Posts Tagged ‘jyotsna srikanth’

Interview: Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth

Posted on May 19th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth

Simon Broughton talks to the Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth about their collaborative project

“No, violin and brass aren’t regular partners,” laughs Indian violinist Jyotsna Srikanth. “They’re more like enemies in fact!” But they seem to have got round the animosity as trumpet, sax and trombone step forward to throw out punchy solos, answered by warm, pungent phrases from her violin. The musicians are all dressed in long, colourful robes trimmed with gold – to say nothing of the dramatic film projections behind them. This is Srikanth, the Bollywood Brass Band and their new show and album, Carnatic Connection in action.

“The combination in itself is something exotic,” admits Srikanth, who back in India played on many soundtracks. “This is something unique, which is what attracted me.”

Alongside the railways and lumbering bureaucracy, one of the lesser-known legacies of the British in India is the vibrant brass band tradition. In northern Indian towns, it’s very common to run into a baraat (wedding procession) – the groom on a white horse, preceded by a dozen musicians playing trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, tubas and a couple of side drums. The music is loud, raucous and a lot of fun.

“I’d never heard of Indian brass before,” admits Kay Charlton, trumpeter and arranger with the Bollywood Brass Band. Her first encounter with Indian brass took place 25 years ago – at an international festival of street bands in London organised by Cultural Cooperation. At that festival in 1992 was the Shyam Brass Band from Jabalpur, reputed to be one of the best in India.

“It was one of those coincidences that changes your life,” says New Zealand-born Mark Allan, who now manages Bollywood Brass Band. Both he and Charlton played in a street band called Crocodile Style and it was suggested they do some gigs with Shyam. “We learned some tunes off their cassette,” says Allan, “and we did several performances together while they were in the UK.” This was when they discovered their instruments were actually tuned a semitone apart – the sort of thing you have to take in your stride when you do collaborations like this.

The main repertoire for Indian brass bands comes from Bollywood films – both classics everyone knows, and the current hits. So they called themselves the Bollywood Brass Band (BBB) and brought in Johnny Kalsi from the Dhol Foundation. “Indian brass bands don’t use the dhol but it gave us that British bhangra kind of feel,” explains Charlton. “Johnny Kalsi played on our first album in 1999 and our other dhol players – currently Jas Daffu – have all come through the Dhol Foundation.”

“Bollywood music was virtually the first ‘world music’,” Allan explains. “Indian soundtracks were trawling the world for interesting sounds and were influenced by Latin music, qawwali, rock’n’roll and funk. ‘Oye, Oye’, one of the tunes we learned from Shyam, was an Indian version of a Gloria Estefan number.”

The Bollywood Brass Band started playing Diwali parties, then found themselves doing British Asian weddings and finally concerts. They’ve now gigged all over Europe, just released their fourth album and, perhaps the best accolade, have been invited to play for around a dozen weddings in India. It began in 2008, when they were invited to Indian Fashion Week in Delhi for the show of designer Manish Arora. He’s famous for his bright colours, so one can understand the appeal of a Bollywood Brass Band soundtrack. It was there they were picked up by a wedding agent and the work started coming in – including Indian weddings in Oman and Sun City, South Africa.

It should be said that weddings are seasonal in India – generally October to December – so it means that wedding musicians, bandwallahs, are not really professionals. They also do agricultural work and much more besides. So Indian bands with the musicianship and skilled arrangers of BBB are very rare indeed. That is why wealthy Indian families are prepared to fly out and accommodate a dozen musicians who know their stuff all the way from the UK to re-boot the baraat.

BBB and Jyotsna Srikanth met a couple of years ago when they were both playing at the Bradford and Belfast Melas. They both thought it would be fun to work together and Srikanth, as a professional evangelist for Karnatic music, suggested they try music from South Indian films. They had already arranged several songs by AR Rahman, currently India’s most popular film composer, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. “I stopped listening to Bollywood songs because they all sound the same,” says Srikanth. “The music to South Indian films is definitely, I can say, more quality.”

The most romantic track is AR Rahman’s ‘Kehna Ni Kya’, where Srikanth adds lovely slides, portamentos and decorations to what is presumably the vocal line. The album opens with a piece from South India’s second most famous composer, Ilaiyaraaja, who recently scored his 1,000th film! This highlights the marching band side of the group with powerful drumming and the growling bass of Jeff Miller’s wrap-around sousaphone.

What’s impressive about the live performance is the matching of the violin with ten brass instruments. “In the first rehearsal, those horns, those trombones were so loud,” says Srikanth. “And if you just crank up the volume you just get more distortion. So I have to use technology here. I use a processor to be able to equalise the violin as well as raising the gain and adding effects – compression, reverb and delay.”

Srikanth clearly takes many of the vocal lines on the violin, although Charlton explains how they often used soprano sax to reflect the high Bollywood vocals of singers like Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar. Now the women singers use a lower register like Western vocalists. Most of the songs tend to be shortened in BBB’s arrangements, because without the lyrics they don’t sustain. And as Srikanth says, “there’s no point in copying the song, otherwise you might as well just play the original. It’s better to do something creative.”

One of the most beautiful tracks on the album, ‘Deva Deva Kalayami’, begins with a sultry violin solo, swooping and sliding among the tendrils of reverb with sighs and trills. When it gets going, it’s in a scale that gives the brass lines a rather Balkan character. This isn’t a film tune at all, but by Tyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the great Karnatic Trinity of composers. Here Srikanth and Charlton trade violin and trumpet riffs making Tyagaraja sound like something by Goran Bregović. But this is Karnatic music – improvised and innovative.

Even more innovative are new compositions Charlton and Sarha Moore, the BBB arrangers, have done for two scenes from Chandralekha – an extraordinary 1948 Tamil film that was the most expensive made in India at the time. It was directed and produced by SS Vasan and includes incredible Cecil B DeMille-type scenes with thousands of actors and unbelievable sets. The opening scene includes female trumpeters and 400 dancers on drums in the courtyard of an extravagant palace. As the palace is overrun by soldiers bursting out of the drums, it leads into Errol Flynn-style sword-fight sequences with remarkably few casualties other than decapitated flowers. The music gives it all a sword-sharp edge.

At the back of the hall is Mark Allan. He used to play baritone sax in the band, but has graduated to masterminding the film projections. These transform the performance from a concert into a spectacular show. He’s plugged into the original soundtrack and his VJ software allows him to speed up and slow down the film to keep it in sync with the band. It’s very sophisticated technology. The videos include a Gypsy-like circle dance around a fire (‘Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu)’, dancing on boats in what looks like the Keralan backwaters (‘Jiya Jale’) and riding the roof of a train (‘Aa Ante Amalapuram’). During this last song, Allan hands me his earpieces and I see the band have become quite out of sync with the song. But as long as the basic rhythm fits, it’s amazing what you can get away with. The timing is crucial however for the Chandralekha clips and for that the sync is spot on.

What the Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth have achieved with this show is not just an entertaining way to present Indian movie tunes, but actually contribute to the art form with their original soundtracks.

Everyone is overawed by Srikanth’s skill and humility as a collaborator, while she says: “The chemistry matches between us and that is very important for a collaboration. If it doesn’t work in India, they say it’s ‘like eating yoghurt rice with ketchup’.” This collaboration is one tip-top thali.

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DATE Bollywood Brass Band & Jyotsna Srikanth will perform at Salisbury Festival on June 1 and Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 2

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Watch: Bollywood Brass Band feat. Jyotsna Srikanth

Posted on March 9th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

BBB-Jyotsna-blog,-ps

The Bollywood Brass Band started playing Diwali parties, then found themselves doing British Asian weddings and finally concerts. They’ve now gigged all over Europe and even India. After meeting Indian Karnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth at the Bradford and Belfast Melas, they decided to begin working together and have just released a new collaborative album, Carnatic Connection. ‘‘No, violin and brass aren’t regular partners,” laughs Srikanth. “They’re more like enemies in fact!” Simon Broughton talks to Srikanth and the Bollywood Brass Band about their collaborative project in the latest issue.

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Songlines Best Albums of 2016

Posted on November 24th, 2016 in News, Recent posts, Reviews by .

Best Albums 2016

Songlines’ editors Jo Frost and Simon Broughton select their favourite albums of 2016

Jo Frost and Simon Broughton have handpicked their ten favourite albums of the year from over 700 featured reviews. These are the albums they found themselves returning to over and over, and the discs that made a lasting impression. Here are their choices for year’s greatest albums, but be sure to pick up a copy of the new issue (January/February 2017, #124), on sale December 9, for a full rundown.  

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Anda Union  – Homeland
(Hohhot Records, will be reviewed in #124)
These are distinguished songs about nature, history and identity from this nine-strong Inner Mongolian group, featuring horse head fiddles and growly throat singing.


Bollywood Brass Band & Jyotsna Srikanth – Carnatic Connection
(Bollywood Brass Band, will be reviewed in #124)
An energetic and cinematic journey south, with fuel provided by Jyotsna Srikanth’s Karnatic violin. Renditions of AR Rahman compositions appear alongside South Indian musical gems.


Calypso Rose – Far from Home
(Because Music, reviewed in #120)

With the help of Manu Chao, the Calypso queen represents her home country of Trinidad and Tobago, covering a range of social and political issues with a contemporary Caribbean flair.


Roberto Fonseca – ABUC
(Impulse!, reviewed in #123)
A raucous, dizzying journey back and forth through Fonseca’s Afro-Cuban musical heritage. An ambitious and convincing offering from the young maestro.


Derek Gripper – Libraries on Fire
(Derek Gripper, reviewed in #119)
With great aplomb, the South African takes on the compositions of the great 21-stringed kora players on his classical guitar. Gripper’s delicate transcriptions deliver beautiful results.


Kefaya – Radio International
(Radio International Records, reviewed in #122)
This debut album fizzes with the energy of the international collective’s acclaimed live shows and is hard hitting with its political commentary.


Lakou Mizik – Wa Di Yo
(Cumbancha, reviewed in #117)
Lakou Mizik’s debut is a passionate tribute to the people and culture of Haiti. Formed in the aftermath of the country’s 2010 earthquake, the collective deliver a project of celebration and hope.


Leyla McCalla – A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey
(Jazz Village, reviewed in #119)
An outstanding sophomore album from the young cellist and banjo player. Three years on from her stellar debut, McCalla once again draws from her Haitian heritage and Creole influences.


Vaudou Game – Kidayú
(Hot Casa Records, reviewed in #122)
Vaudou Game take a magpie-like approach to African music styles, uniquely blending Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz and highlife for an album that is unpredictable and fresh from start to finish.


Various Artists, featuring Musicians of the Calais ‘Jungle’ – The Calais Sessions
(Sessions of the World, will be reviewed in #124)
An extraordinarily and moving collaborative album. The resilient testament to the human spirit will reduce you to tears, but also uplift your heart.

 

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South Indian violinist Jyotsna Srikanth on tour in the UK

Posted on November 14th, 2014 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

Jyotsna-palace-2

Internationally acclaimed performer and composer of Karnatic Indian music, Jyotsna Srikanth is currently on tour in the UK with her Bangalore Dreams ensemble.

Raised in the classical tradition of Karnatic music, Jyotsna Srikanth is also an accomplished performer of Indian contemporary music, Western classical music, jazz and fusion. Her collaborations include Nordic Raga jazz quartet and Season4/6, a project for violin and Western orchestral ensemble inspired by the six South Indian ragas for the seasons. Having arrived in the UK from Bangalore in 2004, she is now one of the leading figures playing and promoting Indian music in Europe.

Her latest album Call of Bangalore was released in 2013 on Riverboat Records and was a Top of the World selection in our August/September edition (#94). Read our interview with Jyotsna in the current issue.

Watch Jyotsna Srikanth’s Bangalore Dreams perform at the London International Arts Festival 2013:

2014 UK tour dates:

November 16 - Tara, Reading
November 18 - Portland Arms, Cambridge
November 19 - Latest Bar, Brighton
November 21 - Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
November 24 - Gallery Cafe, London
November 26 - St John’s Chapel, Chichester
November 27 - Magic Garden, London
November 28 - Luna Lounge, London
November 30 - Jamboree, London

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