Ace German drummer Carola Grey on having a blast with Indian music

Drum roll please! There’s a ‘Noisy Mama’ in town. Meet Carola Grey, one of Germany’s funkiest drummers, who fronts the indie rock band Noisy Mama and plays the drums for city-based fusion band Karnatriix. Carola was here for Karnatriix’s first show in the city. The versatile musician all but set the stage on fire with her electric beats, a thumping combination of Western and Indian notes, in perfect accordance with band mate and friend John Anthony’s guitar blues.

“John and I have been playing together since 2010. Both of us are part of Carnatic-Hindustani legend T.V. Gopalakrishnan’s circle of musicians. We found that we like the same type of music, which translates into melody on stage. Our first show together for Karnatriix was in 2010 in Kochi,” says Carola.

And much like John’s ‘global fusion music’, Carola’s too, is Indian talas and ragas mixed with jazz and rock. “I try to put Indian and Western music together as seamlessly as possible so that nothing gets violated,” explains Carola, who is also a singer, composer and producer. She has traversed the world with her bands – there’s a German version of Noisy Mama and an Indian version – and has five CDs to her credit, including the latest Road to Goa, released last year.

Carola’s tryst with music started when she was four years old. “My mother, Christa, enrolled me for classical piano lessons. I was very involved in it till I hit my rebellious teens. My mom struck a deal with me – I could choose another instrument, only I had to study the piano too. I chose the loudest of them all and eventually I became passionate about playing the drums,” she says, with a laugh. Carola then ended up studying jazz at the prestigious Musikhochschule in Cologne, where she received her masters degree in music and music education. She also lived and worked as a drummer in New York for six years to “get a real feel of jazz”, before moving to back to Munich, her home town.

So, what is it that drew her to Indian music then? “I happened to catch a concert by [K.J.] Yesudas and was immediately enchanted by the inherent mathematics of Indian classical music. I mean, how can one not be charmed by a genre of music that is so evolved but so filled with emotion? I’m drawn to Indian music because it has the ability to transport emotion, just by the will of the artiste. It was so pure that I immediately wanted to get into it and felt like a kid on Christmas day, full of joy, tears and excitement,” she explains.

Subsequently, in 1996, after coming across her first CD, one on modern jazz, TVG invited her to perform with his Carnatic Jazz Project and her connection with India and Indian music was sealed. “India is a big part of my life now,” says Carola, who visits the country quite often. In fact, she’s been in the city for some four months now, practising with the band and collaborating on Karnatriix’s new album, An.

She’ll be heading back to Munich at the end of the month and this April she’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Noisy Mama. “As part of the celebrations, I hope to bring together the Indian and Western versions of the band for the first time ever, for one big jamboree,” she says, as she signs off.