The hills come alive with music

>> Sometimes, serendipity cannot get better. For years, an abiding wish of ours was to visit Coorg. Birthplace of brave generals, outstanding sportsmen and an extraordinarily good-looking people, Coorg situated in Karnataka’s south-western end, on the Western Ghats has been a dream destination for as long as we can recall.

For long, we have dreamt of visiting its verdant valleys, teakwood forests and vast coffee and spice plantations. But, of course, being indolent in the extreme, we assumed that putting the thought out into the universe and then waiting for it to materialise was enough effort for one person.

This great alibi of the lazy that’s been given credence by New Age goobledygook has its good days and bad. Sometimes the universe listens. Sometimes it pretends not to. This time it did. Not only were we invited to visit Coorg for the launch of Taj Vivanta’s newest hotel, the Madikeri, lying 400 ft above sea level and within 180 acres of a subtropical rainforest, but also we were to do so in the company of Grammy winners and world music maestros who go by the name of Deep Forest. This was for us a really big deal.

Over the years we have met and interviewed Jagger, Sting, Cohen, Geldof, Osibisa and Cliff Richard amongst others and been grateful to the musical Gods for their munificence. But Deep Forest. In a rain forest. At the Taj’s spanking new eco-friendly stone and mud 63-villa hotel spread over an undulating terrain of 30 acres. Sigh. We were in a car, on a plane and in a car in a jiffy to make it for the date.

>> Most people — even those who profess not to know much about world music (strange ones those) — could not have missed Deep Forest’s ethereally lilting Sweet Lullaby, the smash single from their eponymous first album which put them on the ethnic electronica map in 1992. Adapted from a traditional folk lullaby from the Solomon Islands it mixed ambient sounds, birdcalls ethnic instruments with dance and chillout beats.

Eric Mouquet, the founder of Deep Forest

On its release it went ‘viral’. “My life changed overnight,” says its creator Eric Mouquet, the charming Frenchman who created it along with his former bandmate Michel Sanchez (they have gone their separate ways since but not before creating half a dozen chart busters).

Mouquet is a slight, shy man with an easy smile and gentle manner. We meet over dinner at the Fern Tree where surrounded by his band mates from Senegal and the Ivory Coast he proceeds to experience his ‘Deep Coorg’ moment.

“Are you surprised that your music is well known as far away as in India?” we ask him. “Always,” he says. “But I guess in this age of Internet and YouTube it should not be a surprise.”

>> Mouquet is here as part of his work on his next album Deep India in collaboration with the celebrated and dishy santoor maestro Rahul Sharma which is being produced by Sony.

The Deep India album which consists of eight new tracks have been inspired by folk music from Jammu (where Sharma originates from), Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan and the North east.

Rahul Sharma

The Vivanta group has an ongoing project with Sony music to produce and feature a galaxy of international artists. But even by the standards of hotel promotions having Deep Forest perform at the launch of their stunning hotel nestled at the lip of a subtropical rainforest and home to over 350 species of flora and fauna is a masterstroke.

After all who else epitomises the deep anthems of nature better than this group? That he will be performing numbers from his yet to be released album Deep India is even more momentous happenstance.

>> Saturday night we are seated on the cold hard benches of the hotel’s open-air amphitheatre braced against the cold in our woolies, shawls and stockings. Hot toddies, mimosas, world-class cocktails and a sampling of sushi and local snacks are doing the rounds. There is an atmosphere of anticipation in the air. A clutch of Taj heavyweights have flown in to attend the launch. The still water on which the stage has been erected reflects the magical lighting of the occasion. A family of ducks glides by unaffected. Around us are the looming Western Ghats, witness to the unfolding music of the band.

George Harrison with Pandit Ravi Shankar

With characteristic humility Mouquet begins his repertoire. The audience is profoundly moved by the primeval sounds that have originated from the ethnic cultures of far flung places: Brazil, Japan, Europe and of course, Africa, the cradle of all civilisation.

Then with utmost humility Mouquet invites Rahul Sharma to join him on stage and perform the track they have specially composed for the occasion ‘Viva Madikeri’ from their new album Deep India, for which Sharma has recorded the sounds of the area’s jungle birds, waterfalls, and flowing streams.

Suddenly, all barriers, borders walls dissolve away as the jungle comes alive and we are only one people, on the same planet, being sung the same lullabies. “We dedicate this evening to Pandit Ravi Shankar who recently passed away,” says Mouquet. Serendipity smiles.

After all, wasn’t the late great sitarist with his jugalbandis with George Harrison and Yehudi Menuhin the very first wizard of what is now called world music?  

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