Kuljit Bhamra is on a mission to “demystify” Indian music. Playing with Jonathon Mayer at Wenlock Barn in Sutton house, Hackney, on Sunday he joked that he had been “blamed” for creating the British Bhangra sound
Bhamra played on two sets of tablas as well as a snare drum and cymbals. One hand reached out to tap away on the tabla, while another hit away with a brush drumstick.
“I want to demystify Indian music,” he said, ” There’s always been a fascination with the whole east-west meeting. But if you look at John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra or George Harrison and Pandit Ravishankar, they’ve all been one-offs,” said the Kenyan-born Londoner.
He added that he wanted to see more collaborations between eastern and western musicians. On this note, Jonathan Mayer manned the sitar and he began with a solo piece – an interpretation of the traditional vachaspati raag.
With a drone from the electronic tanpura program, Mayer began slowly but blazed away on the fretboard, which seemed mismatched with Bhamra’s tabla accompaniment.
But they soon struck up a rapport, and improvised jamming led into ‘Escape to Tibet’, a composition Bhamra created with the disputed territory in mind. The spiritual mist was slowly being cleared in classical fusion style.
Another of Mayer’s solo compositions was inspired by previous album ideas, wistful emotions and even a solo violin piece. Though Mayer threw together notes from Bach’s notations, he mimicked several famous Bollywood tunes during the lighter piece Bajrang that he played with Bhamra.
Bhamra took another break by calling on younger audience members to have a go at his tabla, hoping to prove that it’s not that difficult to play the instrument.
He had broached the subject of young people when he said he would end with ‘Punjabi Mela’ – the liveliest song of the evening. With looped sounds adding a Bhangra beat, Bhamra was at it again, is time with one hand on the harmonium and another playing the tabla. Mayer sped through his notes like a lead guitarist shredding away a solo, and the night ended on a euphoric mood, very much like what Bhamra said he had in mind when he wrote the song.