Chat Balabhaskar becomes the first Malayali to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival
V iolinist Balabhaskar is on a high. The excitement is palpable as he speaks. Naturally. It is not every day that a musician gets an opportunity to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal), certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest music festival of its kind. And Balabhaskar has just done that.
The 12-day music festival attracts musicians of all genres. More than 3,000 musicians perform in 12 concert halls and on nine outdoor stages. Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson and Cyndi Lauper are just some of the big names who have participated in the festival.
“I went there as a band led by Louis Banks. We are part of a band called ‘Naad Brahma' and that was how I got the invite from Louis Sir. I was the only South Indian and my job was to lend an Indian flavour to the fete. But for Tony Lakatos, a German saxophonist, all the others were from Mumbai,” says Balabhaskar. The other members of the band were Joe Alvarez (lead vocalist), Sameera Koppikkar (Indian vocals), Gino Banks (drums) and Sheldon D'Silva (bass).
“It was also a learning experience for me. The audience comprised mostly musicians and the way they tuned in to different kinds of music was an eye opener. There were no demands for playing hits or familiar numbers. It is with an open mind that they come for events like this,” gushes Balabhaskar.
He explains that even without moving away from the roots of the ragas, he was able to smoothly add pure Carnatic passages to lift the music to another level. While some of the passages he played were set earlier, his solos were improvisations.
“We had two jigs on June 28 (at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.). The crowd had swelled for the second recital as listeners seemed to have enjoyed what we played. I relied on ragas such as Nasikabhushani, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya and Panthuvarali to bring an Indian tone to our music,” says Balabhaskar.
The band began with Sameera singing Brahmashruti. They also played their compositions Spring and Get the Word Out.
In addition to creating soulful music, Balabhaskar also treasures the fact that he got the opportunity to listen to some world-class music and musicians. “It was more like a cultural exchange. I got to listen to my all-time favourites – bass guitarist Victor Wooten and jazz guitarist Mike Stern.”
He adds that performing at a festival of this kind gives you a wide perspective about your own performance and music. “This is the first time I am performing at a festival this big and it has been an unforgettable experience,” signs off Balabhaskar.