Global artistes unleash fusion music in Dubai

Global artistes unleash fusion music in Dubai

By Michael Gomes

Published: Thu 25 Jan 2018, 5:41 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Jan 2018, 6:51 PM

It all started in the '50s when sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan gave the American audience its first taste of fusion music, after that, it was Pandit Ravi Shankar who took his sitar and added more sparkle to the genre. This East-West crossover sound caught the imagination of bands like The Beatles and a host of jazz artistes, and since then, fusion music has attracted a diverse audience from across the world.
Back in Dubai, continuing with its legacy of presenting world-class fusion concerts over the years, Dubai's Alpen Capital has once again come up with an impressive line-up of artistes for an exclusive, invite only concert tonight. Featuring some top musicians and dancers from India and other parts of the world like Karsh Kale, Rakesh Chaurasia, Nubia Santos, Artur Grigoryan and others, the concert will aim to blend diverse music styles for an exceptional experience.
The concert will also highlight the talents of young Emirati violinist Mira Ghobash who will share the stage with these artistes.  Ahead of the event, City Times caught up with some of the musicians performing on the night. Excerpts from the interviews:

Karsh Kale (Tabla, Drums Keyboards - USA)
Former US President Barack Obama once said this about Karsh: "Karsh Kale mixes eclectic beats with the sounds of his heritage to make a sound that is distinctly his own." Described by Billboard Magazine as a "visionary composer and producer", the UK-born, US raised tabla player, drummer, DJ/ remix artist, vocalist and film composer is a pioneer in the world of global fusion. Here are Karsh's impressions on fusion:

What attracted you to fusion music?
I've always been interested in different forms of music and finding ways of how it can communicate fluently. In terms of fusion, I believe all music is fusion. It's not a form of music but rather the process in which all music and art goes through. I thank Alpen Capital for creating a platform like Global Fusion which brings together artistes from different genres.

Is it true that former US President Barack Obama is a fan of your music. Did you get a chance to perform for him?
Yes I did. I performed in the Whitehouse back in 2013 as part of the Asian Pacific Islanders gala celebration. It was most exciting to be introduced by Obama himself.

How did you learn to play the tabla. Why did you switch from drums to tabla?
I mainly taught myself with some guidance from infrequent teachers over the years. I never replaced the drums with tabla, I played both. I knew that eventually one would complement the other and vice versa which would give my playing an edge of sorts.

Do you think a tabla can replace the drums in a band. Will it have the same effect - soundwise?
It's about how you play it I suppose. I don't think one replaces the other. They are different approaches. If you are a dynamic and sensitive musician, you can make anything a drum.

If, hypothetically speaking, Indian film music is fusion, then why is it popular only with Asian listeners, why not with Western audiences who are equally fond of the genre?
Well Hindi/Indian film music has always been a fusion of the local folk, classical traditions and the sounds of music from around the world. I think, music that is language-centric, will always remain most popular regionally. But fusion that fuses sentiments through voice, composition and sound tend to penetrate global audiences.

When you says fusion is a blend of genres, what style of music is it based on, and how should a normal listener interpret it?
Music is a mirror to the self. There is no prescription as per one should or should not interpret music. If music reflects and becomes a soundtrack to your empathy, story or glory then it is valid. At that point cultural relevance has little to do with why someone connects with stories through sound.

What tips would you like to share with listeners who want to make listening to fusion music a pleasurable experience? ?
Try and make listening to music an exclusive experience. Often that is something we do in the background. We hear, and therefor judge music in passing. It's important to stop everything else and just listen for a while.

Who are your favourite fusion artistes?  
Bruce Lee, Bill Laswell, Peter Gabriel, Zakir Husain to name a few

Name one current fusion artiste you would love to collaborate with?
Oh, there are so many great new artistes! I'm glad to be playing with (guitarist) Rhythm Shaw.

Rhythm Shaw (Guitar, India):
He is one of India's most promising young guitarists who is not only touring with AR Rahman and other biggies in Indian music circuit, but has also recorded an international solo guitar album.

How does it feel being one of the hottest, young guitar players in the Indian music scene?
It definitely feels good. But it took quite some time and a lot of hard work (to get there).  It feels nice to be part of all the major projects in the Indie music scene. I'm also doing my solo and fusion projects, collaborations and Bollywood music as well.

Who or what inspired you to take up the guitar?
It started off with my dad (guitarist Nepal Shaw who has worked with composer RD Burman). Initially, I learned the tabla for 11 years from PT. Kumar Bose. I am a big fan of drummers and they inspire me a lot. But it's not only music that inspires me - watching footballer Ronaldinho dribble, Valentino Rossi riding his bike like a rocket at a Moto GP race, watching parkour stunts, all this inspired and motivated me during my childhood. Seeing these people (on the internet) motivated me to practice more and become better in my chosen field.

How much of control do you have over your playing when performing with artistes such as AR Rahman?
Well, not much honestly. It's not the kind of concert where you can improvise a lot because the audience that come for Rahman's shows know his music and songs well, so we tend to stick to the arrangements. Also visual effects, lights, the choreography and the stage design is synchronised and mapped with all the songs for a surreal experience. However, there are times when we get to jam and improvise and showcase our talent individually.

Is it tough for an Indian guitarist to break into the Western music scene?
It isn't easy for anyone to break into any music scene if they don't have dedication and passion for what they are doing. I don't really know about others, but things have worked out well for me. My album was released in Germany in 2015 and the second one will be out this July. I have just played a 28 concert tour that  happens every alternate year. I also have other projects coming up.

What separates a fusion musician from others?
It's all about accepting and appreciating different kinds of music and not being ignorant; that makes you a fusion musician by heart in the first place. Then, it's all about executing and enjoying the music.

Given a chance who would you like to perform with?
Snarky Puppy and Chick Corea (keyboardist). I have played with Nürnberg Jazz Cats and would love to hook up again. I would like to be a part of Bruno Mars' band.

What's the best stage you have performed on.
One of the most memorable one was at London's Wembley Arena. We had a massive crowd for that concert. Among the last 28 solo acoustic gigs that I did in Germany, I have played some prestigious venues in the country, including old churches and concert halls.

Who are your three favourite guitar players, and why?
Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan and Bireli Lagrane. Compositional wise I think Vai is best in writing. And something I learnt about him is that he can write for an entire orchestra. Govan and Lagrane are some of the best improvisers I have come across.

What's next for you? Bollywood, playing in the West or ..
I am looking forward to coming up with five new albums - electric and acoustic guitar projects and global collaborations. I love doing Bollywood gigs because it's easy money and consistent. But my passion is to play solo and collaborate with good musicians!

Mira Ghobash (Violin, Emirati)
Mira is a 13-years-old violinist and a senior student of the Symphony Orchestra in Dubai. She is tutored by Riad Kudsi, Director and Conductor of Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra. She has been featured on many prestigious stages in the UAE and is extremely excited to be playing with a fusion band featuring top musicians.

It's nice to see an Emirati violinist perform with a fusion band. Is this the first time or have there been others before you?
I'm sure there have been other Emirati violinists before me however uncommon that may be. But I am excited to be a part of Global Fusion and to get the chance to play with these artistes.

How does it feel being part of this huge set up at such a young age?
I feel very proud and privileged to be able to take part in such an exciting event. At 15, there aren't a lot of people my age who are given the opportunity to participate in events like this and I am, of course, excited to say the least!

As a violinist who has performed with symphony orchestras, what are the challenges you will face playing fusion?
There is a specific genre of music that I am used to performing with orchestras where I focus more on European style, classical music. A challenge I may have to face is adapting to different styles of music as it may require different techniques. Doing this  will , however, spark growth of musical understanding within myself.

What age did you start playing the violin. What inspired you?
I was inspired by my grandmother (from my father's side). She has a deep passion for music, especially the violin. I ended up sharing that same passion for music and the versatility that the violin offers, not to mention that all my favourite pieces were violin pieces. I started learning the violin when I was six. I began lessons at Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO) with my current teacher, Riad Kudsi, and was later inducted into the orchestra.

Looking ahead, would you be looking to compose fusion music that involves Arabic and other genres?
I would definitely be interested in experimenting with the Arabic genre and composition in the future. I would love to take key elements from Arabic music and merge it with European romantic period style of compostions.

Any obstacles you faced while learning music?
Music is very time consuming. Learning to balance my social, academic and musical life was a challenge for me, and my parents. There were times I wanted to give up on music because I couldn't go out with my friends as often as I would like to, or the early starts or lengthy rehearsals. However, my parents, friends in the orchestra, and my teacher would constantly reassure me and help me get back on track.

What's the difference in learning music in Dubai and in the US or Europe? ? How good are music schools here?
I think that every country values skills differently, especially when it comes to music. Unfortunately, there aren't many teachers or schools in Dubai that teach music to an advanced level. The difference between musical education here and in Europe is very clear. Having been to the EYSO's partner conservatory in Prague, and having met several students from orchestras in Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic and more, it seems that music is seen as more of a career choice and is more widely appreciated. However, the UAE is beginning to explore a more artistic avenue and hopefully there will be a growth in the musical community here.

How are you inspiring the youth in the UAE to take up music?
I certainly hope I'm inspiring the youth in the UAE by performing pieces that has initiated my love for music, and in the process, I hope that they too acquire that same love and passion for music and a desire to learn to play a musical instrument.

If not a violin player, what would you be?
I would perhaps try the cello.
Other artistes at the Global Fusion concert
Rakesh Chaurasia (Bamboo flute, India):
He is a child prodigy and the nephew of flute legend Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. One of the most promising musicians of the second generation, Rakesh incorporates styles acquired from his uncle as well as his personal style in his compositions.

 Max ZT (Hammered Dulcimer, US):
Lauded as the "Jimi Hendrix of Hammered Dulcimer", Max is an innovator of the instrument. Taking his roots from classical Irish folk music, Max has transported his innovative techniques to both Senegal, where he studied the Mandinko technique, and to India, where he studied under santoor legend Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.

Artur Grigoryan (Saxophone, Armenia):
Award-winning saxophonist and composer, Artur, holds a BA in music from Yerevan, and has also studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Rakitha Wikramaratne (Percussions, Sri Lanka):
Rakitha is the founder of the popular percussion band Naadro. One of the key and unique features of this band is that they go beyond percussions to incorporate anything that can produce sound, including kitchen utensils, vehicle spare parts or other implements.

Nubia Santos (Samba, Brazil):
Brazilian Nubia Quele Santos is a dancer/choreographer, actress and philanthropist from Minas Gerais. She grew up in Australia and is accomplished in traditional dancing styles. The versatile artiste is also well versed in Bollywood, Brazilian Samba, Afro-Brazilian, Hip-Hop and Caribbean dance style.

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