`I feel at home in India'

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U.Rajesh grew up watching his brother Mandolin U. Shrinivas take the world of music by storm. All he wanted to do was become a pilot, when music beckoned. While visiting the late Kanchi Paramacharya, he was asked to play the mandolin. He did, hesitantly, and was told to focus on music. Over the years, he has held his own, collaborating with big players. His album, `Spirits', where he worked with percussionist Pete Lockett, was a Grammy nominee. Pete got hooked on to Indian music during an afternoon walk 20 years ago in Alexander Park (U.K.), when strains from the Festival of India floated past. Six years of training in Indian music has seen Pete do a great job with the konnakol. They were recently in town to perform at the Shivratri celebrations of Isha Foundation. When Pete and Rajesh get together, magic happens. So does great conversation over talk of Pete's favourite rava dosa with sambar and gunpowder. Subha J Rao records their banter. Rajesh: My friend Raju Rajamani got us together for Spirits. Do you remember that day?Pete: Yes. We worked through the night and rushed to catch different flights. Rajesh: I had been working on the album for more than a year and, once you arrived, things moved. Your presence made such a difference. Before that, I only knew you as the percussionist who had worked in three James Bond films. Pete: When I walked into the studio I saw you playing an intense rhythm. I thought I would try to play something like that. I used the bongos and it came out beautifully. Rajesh: We understood each other. That's why we clicked. Remember I asked you to play an odd 11-thala and you did it in no time? I was impressed.Pete: Yeah! When you asked me, I said, `Oh, my God!' And, then I thought I would make an attempt. We know each other's music and understand the different frameworks. I studied your music and you are studying jazz (under guitar maestro John McLaughlin). Rajesh: Actually, I was attracted to jazz as a kid. When I was 13-14, I heard Shakti. My favourite was John ji. Vikku mama (ghatam exponent Vikku Vinayakram, part of Shakti) had given me the cassette. It was wonderful that John ji reviewed my album, `Turning Point'. Tell me, how did your musical journey begin?Pete: I started off with a rock band where we played heavy-duty stuff, (smiling) and would smash the instruments. Rajesh: When did you begin to like Indian music?Pete: You know about my stroll in the park. I had never heard such music till then. From a distance, I saw this man's hands moving over a tiny instrument that produced a massive sound. Later, I realised the artistes were Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan. Then, I learnt the tabla.Rajesh: You learnt Indian music for six years, right?Pete: Yes. After all this, I don't anymore feel like an alien in India. Rajesh: You have got your basics right. Carnatic music is based on mathematics. I remember asking you to do a konnakol in 7-tala. You are probably one of the few Western musicians who can do pure South Indian stuff. Pete: I've begun to feel at home here. I've even learnt to walk on Indian roads. Rajesh: (laughing) That takes some skill. Pete: How is your relationship with your brother?Rajesh: He's more a guru to me than a brother. Unfortunately, I look older.Pete: (interrupting) No man! You look young.Rajesh: (smiling) He allowed me to explore. Despite that, the artiste in me finds it difficult to play with him. He decides everything on stage. When I question him about it, he tells me to stay at home if I cannot cope. It takes more practice to play with him. I have to be ten times more careful. Pete: You are lucky to have such a wonderful family. Maybe, you have not realised what it means to have a brother like Shrinivas? But, good for you. Rajesh: Tell me Pete, what do your tattoos mean?Pete: I got them done when I was 17 or 18. They represent beauty and freedom. Why don't you get a tattoo done, too? Probably on cricket?Rajesh: I am not at all a cricket person. But, are you still comfortable (Pete is in his 40s) with your tattoos? Pete: When you take a decision, you stick to it. This is for life; like marriage. Rajesh: Have you ever been caught playing a wrong note? Pete: Of course! But, I play two wrong notes to make them sound right (laughing). You?Rajesh: My brother and I were playing during a U.S. tour. I was tired after the long journey and lost track. He played one raag and I played something else. But, we were smart enough to convert it into a raagmala. Understanding and experience came in handy. Half the things in music are learnt by experience.Pete: More so when it comes to damage control. During my first konnakol performance, I played a long jathi. One part disappeared. I realised it, returned to it and brought it back on track. Rajesh: Getting back to a wrong note is not easy. Normally, people tend to stop abruptly if they make a mistake. What do you think of learning music online? Pete: You can use the Net to get some basic info. In fact, I upload music lessons on my website. But, some instruments just cannot be learnt online.




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