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Monday, February 19, 2001

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Confluence of cultures

IMAGINE A DIALOGUE between Rabindranath Tagore and 13th century German mystic Thomas Kempis... Both of them were poet- philosophers and both advocated love as the 'ultimate truth binding creation'. The ensuing dialogue would have been about love... well, that is what the song "Gitanjali" from the album 'Ahimsa' is all about. "It was interesting to think of the outcome when you put the two of them together", says Richardo Barrantes, the composer-producer, about the content of the track.

"Ahimsa'... a Sanskrit word pregnant with meaning that is so pertinent today. That is the word that has been chosen as the title for a new album by K. J. Yesudas. "In the Western world, the Indian thought is very relevant today. Ahimsa means non- violence and peace is the central idea of the album," explains Barrantes, talking about the music that is a confluence of the East and the West. The album has been released by Solarwind music, the Peru-born Barrantes' production house.

For classically trained Barrantes, his romance with India began when he read Tagore in his youth. "He's the most touching writer I've encountered in my life. He touches the area of the spirit that few have been able to reach out to." Listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, L. Subramaniam and Mohammed Rafi opened new vistas for him. "I am deeply influenced by India. You know, I am a vegetarian and my wife is learning yoga."

It was his fascination with Indian musical sounds that led to the collaboration with 'Ahimsa'. The project, which took root nearly four years ago, finds Yesudas in familiar territory.

The sombre and meditative arrangements make the task simple for the veteran singer. Recalls Yesudas, "I met Barrantes four years ago after a concert in the United States. He put forth a plan for an English album and I agreed. Music was, and continues to be the common bond between us."

The simple lyrics are in English, Latin and Sanskrit. Yesudas singing in Latin and English? "Language is no barrier," is his reaction, "I can sing in any language as long as the music touches the heart. The words are not so important, the message is."

When asked if he has been influenced by any artiste, he smiles, "Actually I used to listen to Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole... Of course, I have my own style, which I stick to!" As one listens to the English tracks, one realises that Yesudas sounds pretty comfortable singing in English.

As for the ten tracks, each has a story to tell. Barrantes remembers listening to a folk number of the fishermen of Kerala on television, which led to composing "Sari Sari". "We were looking for something to counter-balance the too solemn and metaphysical tunes of the other tracks."

Juxtaposing the dilruba with bass and Western percussion, Barrantes comes up with a number that is simple in lyrical content, rhythmic and lively. And Yesudas did enjoy singing "Sari sari". But my personal favourite is "Beauty All Around".' Barrantes elaborates, "It's a Navajo poem that is dedicated to the cultures of the world that have vanished and are searching for their roots again. It is important for Westerners to be responsible about their cultural heritage."

The album boasts of Western musicians of repute - percussionist Alex Acuna, member of Weather Report, bassist Alphanso Johnson, who is known for his work with Bob Dylan, Carlos Santana and Quincy Jones, and Yanni and Celine Dion's guitarist Ramon Stagnaro. The Indians include Raghavendra Rao (violin), Kamalakar (flute), Murali Krishna (veena) and M.S.V. Raja (tenor sax). Truly an electric mix! With fusion music being the order of the day, 'Ahimsa' might find its place on the tracks. Meanwhile, Yesudas and Barrantes will soon be spreading their message of peace and love with promotional tours across India, in April.


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