Asian Music and Dance

Pulse of the World

Two days before his Alchemy concert, Zakir Hussain Qureshi and I did some catching-up before the Pulse interview. At one stage, talk turned to what musician and audience really recall of a concert by way of detail. Contrary to Sheldon Cooper’s eidetic memory shtick in The Big Bang Theory, the tabla maestro reckons eight, ten minutes maximum. Prabha Atre’s guru, Sureshbabu Mane’s words wafted back. What lingers, he suggested, is ‘the aura of the concert’. (A fuller quote is in Pulse’s Winter 2014 issue.) Once a mental weed of a seed has taken root it can be darned hard to get rid of…

Pulse of the World grew out of Hussain’s invitation to put together a cross-cultural collaboration for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival in January 2011. A later incarnation was revealed at the 2012 BT River of Music – the Cultural Olympiad programme. Down the line there have been personnel and, no doubt, other changes. The line-up that performed in London was substantially the same as had played previously this year in Mumbai, Dubai and US venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

Hussain, a superlative lobbyist/advocate for intelligent rhythmicality, represented the north of the subcontinent with Rakesh Chaurasia on bansuri (bamboo flute). For the south, there was Ganesh Rajagopalan – one half of the Ganesh and Kumaresh violin duo. Representing the varifocal Scottish, Irish and Breton sides of this Indo-Celtic pact were Fraser Fifield on winds, including flute, low whistle, pipes and sax; John Joe Kelly on bodhrán (Irish frame drum); Shane McGowan (nothing to do with Pogueishness) on guitar; Charlie McKerron on fiddle; Patsy Reid on fiddle and viola; and Jean-Michel Veillon on wooden transverse flutes.

By London the Pulse of the World programme was thoroughly road-tested. The music had got tighter and denser and gained more air. The musicians knew where the springboards for individual expression and improvisation were, the time strictures involved, and how and when to hand on or return to musical ‘rallying points’. Fifield piped the event in with the solemnity of the Burns’ Night haggis. Over the course of the two sets, particular pieces stood out. Let’s choose babies. A major one in the first half was Reid’s ‘The Baby Tune’ and in the second McKerron’s ‘Michael’s Matches’. Dance rhythms and figures featured strongly, beginning with the first set’s opener, ‘Jig O’ Beer’. Veillon’s second-half opener, the traditional ‘Trinkamp’, was preceded by tunes bearing the generic name of a Breton dance, ‘Gavotenn Ar Menez’. It was Cinerama-like in its sweep. Each half had a lengthy interlude for extemporised Indian melody. The first dialogue was for bansuri and percussion; the second Karnatic-style violin and percussion. The encore built on the title composition of Hussain’s 1987 release, Making Music.

In German we have the word penibal. The adjective walks a zigzag line from precision to pedantry and pernicketiness. The pernickety-minded might bleat about authenticity or blemishes on the apple or mango. Early on, Hussain contextualised the project’s common ground. During the Raj era in the north-west, local and tribal musicians and military bandsmen in marching bands found commonalities. Pulse of the World is a big dream. It makes fewer claims to authenticity than Seán Ó Riada ever did with Ceoltóirí Chualann (‘Musicians of Cuala’, the anglicised ‘…of Wicklow’), the forerunners of The Chieftains. But make no mistake, this was serious music. When all was said and done, what lodged in ‘aura’ terms was twofold: the craíc (‘fun, entertainment’) being mighty, and the complete absence of Keltschmerz (the world-weariness or Weltschmerz brought on by yet another Celtic music act).



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