Monday, August 25, 2008

Hellborg and Selvaganesh at Tabula Rasa, New Delhi

I saw Jonas Hellborg play with V Selvaganesh last night. It was incredible, and i mean incredible. Two great musicians, who have played with each other for a while now (since 1998 i think), and who speak /with each other/and with the audience through their instruments.
and they seem to enjoy each other, which is probably why the dialogue is so seamless and so real at the same time. I'm still feeling replete, its been a long time since live music made me feel this way.

I'm not a very informed listener, in that my basic understanding of music is divided between what i like and what i don't like. So i'm really picking up on the feeling, more than the substance or even the form. The substance, i don't know that much about, the form i respond to on an emotional level or not at all.

But i did think that what i saw yesterday was what is called 'fusion' music at it finest. Much fusion that i get to see, particularly in Delhi, (but more on that later) seems to me to be too fragmented to be called a dialogue. i do my thing, then you take your turn and do yours. Well, thats the best case scenario, there are a number of others: we play together and produce unattractive sounds, thats one, or (and this is the WORST) some really good international musician 'jams' with indian musicians in such a manner that you come away with a deep sense of regret that you didn't settle in the west where the aforesaid musician actually gets an opportunity to do the music that is his forte.
i come away hoping that it was the organizers and their Delhi aspirations (fusion is SO hip) that resulted in the unfortunate international musician being stuck with 'jamming' in a form with with he may not be so comfortable. This happens a lot at Jazz Yatra, and every year i come away wishing that the so called 'fusion' element be restricted to musicians who do fusion music on a regular basis and NOT some misguided wish to have intercultural harmony. Intercultural harmony is a good thing, but music really is music. And even an uninformed hearer like me can feel (not hear) the difference between good fusion and organizer inspired fusion.

In other words, i think musical fusion is a difficult and complex and feeling task, a fusion of cultural rhythms as much as sound rhythms and a number of performances in this city should stay very far away from it.

So theres this rant, and theres what happened last night, which was GOOD GOOD GOOD fusion. More of this please. much much more of this and much less of the other kind. It felt good, like the bass guitar in some way was made to play with the kanjira (but how could that be? think of the history of the instruments). It seemed that way, i suspect because the people playing the instruments were not only unbelievable musicians in their own right, but had an understanding of each other beyond music.

So this was happening last night at Tabula Rasa. Which brings us to context, and the third element in the communication triangle: the audience. First, context. Tabula Rasa had pulled a coup: think of it, Jonas Hellborg, some say he's the best bass player in the world, and V Selvaganesh, the leading kanjira player of his generation, playing together. This would seem to be an important occasion, right? And important occasions need appropriate arrangements, right, not to mention respect for two such accomplished people.

So where do they place the stage? Right next to the open kitchen

NO seriously, i'm not kidding. Hellborg and Selvaganesh sweated profusely through the show, and asked for paper napkins to wipe themselves. They had to drink water continuously, and the kitchen kept cooking. In fact the organization was so uninformed that they did not even figure that most musicians can't play with whirring fans aimed directly at them. As a single fan was the only moving air possibility, jonas Hellborg and v selvaganesh played in conditions that were incredibly uncomfortable (theyre musicians, right, so they asked for the fan off/ i was wondering if others actually have the fan on. how do you play?)

Not that much of the audience cared. There was social mobility conversation happening all around ('oh did you see so and so at such and such place' etc.), and someone behind me said that the bass was a variation of the Tanpura. No, not kidding about that either. Oh and there was NO call for an encore. NO ONE asked for them to play one more piece. I mean this is Jonas Hellborg, and he's plying a small (if exceedingly uncomfortable) venue. you don't want more? I guess not, youve got enough to tell people that you went to the Hellborg/ Selvaganesh show at Tabula Rasa. How does the music matter? its just sound after all, and fusion is SO hip, you just need to be seen there.

so thats my take on the show. The show was fabulous, the other elements of the communication triangle were,




Beq said...

Great rant....and seriously, what fab music!

Ilovethesmellofnepalinthemorning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilovethesmellofnepalinthemorning said...

Incidentally, this is not the first time Hellborg has been a victim of poor choice of venue. He, Lane and Marcossini were once brought in as the closing act to Great Indian Rock. Obviously, the pea-brained headbangers at the Pragati Maidan auditorium would much rather hear the 17th Californication cover of the evening, rather than 'seriouos' music from arguably the finest guitar-bass duo of that time. The musicians were pelted with mineral water bottles, and the show was brought to an early halt. Hellborg seems to have an appetite for this sort of thing. Maybe he likes it?

Great critique of the fusion genre, or what passes by that name here, by the way. I agree with you 100%.

sujoy said...

Yes I think there is a side of Hellborg that likes this fuck all of you intellectual morons...I will destroy you with my ali akbar meets metalhead bass chops


Ilovethesmellofnepalinthemorning said...


Beq said...

hahahahahaha. Fabulous Sujoy!!!