The Splendour of Masters tour this year featured a very distinguished and diverse line-up of musicians. The World Music Ensemble was a rare showcase of a wide variety of styles coming together in a confluence of unique sound that has never before been heard before. The one-off collaboration featured the world renowned Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on the mohan veena, R Prasanna on guitars, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Mohamed Farghally on oud, Hamada Farghally on qanoon, Subankar Banerjee on tabla, Ayman Boujlida on Jazz drums and Amrit on the khanjira.
Using diverse styles and influences of Carnatic, Hindustani, Middle Eastern and Contemporary Jazz, World Music Ensemble managed to juxtapose ancient traditional music with contemporary ‘world music’. The concert featured an intriguing fusion of rare sounds and unusual combinations of rhythms and melodies. The instrumentation by itself was a rare combination featuring the oud, which is a pear-shaped stringed instrument, the qanoon is a Persian stringed instrument, the mohan veena, the lead guitars of Prasanna that moved swiftly between Jazz and Carnatic.
The concert showcased individual styles, combinations of instruments and full-on performances of the entire group. There were string sections and percussion sections featured alone and in jugalbandis. Although some of the pieces were original compositions of Pt Vishwa Mohan, Prasanna and Chaurasia, they were performed with a twist using the diverse styles of the other musicians.
Talking about the ensemble, Pt Vishwa Mohan says, “I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with oud and qanoon artistes, who are from Egypt. Although we belong to different genres, we came together to create music that was lighter, more contemporary, more world music in style.”
After winning a Grammy award in 1994 for his album, A Meeting by the River, with Ry Cooder, Pt Vishwa Mohan shot to global acclaim. He pioneered the transformation of the classical guitar into the mohan veena, and took Hindustani classical music to a whole new level. In his long and illustrious career, he has released several albums and collaborated with musicians and artistes from across the world. He has also performed at some of the largest and most prestigious festivals and events including the Crossroads Guitar Festival, organised by Eric Clapton.
Talking about his current and future projects, the maverick musician says, “I have lined up several albums. The one that was just released includes some of my romantic compositions with several short pieces. Another one of my albums called Star Gazing is being released online by Twang and is available only as downloads on the Internet. I will also be touring America, Canada, Europe and a whole lot of other places.”
Prasanna’s guitar renditions were another highlight of the show. He is the pioneer in performing Carnatic music on the guitar. He is also an accomplished performer and composer in Jazz and film music. His Swarnobhoomi Academy in Chennai routinely produces musicians of great calibre, and ready for the global stage.
Talking about how he came to be associated with this collaboration, Prasanna says, “I got a call from my friend Mahesh Babu of Banyan Tree events asking me if I was interested in joining in on the ensemble. This proved to be good as it was also my first concert of the year, so I agreed. Although I know all the artistes, I had not played with them earlier. Pt Vishwa Mohan and I know each other very well and for many years. People have always wanted to see us perform together, because he is so well versed in the Hindustani guitar tradition and I, in the Carnatic space. While the tabla player Subhankar Banerjee has played with me once in California, Ayman Boujlida is my student from my academy. So basically, I know everybody, but I had no idea what was going to come out of it. The father-son duo playing the qanoon and oud are wonderful players and wonderful people. They definitely add a special dimension to what we are doing.”
Flutist Rakesh Chaurasia is widely considered as the heir apparent for his illustrious uncle Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, and shows all the promise of taking the Chaurasia legacy to new heights. Rakesh has composed music and worked with artistes including Spanish guitarist Marco Salaun, Indian Jazz pianist Louis Banks and percussionist Taufiq Qureshi, amongst others. Vira is one of his most successful albums.
The father-son duo of Mohamed Farghally on oud and Hamada Farghally on qanoon were another set of additions to the illustrious ensemble. They are chiefly responsible for keeping the ancient musical traditions of the Middle East alive in the hearts of audiences across the world.
Subhankar Banerjee has evolved into one of the finest tabla players in the country. He is the choice accompanist for stalwarts in the country. He has performed all over the world including at the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo along with Pt Shivkumar Sharma and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Ayman Boujlida is a Tunisian Jazz drummer who has learnt and performed with some of the greatest names in percussion history including Billy Coham and Dave Weckl. He has graduated from Prasanna’s academy and performed with him. He brought in the western Jazz touch to the percussion section of this ensemble.
Finally, the very accomplished Amrit on the khanjira gave the richness of sound to the entire ensemble. His lightning speed, thunderous power and clarity have endeared him to the global audience. He continues to take his passion to new horizons and audiences.