'An original composition is given a fresh form each time a different performer takes it up’
Raphaelle Brochet does not voluntarily fuse Carnatic, Persian and jazz music — the three forms that she has been formally trained in. But, when she starts singing in either of them, one or more of the others creep into her voice, producing a pleasantly surprising new form of music.
“Given that I have learnt music from three distinct geographical regions of the world, I did attempt to consciously mix these forms before,” admits this singer known for the Carnatic technique of ‘solkattu’ and Persian singing in Canada and the U.S. “But, I was not happy with the outcome. It felt wrong.” Since then, she has not tried much original composition in any form.
“I decided to let my voice just flow, spontaneously, and have been happy to hear the tones it produces,” she says. “A composition is originally rendered in a certain way. But, each time a different performer takes it up, it is given a fresh form and perspective and that is what I do.”
When she starts singing Carnatic music, Persian influences start coming in and what one hears is not Hindustani, which is supposed to be a mix of Carnatic and Persian, but a style that can perhaps only be called Brochet — high in pitch and tenor, with defined notes, but using ragas that are not typical of the south Indian form of music.
Raphaelle’s singing of jazz is interspersed with ‘gamakas’, a Carnatic technique of treble in the voice. Still, the audience at BFlat Dining in Indiranagar were in for a surprise recently, when she broke into an unaccompanied, unmodified rendition of ‘Ambaparadevathe’, a Carnatic composition in the middle of a jazz performance in the crowded pub. Drum beats were slowly added from the background. Purists would have perhaps been shocked, but the point of the performance was not to be pure.
Complex and vibrant
As the drummer Jovol Bell puts it, “Music is as complex and vibrant as a person; one can’t define it in pure forms. It will fuse with others, change and evolve from person to person, region to region and with each performance. All that is important is to maintain the rhythm and stay in tune.”
His stint with music started with gospel music at the age of five. “When I went to church to play gospels, I was interested only in the music, but the music is based on religion, much like Carnatic,” he says. At 18, he enrolled in Texas Southern University to study jazz, and later completed his education at Berklee College of Music, Boston.
Mix and match
“Jazz in itself is a culmination of the mixing of many types of music” says Ofer Ganor, the guitarist in the group. “It owes its origins to gospel, Latin, African and Columbian music. Where is the question of purity?” Hailing from Israel, Ofer was initially tutored in jazz, after which he moved to Berklee to finish his music education.
“In a sense, jazz is like Bollywood music,” says Marcos Varela, the bassist, also hailing from Texas, but having studied music in various places such as Germany, Chicago and New York. “You can trace the tunes back to a classical or folk origin, but it is a genre on its own now.”
“As you can see, we can find parallels between different forms of music in India, and the varieties in the west. It is just the symbolism and method of representation that differs,” summed up Gabriel Guerrero, the pianist, who studies the links between modern jazz and Columbian music.
The band of five performed bebop, a form of music breaking free from the rhythmic compulsions of jazz, at BFlat.
The five were teaching at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, an institute that teaches musicians from any kind of background in a wide range of forms, near Chennai, in the last semester. The institute runs on a constant rotating faculty system.
Keywords: jazz music