Musicians absent and present, sounds recorded in lands distant and near … all met at EarthSync's Business Class Refugees

While travelling through Asia embracing various indigenous music forms, Kartick and Gotam found that while their music could seamlessly cross borders, they couldn't. Their journey and its romance would face an abrupt halt in Singapore, where they, without necessary visa clearance, would spend three days sipping free champagne in the airport lounge, after “an overbooked flight and unexpected luck landed us in business class luxury”. The two — nameless, faceless and stateless — turned to their laptops to create music.

Thus was born Business Class Refugees.

So, for once, what reverberated in the hall were from musicians absent and present; sounds recorded in lands distant and near, sounds that were past and present, meeting for a few moments at the fifth day of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest.

The sitar met the saz, the veena met the violin, and the nadaswaram met the bass — ending in torrid love affairs that formed the essence of EarthSync's sound.

While five musicians performed live, Kartick and Gotam's electronic beats linked them together. ‘Bonjour' was one of the pieces in which the possibilities presented were explored to the full, a piece which revolved around the long horns played by monks of the Tashi Lumpo Monastery. The vocals of Mahesh Vinayakram helped centre the music, his voice tranquil, full and free.

This was also an evening that needed you to engage visually — five discs became our screens onstage, reflecting changing images and textures, sepia-tinted dancers sometimes appearing and disappearing like spirits. Other times, they were flooded with white light, five full moons, like it did during ‘Vellathamarai', a Tamil song scented distinctively West Asian with Erez Lev Ari's guitar and saz, while the West blew in with a confident bass from Eyal Mazig.

In what was the best performance of the evening, a feisty accordion from Tajikistan met the sitar for ‘Boye Boye', a song heady and heavy with the air of the deserts, yet moving as lightly and briskly as a dancer's skirts.

Then, the screens went white and cold, and a flesh-and-blood dancer took the stage — but Maya Resheff was more an acrobatic act than anything else, proving to be a tenuous link between the music and its meanings.

With the help of B.V. Raghavendran's melancholic violin, and the heavy percussion from K.V. Balakrishnan on the tabla, you could sense the intense rootedness that folk music embodies — at the same time, it was also characterised by a peculiar twinge of displacedness, no doubt the remnants of their stint at the airport.

And, due credit to the musicians, whose music was also present that evening — Navin Iyer, Yoav Bunzel, Anuradha Viswanathan, Murad Ali and Mishko M'Ba.

While EarthSync attempted to maintain the earthiness of the original recordings, the pre-recorded elements largely tended to drown the live music, so the songs increasingly became mired in sameness, faintly reminiscent of beats more suited to lounge and club scenes.

For music with such an ancient, opulent soul, that was a tremendous loss indeed.

But for the closing piece, EarthSync managed to break away, interspersing the nadaswaram with the violin, as the stage bathed in cold blue light, and red paper lanterns swung from the sky like so many sunsets. This, possibly, is what the ancients would have called alchemy.

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