam session. Many rock fans were unaware of his concert, and later regretted missing him.

giovanni hidalgo

Giovanni Hidalgo: The Puerto Rican congo king was part of the first barsi concert, held at Kala Ghoda in 2001. A well-known Latin jazz exponent, he was also part of Mickey Hart’s famous ‘Planet Drum’ album, which won a Grammy.

Also playing at the same event was Sikiru Adepoju, the Nigerian master of the talking drum, a West African hourglass-shaped drum whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and prosody of human speech.

leonard eto

Leonard Eto: Another percussionist to play at the barsi, Leonard Eto is a master of taiko, the Japanese drums. Here, he specialises in instruments like hirado o-taiko, the flat-bodied big drum, the oke taiko or tub drum, and the chappa cymbals or hand cymbals. One of the features of taiko is to play a large drum placed vertically above the musician’s height, and at his show at the Shanmukhananda Hall, Eto simply dazzled on this.

daniel freedman

Daniel Freedman: The American drummer played with the great world music singer Angelique Kidjo, who hails from Benin in West Africa. In fact, having grown up in New York and studied under master jazz drummer Max Roach for some time, he decided to explore West African drumming.

The show at the Tata Theatre, Mumbai, focussed more on Kidjo, naturally. But at one point, she invited members of the audience to dance on stage. Freedman was playing a djembe, and invited individual enthusiasts to come near him and dance. He synchronised his rhythms to their body movements, delighting the entire crowd.

Finally, a wish-list: Those were some of the world’s best drummers and percussionists who’ve visited India. Another fantastic drummer at the Allarakha barsi was Eric Harland, who played with jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Zakir. Last December, Frank Ferrer drummed for Guns N’ Roses in Mumbai, but this blogger couldn’t attend the show as he was travelling. Besides these, there may have been more, who’ve visited Delhi, Kolkata or the north-east of India.

There are some more giants one would like to see. Some of the people on this blogger’s wish-list include jazz drummers Steve Gadd, Lenny White and Jack deJohnette, Brazilian maestro Airto Moreira (though he’s not been too active in terms of recordings of late), Mickey Hart of the ‘Planet Drum’ album fame, Vinnie Colaiuta who has regularly accompanied Sting, former Doors drummer John Densmore, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason and Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who’s now busy on the jazz circuit.

After all, there’s hardly anything as fulfilling as a good, energetic burst of drumming.


Masters of percussion

IT’S always a pleasure to see tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain and ace drummer Trilok Gurtu together on stage. After all, these two musicians have pioneered the popularisation of Indian percussion internationally.

Zakir’s numerous collaborations include Remember Shakti with guitarist John McLaughlin, Planet Drum with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and the electronica venture Tabla Beat Science with producer Bill Laswell and percussionist Talvin Singh. For his part, Trilok Gurtu has been respected as one of the finest drummers in jazz and world music, teaming up with McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Jan Garbarek, Angelique Kidjo and Robert Miles.

The two maestros came again together again at Mumbai’s Shanmukhananda Hall on January 27. In a concert organised by Madhyam Entertainment as a tribute to the great singer (and Trilok’s mother) Shobha Gurtu, they teamed up with young sitar genius Niladri Kumar, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and keyboardist Sangeet Haldipur to produce 90 minutes of scintillating music.

While Zakir and Trilok have taken the lead in spreading the reach of Indian percussion music abroad, it was actually Zakir’s father — Ustad Allarakha — who set the trend while accompanying sitar legend Pandit Ravi Shankar in the ’60s. While that mostly comprised traditional classical music, the trend later encompassed various kinds of experimental sounds and a variety of newer musician-combinations too.

Today, numerous drumming champions are doing the concert rounds.  Some of them focus on traditional music, and others on jazz and fusion. On the tabla, we have Anindo Chatterjee, Fazal Qureshi, Bickram Ghosh, Swapan Chaudhuri, Nayan Ghosh, Anuradha Pal, Tanmoy Bose, Aneesh Pradhan, Abhijeet Banerjee, Yogesh Samsi, Vijay Ghate and Rimpa Siva, among others. On drums, we have Ranjit Barot, Sivamani, Gino Banks, Kurt Peters, Talvin Singh, Karsh Kale, Adrian D’Souza, Amit Kilam and Nandan Bagchi.

Among other well-known percussionists, well-known percussionist Taufiq Qureshi is now concentrating more on playing the African djembe using Indian rhythms. Vikku Vinayakram is the master of the pot-like south Indian ghatam. Selva Ganesh excels at the kanjira, a rather difficult instrument held in one hand and played by the other. Bhawani Shankar on pakhawaj and Sridhar Parthasarathy on mridangam are other well-known names.

In the Indian cities, the season between October and February witnesses various combinations of these musicians in concert. Some accompany well-known classical musicians, whereas others team up with different artistes in fusion or jazz encounters. For the audience, each occasion provides reason to party.

Though percussion involves a lot of depth, precision and timing — or mathematics, science and art, if one prefers it that way — the truth is that even the first-time listener gets enchanted by the sheer rhythm and energy. Yes, the more traditional-minded listener may not often appreciate the experimental varieties, but the truth is that innovation happens only if the musician has mastered the basics. The best fusion artistes are the ones who are primarily masters of the pure form.

The fact that the music calendar is packed with a share of percussion events is great news. Paisa vasool, as they say — good return for money spent. However, what’s not so great is the truth that most of the musicians are not releasing fresh studio material too often these days. The obvious reason is that there’s more money and direct exposure in concerts, and CD sales are dwindling, as a result of which even the music labels don’t encourage new albums.

However, if one looks at the past record, Indian percussionists have released some fantastic albums. Though sales have been moderate, these recordings have had a cult following and rave reviews. If one wants to make a beginning, here are 10 CD recommendations:

1)    Rhythm Experience Zakir Hussain: A world music album with an emphasis on Indian percussion. One of Zakir’s amazing creations, along with ‘Masters of Percussion’.

2)    Rhydhun — Taufiq Qureshi:  Zakir’s younger brother comes up with a percussion album that’s great in every respect. It also has appearances by Allarakha and Zakir.

3)    African Fantasy — Trilok Gurtu:  A splendid fusion of jazz and funk with Indian and African rhythms.

4)    Bada Boom — Ranjit Barot: One of the newer releases (2010), this jazz-fusion venture features drummer Barot with appearances by U Shrinivas on mandolin and McLaughlin on guitar.

5)    Rhythmscape — Bickram Ghosh: Tabla player Bickram Ghosh gets into a wider range of percussion on this collection.

6)    Making Music — Zakir Hussain: Though it goes under Zakir’s name, it’s actually an Indo-fusion album featuring McLaughlin, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and saxophonist Jan Garbarek.

7)    Drums On Fire — Sivamani and James Asher:  Popular Indian drummer Sivamani teams up with producer-composer-musician Asher on this album, which is of the more programmed variety.

8)    Taal Tantra — Tanmoy Bose:  A wonderful cocktail of percussion sounds from the Kolkata-based tabla player.

9)    Usfret — Trilok Gurtu: Released in 1987, this album was way ahead of its time, and has inspired many musicians from London’s Asian Underground scene.

10)  Tala Matrix Tabla Beat Science: A group formed by Zakir Hussain and producer Bill Laswell, this blended tabla with electronica and drum ‘n’ bass. Another innovative project.

 This is a fairly good list to start with. Besides this, there are more by Trilok Gurtu (‘Crazy Saints’ and ‘The Beat Of Love’) and Taufiq Qureshi (‘Taalisma’ and ‘Perc Jam’). Other good CDs would be ‘Made In Chennai’ in which Chennai-based vocalist-percussionist Uma Mahesh teams up with drummer Pete Lockett, and ‘Vikku Vinayakram: 60 Years’ Celebration.’

There’s some great work. But as we said, one wishes there are many more recordings in order to appeal to more audiences internationally.

Tag Cloud