His heart beats for percussion

His heart beats for percussion

global collaborator

His heart beats for percussion

A true-blue English percussionist who also contributes music to James Bond films is playing alongside tribal drummers from the heart of Chhattisgarh! It may sound like an unusual combination.

For world-renowned multi-percussionist and recording artiste Pete Lockett, this is just another day in his life, which has seen countless collaborations with musicians of different genres from around the world. And every one in the audience is enchanted.

With his open mind and versatility, Lockett was drawn to percussion traditions of the world early on in life. Besides the western tradition to which he belongs, he is well-versed in Arabic, Japanese, African, Latin and Indian musical traditions. He is known for his hugely popular and critically appreciated solo performances.

To talk of the Indian connection first... He has a large body of work with Indian classical and folk artistes (including those based in India and abroad.)

His collaborations for records/stage include performances with maestros like Zakir Hussain, Mandolin U Srinivas, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Jasraj, Vikku Vinayakram, Kadri Gopalnath, Shankar Ghosh, Bickram Ghosh, V Selvaganesh, Sivamani, Ronu Majumdar, T V Gopalakrishnan, Shashank, Ganesh-Kumaresh, Taufiq Qureshi, Niladri Kumar, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Nitin Sawhney, Amit Chatterjee, U Rajesh, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, Ghatam Suresh, A R Rahman et al.

Lockett also has to his credit widely-appreciated musical ventures with folk musicians from Rajasthan and tribal drummers from Chhattisgarh.

This was possible because Lockett trained extensively in Indian percussion. “I was first drawn to Indian music during a Festival of India concert featuring Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan. I wanted to learn more about this genre.” He began learning tabla in the UK. “I have soaked myself in Hindustani percussion traditions for decades now.” In the mid-1980s he began learning the mridangam and khanjira, thus making Carnatic music part of his vast knowledge base. He even knows konakkol. “I am a great fan of G Harishankar, the exceptional khanjira artiste,” he says.

All this stems from his great admiration for Indian music. “Indians have one of the most evolved musical traditions in the world. First, there are the great aesthetics. And then, look at the mathematics involved in their percussion, like mridangam or tabla-play. Think of all the nuances in Indian rhythm traditions!” he points out.  And though he is a multi-percussionist, the tabla is his favourite. “Its linear rhythms and the range of tones are absolutely amazing... I just love the sound.”

Lockett’s wife is a pianist. However, he grew up in a non-musical family, in Hampshire, UK. As a young man (in his late teens), he was drawn to the drums, and relocated to London with little money and few connections to mould his passion as a career.

Many years and much hard work later, he made a name for himself as he evolved into a brilliant percussionist. He learnt to play the Japanese taiko and African drums. His musical calibre made him a sought-after collaborator. He has recorded and/or toured with leading names like London Philharmonic Orchestra, Peter Gabriel, Amy Winehouse, Bjork, The Verve, Robert Plant, Kodo, Afro Celt Sound System et al. Author of two books on purcussion, Lockett is currently the Honorary Professor at Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Lockett’s concerts and records, a fusion of South Indian rhythms, North Indian folk music patterns and international beats, have been appreciated for being a smooth amalgam rather than a mish-mash.

How tough are these joint musical ventures with traditions across the world? “It is all about finding a middle ground. I first try to understand the other artistes’ kind of music. For example, listening to Indian tribal musicians I realised they play set grooves, almost trance-like. Once I have grasped the essence of the other tradition and nuances, it is a two or three-way dialogue that happens on the stage with the musicians — be it folk or classical.”

And no, the celebrated musician does not hold that classical music is in any way superior to folk music. “They are both alike and different. Actually, folk music is where it all started. For the folk artiste, his music is part of his everyday life. The rural musicians I have seen play straight from the heart.”

Lockett has a highly impressive track record, even in the film industry. The films he has contributed to are Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (James Bond films), The Incredible Hulk 2, Moulin Rouge, The Insider, The Bone Collector, City of Angels etc.

How does he compare the making of music for films and his live performances? “Well, both call for high levels of creativity, but there is some difference. For example, in James Bond films, the musical format has to be uniform with similar rhythm references, but the flavours and tones have to be different each time. There is electronic programming, recording, re-recording and working to a strict plan decided by the filmmaker. Such music is challenging and I feel honoured to do such projects. However, in a film, the director is king and he decides everything. In a live concert, when one considers the Indian manodharma feature, there is a great deal of spontaneity and free-flow of one’s imagination,” Lockett explains.

So, will he play for Bollywood? “Well, it would be great if I get such offers! But I don’t make many plans for the future. I just want to go on making good music that people enjoy.”

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