Indo-German fusion band Mahaphon Clang on their brand of music

Their Sanskrit-cum-English name, Mahaphon Clang, meaning ‘great sounding clang,' itself, sounds rather strange. Why would an Indo-German fusion music band deliberately label themselves as “noise”? Is it a misnomer, you wonder? Then you hear them talking about their music and it all begins to make sense, and you realise that there's melody in the so-called noise, order in chaos.

Spontaneous effort

“It's actually very difficult to describe our music. There is no genre as such. We really don't have any boundaries. However, our music could be termed as improvised music,” says Jan Kurth, lead vocalist of Mahaphon Clang. And that means… “It means that once on stage we decide spontaneously to play something. The five musicians in our band, all of whom are essentially in their own world of music on stage , try to find – or try not to find – a common ground. Thus we create different layers in our music. Our music constantly changes with the vibe of the audience, the influences from outside, and changes with each concert, each session, and each interaction or encounter,” he explains.

Mahaphon Clang is actually an ensemble that consists of Germany-based veteran Indian percussionist Ramesh Shotham and German band Lautstrak!4 (pronounced loud-stark-feer), comprising youngsters Jan (vocals) and his brother, Matthias Kurth (electric guitar), Luz Streun (saxophone and bass clarinets), and Demain Kappenstein (drums). Each of the four is a professional musician working in interdisciplinary fields, developing music for films, dance, and theatre.

They have been playing “improvised music and more complex jazz compositions” together since 2006 when Jan joined his brother's band. “We started off playing pre-composed material. We started touring with that, and then more and more we started not to pre-plan anything. We started going on stage without a set list and just went with the flow, letting the music take us forward. Sometimes we'd get a tune, sometimes a full on composition, or sometimes just plain noise!” says Jan. As a band, Lautstark!4 have toured extensively in Europe, and Taiwan too and they released their first album titled Autark (taken from the word ‘autarkic,' meaning self-sufficient) in 2008.

By 2009 the quartet were on the look out for a “like-minded musician” to join them and invited Ramesh into their fold. Jan and Matthias were childhood buddies with Ramesh's son Keshav, now a musician with the German rock band Timid Tigers. Chennai-born Ramesh founded the popular Indian rock band Human Bondage and in the late 70s/early 80s founded one of India's first Indo-jazz fusion bands, Sangam, with the likes of Louis Banks and Braz Gonsalves. Ramesh was one of the first percussionists to integrate Indian percussion instruments such as thavil with Western beats.

For Ramesh this trip (the band has already played in Chennai and Coimbatore before hitting the city) is a homecoming of sorts, and says that he is enjoying his visit and is “touched” by the reception that the band received. For the other four, this is their maiden tour of India, and they seem thrilled by their experiences thus far. “We are inspired by just being in India, and it shows in our music too. Everything is a revelation; the colour, the people, the hustle and bustle, the chaos…,” says Jan.

Mahaphon Clang was in the city for a concert organised by the Goethe-Zentrum.

Keywords: Mahaphon Clang