World music band Shoonya’s percussion-heavy concert also saw some foot-tapping tunes
In a little over an hour, world music band Shoonya presented a wide-angle view of their experiments. Named after the ‘nothingness’ their music seeks to begin from, the band in a recent concert at the Alliance Francaise Bangalore put together sax, flute, djembe, drums, guitar, bass and vocals in an evening that celebrated Independence Day. Band members, dressed in various shades of the flag, formed a long semicircle of music on stage. The band’s frontman is Ashok Kumar, or ‘Djembe Ashok’; he is known for his use of the djembe, a West African drum. On the other end of the lineup sits percussions man Gopi, surrounded by a Sivamani-esque variety of objects (such as a bucket of water).
The evening began with that all-too-familiar fusion entity, ‘Vathapi Ganapathim’, deftly rescued from dreariness by saxophonist Sridhar Sagar’s tight, quick phrases, which danced between Carnatic and jazz. ‘Wega’, a breathlessly-paced composition, was composed to evoke “urban life experience,” Ashok said. The energetic track successfully conjures the mindlessly quick pace of life; for contrast, guest saxophonist Robert played a restrained solo.
Another interesting piece had middle-eastern influences; the audience was encouraged by Ashok in his introduction to belly-dance if they so wished. Thumping bass and wild saxophone work ensured that the song didn’t disappoint; lights flickered, to evoke a nightclub. A long percussion piece saw Ashok’s djembe and Gopi’s drums interact; the audience clapped along enthusiastically, and was promptly directed by the band to clap in a particular beat.
Gopi uses strategic pauses and control of dynamics to his advantage. He also uses his mouth as an instrument: during his solo, he made an O shape and used his fingers to ‘drum’ his cheeks. The slower, more nuanced sections of the track were appreciated; speed isn’t always necessary to impress listeners. ‘Tihais’ – repetitions in sets of three – featured prominently in the concert.
Shoonya has an overall peppy sound, one that’s rich with many instruments. But through the concert, the sax seemed to be at the melodic centre. Curiously, for a band that seeks to break musical barriers, one didn’t see solos from all instruments: the (clearly talented) musicians on bass and guitar were disappointingly quiet.
The evening also saw an abstract dance improvisation by Abhilash Ningappa, which added to the moodiness of one piece inspired by a Himalayan community. Sangeetha Srikishen’s vocals on the concluding ‘Vande Mataram’ were soothing, if slightly unsure; some confusion existed, it appeared, about coordination between the members of the band.