Tag Archive: African music


 

ancient trees, river walk, Chagford,resized

By Elizabeth Doyle

 

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  https://www.dhevdhasnair.com/audio 

 

This is Part Four of a four-part interview.

 

To start at the beginning with Part One, click here

 

Me: I know that there’s an interesting inspiration behind your album, “Inbetween and passing” related to a small community in South America. I read the album cover, so I’ve cheated. But for everyone else, can you tell us about that and how the tracks on the album relate to it?

 

He: The track “Gaviotas” on my album was written as a celebration of and in dedication to the people of the town of the same name in Colombia who have shown the world that it is possible to take a region and a people who have been ravaged by the violence and barbarism of the modern world, and turn them round to face the possibility of a humane, sustainable future, meeting the needs that all people everywhere have always had; bread, freedom, dignity, and social justice. They have planted millions of trees, farm organically and use wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor. The United Nations named the village a model of sustainable development. All this in an area that had all but been destroyed by logging and mining, and where many of the inhabitants had come from drug and violent gang-related conflict situations. I learnt about the place through a friend of mine, the writer Terri Windling, who lives in my village on Dartmoor. She had a visitor from the U.S. one day, Alan Weisman, who had written a book about Gaviotas, and as he described what they had done, I knew that it was important to celebrate their achievements and pass the word on that another world is possible.

 

temple proc trivandrum boys,resized

 

Me: Now, these questions are a little more dull in some ways, but I think that everyone likes to know a little basic biographical information about artists they appreciate. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started playing music?

 

He: I started piano lessons at the age of 8 by accident! My mum was struggling to survive in London on her own with two children and took advantage of a government funded place for me and my brother at two different boarding schools. After my first term, I came home and said to her, “thanks for the piano lessons!” And she said “what piano lessons?” Apparently I had been given a terms lessons that were meant for someone else! Anyway I carried on. And when I got a Beatles songbook, I found that I could read the music and play just like on the records I knew so well. That was really exciting. By the age of 14 I was playing with bands in North London, rehearsing in a room above Susan’s Music Shop in Chapel Market, at the Angel, Islington. I knew even at that stage that I wanted to play music and I wasn’t really interested in being at school, since it was only slowing my career down. At 18, I left England with a Sudanese bass player friend of mine and lived in Khartoum for a year where my real apprenticeship took place, playing every night in the Blue Nile Club with a fantastic band, “The Heavy Ducks” (!!) We also played for many weddings and functions in the desert around Khartoum, in Omdurman, and Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast.

 

Dartmoor mist,resized

 

I’ve been a full time player ever since. My career as a performer has divided roughly into three phases, African music, Indian music, and Jazz. These days I’m on the road a little less, doing more writing and recording and a bit of teaching piano. I taught on the jazz degree course at Exeter University for four years, and am currently visiting jazz piano teacher at Wells Cathedral School in Somerset, and at Hampton School in Twickenham. I toured with African bands all over Europe and in East and Southern Africa. For two years I lived and worked in Paris, where there was, and still is a thriving African music scene. After studying Indian music I toured with Indian musicians and dance and theatre companies in India and Europe. When I settled in the West Country, I began playing jazz and this took me all over the UK and Europe again, with several radio and TV appearances and participation on an album “Limbic System” with the amazing saxophone player Harry Fulcher, which reached the top ten jazz albums in the UK in 2004.

 

I have had the good fortune to have grown up with one foot in England, where my father was from, and where I was born, and the other hovering over India and South East Asia, where my mother comes from. I’ve been many times to India and love being there. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time there in the future. It means that I have always had a wider perspective on the world, a chance to see things from many angles, and not get stuck in a Western-centred viewpoint.

 

 

To order the album “Inbetween and Passing” by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to http://www.cdbaby.com/

 

In the UK, click here.

 

UPDATE (March 11, 2018): To listen to Dhevdhas Nair’s beautiful music, go to https://www.dhevdhasnair.com/audio

 

Photos: © Dhevdhas Nair

Top photo: Ancient trees, river walk, at Chagford, a little town on the edge of Dartmoor

Second photo: Boys in a temple procession, Trivandrum, Kerala, India

Third photo: View of Dartmoor, early morning

 

 

 

across the hill from the studio resized

By Elizabeth Doyle

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html

To read Part One first, click here


Me: Are you a spiritual person? Does religion or spirituality play any role in your compositions?

He: Not in a formal sense. Although I have been on several Buddhist retreats from various traditions and teachers, I don’t see myself as belonging to any particular religion. If anything, the Deer Park near my home on Dartmoor, with its magnificent trees is my cathedral. Having said that, when I create music, I feel such a sense of ……how do I describe it? Love, emotion, reverence. Every time I listen back to the compositions, I get the same supercharged feelings of the importance of creating beauty in the world and it moves me very strongly. And I feel that same charge while I am working on the music. I guess you could call it a spiritual state of mind.

Me: I know that you borrow musical traditions from different parts of the globe. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what you feel some of the musical strengths of different corners of the world are?

Sstreet musician family ,Mumbaicropped and resized

He: My father had an amazing music collection, from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner (not so much my cup of tea!) and Indian classical music, to the Beatles. Early on, I discovered jazz, and fell completely in love with North Indian classical music, initially ragas and folk and light classical music played on the flute. Its hard to say what moves me about music from different parts of the world. I seem to go through different phases as I pass through my own different phases of life.

When I was about 14 I found a cassette in my local library of a field recording made in the 1930s of a group of Australian Aboriginal men singing. It had a profound effect on me. Here was music that spoke of a world so utterly different from my own, yet which had universal qualities of a delicate, achingly beautiful humanity that reached across the ages and opened my eyes and ears to a timeless, eternal song of life.

Mumbai NCPA in Mumbai, taken by Tao Issaroresized

As a teenager and young man, I got into African music, mostly West African hi-life. I found it expressed so well the sheer exuberance and joy of life, and was so danceable. I played with various African bands for many years, in Europe and Africa. I was in a band called Sankomota that had a number one album in the black music charts in South Africa before the end of Apartheid. We were actually banned in the country, but our album went to number one and eventually the ban was lifted and we went to play to 25,000 people in Jabulani Stadium in Soweto. I used to love it that people danced when we played. Then I spent time studying Indian music and turned to the more contemplative, poetic side of music – music that paints pictures of stillness, beauty in nature, and the delicacies and vulnerabilities of human emotions. Next I developed skills in the language of jazz which fortuitously had the capacity to absorb and contain all the previous musical strands of my life. Within the freedom of jazz I found I could draw upon those influences from India, Africa, Europe, and South East Asia.

In today’s super connected world, we can hear music from anywhere and everywhere, all clothed in the various colours of their respective cultures, but all pointing to the same truth, that music is as essential to human beings as food, water and shelter.

To be continued…

To go to part four, click here.

To order the album Inbetween and Passing by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to  http://www.cdbaby.com/

 

In the UK, click here.

 

Top photo: © Dhevdhas Nair / Across the hill from the studio

Second photo: © Dhevdhas Nair / Street musician family in Mumbai

Third photo: © Tao Issaro / 

Dhevdhas Nair at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai

800px-Hammered_dulcimer

By Elizabeth Doyle

Dhevdhas Nair is a musician you really have to hear to believe. (You can sample or buy an album here:  http://www.dhevdhasnair.com/id9.html)

His music isn’t quite describable, but I would say that it’s a mixture of thoughts, translated into notes that are trickled over an emotional baseline expressed in a musical background.

It would be easy to say something like he combines classical Indian with African music and American Jazz. But really, he just makes his own music, and different traditions from around the world feed into his musical vocabulary as he goes along. That’s how it seems to me.  And what’s most important about what he does isn’t the tribute he’s paying to a particular style, but the experience he’s trying to give the listener – in that way that each of us has a message that no one else can share.

I got the chance to ask Dhevdhas some questions about his music, to give us a “musical appreciation” course on his work.  And this is what he said:

Me:  I’ve never heard arrangements like yours before. Sometimes, a new melody or a new instrument will enter the music that seems almost like a non-sequitur. And for a moment, I feel like it’s not going to work, and then it does. Do you know what I’m talking about? Is this a conscious decision? Are you intentionally layering “thoughts” on top of moods that don’t instantly seem related?

800px-View_to_Sharpitor_from_Meavy

He:  I’m aware that I sometimes put different sections up against each other which don’t have an immediate or obvious connection. I don’t stop too long to think about it – it comes out that way, and I tend to go with the order that ideas appear. I trust in the process, which sometimes doesn’t always seem to make sense at the time. I sort of hear in my head what needs to come next, I open to it, and out it comes from my fingers onto the instrument, the piano, dulcimer or percussion, accordion, or whatever.

Me: What are you usually trying to “show” us with your music? Is it something you sense that you can’t describe but want to share? Is it something you know about mentally and emotionally that you’re trying to share in a creative way? What’s driving you to want to communicate with me and everyone else through sound?

He: One of my jobs as a musician is to enable and encourage an experience of celebration, reflection and self exploration, and to accompany an audience on a journey that takes place in the realm of the inner life, but curiously is initiated by a shared external stimulus – organised sound. I suppose all forms of art and expression have this core function, the awakening of each individual to their own inner landscape which is often buried under layers of thought and the noise of our everyday minds. Music does have a way of getting through where language sometimes gets stuck. And there is a mysterious energy in there which, if you’re lucky, sometimes leaps right out into the room and transports everyone, the musicians and the audience into a rich experience.

Jebel_barkal_rock

Quite early in my career, when I was 18 years old, I was living and working with a band in Khartoum, in the Sudan. It was a great band, the most modern, cool band in Khartoum at the time, playing a blend of American-inspired jazz funk and African dance music. One day we were setting up in the main television studios to do a live broadcast, and while still tuning and getting ready we gradually fell into a completely unrehearsed improvisation, each member joining in until the whole band was playing. And something very strange began to happen. Somehow, I knew exactly what the guitarist was going to play before he played it, so I was able to play the same chords, notes and rhythm with him. It was an uncanny kind of telepathy. I distinctly remember looking down at my hands playing the keyboard and thinking “I’m not doing this, they’re just playing themselves”, and looking up to see that everyone in the band was having the same experience. We were staring at each other with the same bewildered expression on our faces, like…what is going on here? It was exactly as if someone or something was playing through us, and our individual identities disappeared as we blended into one perfect voice. It was the best piece of music we ever did, even though we had no idea what we were playing (and of course it didn’t get recorded!)

To be continued…

To go to part two, click here.

 

To order the album Inbetween and Passing by Dhevdhas Nair, if you live outside the UK, go to http://www.cdbaby.com.

In the UK, click here.

Top photo: “Photo of a hammered dulcimer, taken in Portland OR by Dvortygirl, 7/17/05” / Wikimedia Commons / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain…”

 

Second photo: Author: Maarten van Beek (wiki@maartenvanbeek.nl) / Wikimedia Commons / “The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the author Maarten van Beek and the website http://www.maartenvanbeek.nl are properly attributed.” / “Jebel Barkal near Karima, Sudan, site of the ancient Kush capital of Napata.” 

Third photo: Author: Herby talk thyme / “Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License” / Wikimedia Commons / “View towards Sharpitor & Leather Tor down the valley of the river Meavy. The river Meavy is in the foregound. The forestry plantation is just above Burrator reservoir.” 

By Elizabeth Doyle

Elephants of Samburu, Kenya

Jami Sieber – I just bought this album.  It’s called “Hidden Sky” and it’s inspired by elephants. Yes, elephants!  Apparently, according to the album notes, a visit with the elephants in Thailand just about changed this musician’s life. Changed how she sees herself, and all those around her.  And changed how she plays music.  This is definitely the most haunting music she’s ever made. If I didn’t know it was about elephants, I would never have guessed.  But now that I know, I think I can feel their ancient gentleness in every note.  A portion of the proceeds of the album go to help elephants, so I can feel good about that.  And there is something absolutely mystical about what those giants have done to this music …..  I do believe that their presence is behind it. Click here.

A Dogon granery, Mali

Salif Keita – This guy’s really interesting. He’s literally descended from kings in Mali.  But he was born albino (lack of pigment in the skin), and for that reason, was cast out by his family.  If it hadn’t been for that, being in the caste he was in, he might never have become a singer, but as it was …. he went on to become a musical star! One theme in his music, naturally enough, is trying to teach that “different” does not mean “bad.” (Apparently, albinos can face some terrible persecutions in some parts of Africa – including human sacrifice.)  In addition, in interviews he’s spoken about some religious pressure from some mosques back in Mali that don’t like music.  But he seems to have no trouble uniting his love of his spiritual faith with his love of sound, and seems to be doing a lot of good in the process:  Click here.

 

 

Ergyron— I’ve always admired people who used to live in the Arctic … before we had indoor switches that turn on the heat.  I can’t imagine falling asleep in subzero temperatures every night and awakening every morning to …. More subzero temperatures.  I feel like I’d have a permanent case of the flu.  But of course, snow is

A Chukchi woman

also magical, mystical and romantic… when you don’t feel its bite.  And I think you can see both sides of Arctic life in traditional Arctic song and dance.  I feel like you can see the harshness of life – and also the wonder of snow glistening pink in the morning sunrise.  Ergyron comes from the Arctic of Russia (the Chukchi people). The group calls themselves Chukchi-Eskimo: Click here.

  

 

  

  

  

  

Top photo:  Sharon St Joan / elephants in Kenya

Second photo: Michelealfieri / Dreamstime.com / A granery in a Dogon village, Mali

Third photo: Konstantin Shevtsov / Dreamstime.com / a Chukchi woman