'Music needs a warm heart'

Updated: 18 December, 2018 11:07 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Find out what makes a diverse collective of musicians cutting across cultures tick

Raju Das Baul and Matt Keegan of The Three Seas
Raju Das Baul and Matt Keegan of The Three Seas

One Australian, a New Zealander, a Nepali and two Indians make up The Three Seas. It's an unusual musical combination that plays a form of jazz with a heavy influence of Indian folk music. The outfit was born after saxophonist Matt Keegan chanced upon Baul musicians in West Bengal's Shantiniketan, during his travels around India over a decade ago. We catch up with him over email to learn more about their playful sound, ahead of a gig in the city. Excerpts.

What are some of the aspects of Baul philosophy that you find intriguing?
I continue to find the Baul tradition quite mysterious but I am gradually deepening my understanding of it, which in turn has positively affected my appreciation of the music they make. Their focus on the sacred nature of the human body makes sense to me; it is something we all possess after all! I was first drawn to Baul culture through the sound of the music. Their beautiful singing transcended the fact that I could not understand the poetry. I was also attracted to the instruments they use and the feeling of the groove they perform with.

Gaurab Chatterjee
Gaurab Chatterjee

Hailing from diverse cultures, what are some of the things that you have learnt from each other, which have made you better human beings?
The main reason we can work well together as a group is because we are all open to sharing and learning as both, people and musicians. I have learnt a great deal from each of them about music and the nature of the instruments they play. I can't speak for the others, but for me, it has been my travels throughout India that have contributed most to my personal growth. There are many aspects of modern Australian culture that are quite immature and sheltered. But being in India has helped me open my eyes and heart, and revealed some important insights into what it really means to be a human being.

Ashish Mothey and Steve Elphick
Ashish Mothey and Steve Elphick

Considering your different musical backgrounds, explain your songwriting process.
One of the great strengths of our band is that there are multiple composers and arrangers. Over a decade of working together, our songwriting process has become more streamlined as we have each come to better understand our strengths as musicians and the unique nature of the instruments we play.

My personal creative process involves thinking carefully about the feeling I wish to convey in each composition. I then decide what sounds would most effectively express my musical ideas. I choose which instruments to feature and compose the music with specific technical, melodic and rhythmic concepts in mind.

How would you describe the role that cross-cultural music plays in society?
I believe cross-cultural music plays an important role in society as a symbol for universal love and understanding. Music like ours proves that people from different cultures can work together, without having to compromise their personal identity or musicality. It is simply an intention and attitude that one needs to adopt to make it work. If one approaches the music with an open mind, curious attitude and warm heart, all will usually work out for the best.

What will your set in Mumbai entail?
The Three Seas will play a wide variety of song-based music. We have two lead singers and the lyrics are sung in Bengali, Hindi, English and Nepali. Our focus is on performing original music that is composed specifically for the band. We endeavour to soulfully blend various aspects of jazz, folk and rock music together. Some pieces are instrumental and feature improvisations on the baritone saxophone, a large and deep sounding instrument. Our repertoire also includes traditional Baul songs and some arrangements of Carnatic and Nepali music.

ON: December 20, 9 pm
AT: The Quarter, Royal Opera House, Girgaum.
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First Published: 18 December, 2018 10:00 IST

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