Making a sound fusion

From blending the traditional ghatam with contemporary African beats to Folk bands grooving to Rock styles, Fusion music in India has grown into a full-fledged genre, thanks to collaborative efforts of musicians and open-minded audiences

This Saturday, soak in contemporary African beats, the classical flute and the traditional ghatam as they fuse into an eclectic sound on stage at Bandra’s St Andrew’s College auditorium. Renowned percussionists Trilok Gurtu and Sivamani along with flute maestro Ronu Majumdar, young ghatam, mridangam and kanjira player Giridhar Udupa and Sangeet Haldipur (on keyboards) promise to create magic as part of Vandan, a classical Fusion concert. However, this isn’t the first time that Fusion music has taken centre stage in the city.

Fusion music performance
(Anti-clockwise) Louiz Banks (piano), Agnelo Fernandes (keyboards), Niladri Kumar (sitar and zitar), Satyajit Talwalkar (tabla), Sheldon D’Silva (electric bass) and Gino Banks (drums) during a Fusion music performance

The last few decades have witnessed collaborations between artistes from different styles of music — Indian Classical and Western — to create sounds that can be broadly termed as Fusion music. “According to me, it’s not called Fusion music anymore, but World Music. As an artiste, I bring African beats, vessel drumming and a lot of different world percussion styles to my concerts,” says Sivamani.

Fusion music: unplugged
While other genres of music might have set definitions, according to Haldipur, Fusion is still a vague genre in Indian music. “Some people have the mindset that blending one Western instrument with different Ragas in music becomes Fusion, but the genre goes beyond that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be only Indo-Western.

A file photograph of Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain, U Shrinivas, John McLaughlin and V Selvaganesh who are part of the band Remember Shakti, that derives its name from the acoustic Indian fusion band Shakti
A file photograph of Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain, U Shrinivas, John McLaughlin and V Selvaganesh who are part of the band Remember Shakti, that derives its name from the acoustic Indian fusion band Shakti

Two instruments, with different characteristics, coming together can also create Fusion music,” he shares. Accomplished drummer Gino Banks, who grew up listening to Fusion sounds, thanks to the many performances by his father, famous Jazz pianist, Louiz Banks, believes that “To create good quality Fusion music, each artiste should have a strong foundation of the instrument or the style of music they play.”

Majumdar adds, “Fusion can be created only with original music. Otherwise, it creates confusion. The genre has gained popularity because people want to hear new sounds, however, it is still unexplored and has a long journey ahead.”

Sangeet Haldipur
Sangeet Haldipur

The journey of Fusion
In the recent past, one of the successful attempts at Fusion music was the band Shakti. Formed in the mid-1970s, the group blended musical styles like Carnatic with Jazz and comprised greats like L Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla) and John McLaughlin (guitar) among others. Some other popular Fusion groups formed during the ’80s included Louiz Banks headlining the Indian Jazz-fusion band Sangam, the World Music group Silk that teamed up Banks with Shankar Mahadevan, Karl Peters (bass), Sivamani and Sridhar Parthasarthi (kanjira) as well as the Indo-Swedish Fusion Jazz band Mynta that featured Fazal Qureshi (tabla, kanjira) and Mahadevan on their India tour.

“These were instrumental in putting Indian fusion artistes on the world map. Like with other styles of music, Fusion also has many subgenres – light Fusion, heavy Fusion, Jazz-Rock, etc,” reasons Banks.

While the Fusion style of music has been around for decades, it has caught the ear of audiences only in recent times. Haldipur attributes the genre’s burgeoning popularity to new-age reality shows. “The decline of Pop music since early 2000s has given more scope to this genre. With reality shows like Coke Studio and The Dewarists, among others, Fusion music is getting bigger platforms and becoming more accessible,” he adds.

Gino Banks
Gino Banks

Not just a jam
While creating Fusion music involves experimenting with sounds, it is often confused with jamming together — the main reason for Classical purists to raise their eyebrows at this genre. Udupa, a trained ghatam player who hails from the purist background, says, “People might think that Fusion music is easy to play, but it is not. Fusion is not just jamming together. One needs to follow certain rules even while being part of Fusion music concerts. It is not just blending in two different instruments, but understanding and adapting the styles of other musicians. When I went to Europe to play with a Flamenco group, I had to learn the roots of Flamenco music and combine it with my instruments,” says Udupa.

Ronu Majumdar
Ronu Majumdar

Getting back to our roots
With the world becoming a global village, and cross-pollination of artistes and musical styles more frequent, the Fusion music scene is only set to grow, believe experts. This genre’s burgeoning popularity is also attributed to younger, hipper crowds who wish to listen to new sounds. Interestingly, Fusion music concerts are also a way for the younger audience to tune into traditional music, a reason for many Indian Classical musicians to be part of Fusion music concerts.

Giridhar Udupa, ghatam player
Giridhar Udupa, ghatam player

“There are many youngsters who, after attending my Fusion music concerts, started following my style of music and then, actually came to attend my Classical concerts. New-age Fusion concerts are making the audience more aware of traditional, classical music, which is great,” concludes Udupa.

Sivamani, percussionist
Sivamani, percussionist

On: February 7, 7.30 pm
At: St Andrew’s College, Auditorium, St Dominic Road, off Hill Road, Bandra (W).
Call: 26459667
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Popular Indian Fusion artistes
Zakir Hussain

The tabla virtuoso has collaborated with many diverse artists like John McLaughlin, George Harrison, Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland and also won a Grammy Award (2009) in the Best Contemporary World Music category for Global Drum Project, his group with Mickey Hart, Giovanni Hidalgo and Sikiru Adepoju.

Louiz Banks
The Grammy-nominated Jazz musician, known for spearheading the Jazz movement in India for three decades, has performed with artists like Sivamani, Karl Peters, Ramamani, among others.

Niladri Kumar
Trained by his father, sitar maestro Pandit Kartick Kumar, the prolific Fusion musician has even created the instrument, zitar, a modified electronic sitar.

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