12 Aug Series Feature: An Invitation to India Pt 5.
An Invitation to India – Part Five
Ziggy Played Sitar
Written and Photographed by: James Artaius
“The smell of cannabis and tapas was pierced only by the gravelly tones of lead singer Attila, delivering his message of love and togetherness”
When you create a mental picture of India, certain kinds of images come to mind – and obviously, articles like this feed into the rich library of reference material that our mind’s eyes draw from. When you attempt to put a musical score to those images, however, the playlist can seem a little more sparse.
Western ears are tempted to project varying degrees of Bollywood themes and sitar strains, and certainly Goa’s native Konkani music provides an omnipresent soundtrack when you arrive in the region. (We fell in love with Radio Goa whenever we had sufficient Wi-fi, which will give you a crash coarse in Konkani: www.radiogoa.info)
Beyond the music booming through storefront stereos and taxicab radios, though, there’s a diverse aural culture to be enjoyed here. So one of the most enjoyable aspects of my visit to Goa was exploring the local music scene.
Starting al fresco, something you might expect in a place like Arambol is a drum circle. And you wouldn’t be disappointed, as sunsets were often serenaded by the dulcet droning of drums. That said, to be truthful, the circles were far less interesting to me than the actual drums – while no doubt spectacular in their own right, for my taste they were too much pomp and not enough circumstance.
Far more honest, at least to my ears, were the lone drummers on the beach playing their handpans (also known as Hangs or pantams) solely for their own pleasure, not for the edification of a whole group of drummers – or, indeed, onlookers. One of the greatest pleasures was sitting on the beach, watching the sea, and hearing a hum of handpans start singing in the background.
Playing a particularly beautiful song were the trio of musicians I found myself sitting beside one lazy afternoon, massaging hymns from their handpans in the most serene kind of jam session. Making the moment even more memorable was the passing flutist, summoned to the sound like snakes to vibrating earth, and joining in seamlessly with the drummers to add a unique layer of harmony. No fuss, no ceremony, just a spontaneous, transient, honest expression of sound.
At quite the other end of the serenity spectrum was Pink Hendrix, the hallucinogenic hippie rock experience we beheld at Revolution – a bar and restaurant that also hosts live music evenings. The thick smell of cannabis and tapas was pierced only by the gravelly tones of lead singer Attila, delivering his message of love and togetherness while guitars crashed and drums clattered.
Looking like a Jack Sparrow who had never escaped his marooning on Rumrunner’s Isle, the frontman was bedecked in beads and peacock feathers and – periodically – a variety of sarongs (his act being punctuated by a dramatic reveal, taking off his garment to reveal his tinseled penis… although the tinsel had fallen off and he instead blinded the crowd with his impressively proportioned member).
At this point some might scoff about style over substance, at which point I would remind you that style IS substance. And by that metric, if not by artistic merit, the heavily medicated Pink Hendrix (and its equally medicated stageside harem) provided an unforgettable experience.
Miles away from the psychedelia of Attila and his flock, I would be remiss not to mention the ubiquitous Hare Krishnas whose frenetic worship could be seen and heard every day. Not music, strictly speaking, but their Maha Mantra was an even more infectious earworm than any other song, sound or jingle heard during my trip to India.
Whatever your religious dis/inclination, it is almost impossible not to smile and feel the joy of worship expressed by Hare Krishnas as they parade and sing and dance. Like true pied pipers, their party train got longer and longer as it progressed, with free-thinkers and soul-searchers and good-timers alike all joining the frenzied fray.
Without a doubt the most amazing live performance I saw in India, however – and quite possibly the most amazing live performance I’ve seen anywhere – was in the hallowed halls of Twice In Nature. A stunning cultural centre hidden down the alleys behind Arambol Bazaar, between its organic (and cacao-enriched) menu and handcrafted courtyards, the venue itself is a living art installation that truly nourishes the soul.
And this night in particular offered a very special kind of nourishment, courtesy of the Blind Orchestra (www.blindorchestra.com). An international musical improv project, it is a collective of musicians and singers from all over the globe that play and sing blindfolded; a conductor, either from among its members or selected from the audience, is responsible for the orchestration.
The result is the most fascinating and jawdropping musical improvisation. Not only do the blindfolded players not know what they are going to play, they do not know when they are going to play; the conductor uses a stick to touch each member and signal when to start, when to stop, when to take the front, when to increase the tempo and so on.
With no visual cues from the other musicians, and an international lineup of both instruments and styles, it produces an astonishing fusion of cultural and rhythmic expression – and a soundscape that at times borders on the spiritual. Among their number that night was Maxim of British band The Turbans (friends of Jaz, with whom we were privileged to spend the evening), bringing Turkish and Armenian influences to the set courtesy of his electric oud.
The Blind Orchestra plays all over the world, and I genuinely can’t recommend highly enough going out of your way to check them out. Hearing them play amid the bamboo and tea lights sandalwood of Twice In Nature, however, was perhaps the richest and most moving memory of my entire visit. On a trip full of surprises in a country with more layers than an onion in Shrek, this was India’s most treasured gift to me.
About the Author/Photographer:
As it says on his business card, James is a “Maître Jacques” – jack of all trades. An Olympus-addicted photographer, long-in-the-tooth model, lapsed journalist and recovering videogame addict, he currently makes his residence in the birthplace of catch wrestling, Wigan, in the northwest of England. He enjoys deciphering David Lynch and listening to The Midnight.
Check out his portfolio on PurplePort: James Artaius Portfolio