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global RHYTHM Pete Lockett
global RHYTHM Pete Lockett

Percussionists Pete Lockett and Bickram Ghosh on the making of ‘Kingdom of Rhythm’

We’re sitting in a darkened room at the Sa Re Ga Ma office (Chennai), and Pete Lockett is having a conversation entirely in konnakol with fellow percussionist Bickram Ghosh in Kolkata via video conference (“How’s the coffee?” “Takita takita tom”). Shortly afterwards Ghosh demonstrates an elaborate tabla beat… on his cheeks.

Random and goofy? Yes, that would pretty much describe the interaction between the two ace percussionists, who’ve done a rhythm-based instrumental album together called “Kingdom of Rhythm”. But while they may “talk absolute rubbish for hours” (Lockett follows Ghosh’s brief virtuoso performance with a deadpan “he’s a cheeky fellow, isn’t he?”), when these two actually get down to making music, it’s serious business.

“I’m essentially a classical musician. I began as a tablist — and I always try to keep to the sahitya, even as I experiment,” says Ghosh during the video press conference to promote the album. “Retain the virtuosity, but make it funky, accessible.”

British multi-percussionist Lockett is, of course, known for his eclectic use of beats from all over the world, but his philosophy is strikingly similar. “Properly integrating different musical traditions while keeping their integrity intact is vital to the process,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the two hit it off famously when they worked together on projects in India and the U.K., and that’s where the idea of doing “Kingdom of Rhythm” came from.

“We realised we had this chemistry as musicians and people — constantly cracking jokes and irritating the people around us,” says Ghosh with a laugh. “The next step was to work together as a duo.”

What was supposed to take a few months ended up as “a Magnus Opus” which took over two years to complete, with tracks being recorded in Kolkata, London and San Francisco and being sent via yousendit.com in the middle of the night.

“We spent a lot of time on it, going into the details of mixing and focusing on the minutia — we didn’t want to just go into the studio and jam,” says Lockett.

The final result — a collection of nine heady, atmospheric tracks — features an enormous number of percussion instruments from Japan, China, Thailand, Latin America, the Middle East, North and South India, as well as Ghosh’s kitchen utensils and — of course — his cheeks.

“It just comes down to sound in the end,” says Lockett. “The modern drum is a consequence of people experimenting sound in the first place — why not play kitchen utensils if they sound good?”

Why not, indeed. The music video of “Primal”, one of the tracks, will begin airing soon. Meanwhile, the video conference has given Lockett an idea. “This is totally funky,” he says enthusiastically, as Ghosh waves from the screen. “We should do gigs like this!” And they’ll probably do it too.

DIVYA KUMAR

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