If you were one of the thousands who attended last weekend’s Parramasala, you could not fail to be impressed by the impact and vibrancy of Indian culture, whether it be film, dance, craft, food or music. When it comes to the latter there is no one defining sound, given the cultural diversity of India itself. But one thing’s for sure, Indian music in all its many varieties, has an alluring appeal to the Western ear.
That was certainly the case with award winning Sydney musician Matt Keegan, a saxophonist and composer who took out the 2011 Freedman Foundation scholarship. Matt first travelled to West Bengal in India in 2009 where he met and spent time with some of the local Baul folk musicians who live in that part of the world. As he notes:
“I learnt enough about their music and culture to become quite intrigued. I also really enjoyed the way that music was integrated into Indian society much more deeply than it is in Australia.”
It was during this first trip that Matt forged a strong friendship with a group of Indian musicians known as The Three Seas. As he explains:
“The musicians were all from West Bengal but came from very different backgrounds. Raju Das is a Baul musician, the son of a tabla player who grew up immersed in that tradition, studying the culture and music at a dedicated Baul ashram. Gaurab Chatterjee, or Gaboo, is the drummer from a well known rock band in West Bengal called Lakkhichhara whilst Deo Ashis is Indian but with parents from a Nepalese background. He brings a different musical flavour with a folk music style from high in the mountains in Darjeeling.”
After winning the Freedman scholarship in 2011, Matt was able to return to India, reuniting with these three musicians, in a recording project leading to what is now a whole series of performances in Australia. The Freedman fellowship enabled him to take himself, his brother Tim, who plays bass and recording engineer Richard Belkner to record an album with Raju, Ashish and Gaboo. They all met up in Delhi and stayed with a friend, guitarist Cameron Deyell who was living in India at the time.
After rehearsing for two weeks they made the long five hour journey south of Delhi to the tiny village of Bagar to stay at the Piramal Haveli, a beautiful 100 year old Italian style guest house in the middle of rural India. They took over the whole place for a week and turned it into a recording studio. The end result was the highly engaging album Haveli which has since received rave reviews.
I asked Matt what Sydney audiences could expect when the group get together in Sydney for a series of concerts this March. He explained:
“We have been sending tracks back and forth as we begin figuring out the new music we will play. I have made a great start on the sounds and ideas I want to bring to the table and the other guys will have their ideas and songs to add too. It will be an eclectic mix of traditional folk music and instruments with a contemporary twist of sounds and compositional ideas.”
The Three Seas Concert, presented by the Freedman Foundation, the Music Trust and SIMA takes place in the very atmospheric theatre of the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour on Saturday March 18. Tickets & Info: www.sima.org.au