London International Arts Festival 2015 – Roundup

LIAF 2015The fourth edition of UK-based Dhruv Arts’ London International Arts Festival was held from the 4th to 8th of this month at various locations in the city. The five day event featured a rather diverse line-up of artists. I unfortunately could not watch a lot them, but here is a quick roundup of the ones I did manage to watch.

Bernhard Schimpelsberger (Nov 6)

The Austrian born percussionist, who is more popular as one half of the fusion duo Circle of Sound (the other half being British Indian sarod player Soumik Datta) opened the show at Rich Mix with what he called his Rhythm Diaries, a peek into the compilation of musical ideas along his journey as a percussionist. And with an array of interesting percussion instruments and the looping device at his disposal, the man presented a performance tantamount to a whole percussion ensemble! The thing that caught my fancy most was this little idiophone called kalimba, or a thumb piano (Bernhard joked at one point that playing the kalimba was in a way fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a pianist). Another highlight was a riveting recreation of the Amazon rainforest sounds with a bunch of Brazilian bird whistles and ethnic percussion. I had kind of hoped that he might play his brilliant cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit (which we had included in this playlist of our On Sound Cloud 9 series) but that didn’t happen, sadly. Bernhard said during his gig that he was setting out on an ambitious project in the near future, an album that was to contain 15 songs recorded at 15 different places in collaboration with 15 different musicians. Looking forward to that!

Bangalore Dreams (Nov 6)

A band that I have seen before, on LIAF last year, and on Kappa TV’s Music Mojo, comprised of LIAF director Jyotsna Srikanth, keyboardist Shadrach Solomon and drummer NS Manjunath. The show featured some really engaging fusion characterised by Jyotsna’s pacy classical-flavoured violin solos. My most favourite song of the evening was this dark piece called Winter, a piece she later explained was a movement from her orchestral work titled Six Seasons (an Indian analogue to Vivaldi’s four seasons, if you will) that she is performing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK, at the Wembley Arena.

Trikona (Nov 6)

Watching Talvin Singh live has been a long standing item on the bucket list, and that got checked off on the 6th of November as the man took over the stage at Rich Mix with his band Trikona – literally a triangle – the other two vertices of the triangle being classical guitarist Giuliano Modarelli (who co-composed the soundtrack of Little Zizou with Bickram Ghosh and was also part of Shankar Tucker’s debut album Filament) and Ben Hazleton on double bass. The Asian underground pioneer kickstarted his gig with a silent tribute to a recently deceased counterpart of the genre, Sam Zaman aka State of Bengal. Rest of the evening stayed true to the man’s repute – ambient electronic sounds infused with Indian classical elements, primarily by Giuliani on the guitar and Talvin himself playing the tabla on occasion – venturing into the abstract more often than not.

Southern Rhythms (Nov 7)

A delayed start to the day’s events meant that the hourlong percussion jam session between mridangam exponent Patri Satish Kumar, ghatam player Giridhar Udupa and drummer NS Manjunath had to be cut down to just over half hour, but it was no less entertaining, as the trio enthralled the audience with some complex yet brilliantly executed rhythms set to the 8 beat cycle (called aadi thaalam in Carnatic music), highlighted by Udupa’s trademark ghatam throw towards the end – it is amazing how the man manages to execute pretty much an entire beat cycle with the ghatam in the air!

Mahathi (Nov 7)

The centrepiece of the day, and indeed of the event was the Carnatic concert by singer Mahathi (whom some might recognise more as a playback singer from her various popular songs in Tamil films) – a concert that struck the right chord with a large part of the audience for the fact that the lady chose the more popular carnatic songs for her set; Entharo Mahanu, Alai Paayuthey, Maha Ganapathim, Thaaye Yashodha to name a few. While Mahathi was fabulous on her part with her rendition of each of these pieces (with some fine support from Jyotsna Srikanth on violin, Patri Satish Kumar on mridangam and Giridhar Udupa on ghatam), she was equally on point with the rarer compositions. I loved the main composition of the gig which was a raagam thaanam pallavi in the raga sumanesa ranjani, primarily because it is a raga I haven’t had the occasion to hear much. The only quibble in the exquisite elaboration was the shortening of the percussion solo bit owing to time constraints.

In their fourth edition, London International Arts Festival once again presented an impressive set of gigs, with primary focus on Indian classical arts. Kudos especially to the event directors Jyotsna Srikanth and Srikanth Sharma for their choice of musicians, and here is to many more years of LIAF!

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