It was a chilly early spring Sunday morning in the late 1990’s while I was still living in Sweden. My jazz loving friend, Nelson, decided that I needed a musical Sunday brunch and dragged me, a little unwillingly to a breakfast concert at a club in Lund, Sweden. I had never been to a club in the daytime and had my 5+ daughter in tow (because it was Sunday morning and it was usually our time together). I was not too sure what exactly Nelson had in mind, because as was his nature, he remained mysterious, only insisting that I come with him.
On reaching the club, I saw a poster introducing Trilok Gurtu as a ‘world musician’ who excels in experimenting with different instruments. I, of course, as a typical middle class south Indian woman, had had enough exposure to classical music to recognize the name “Gurtu” from the erstwhile Shobha Gurtu who I admired greatly. But the skeptic in me refused to accept that any celebrity kid, especially one who ‘experiments’ could have even a shadow of his mother’s talent.
And so we walked into the club to find scattered seating as you have in any normal café (well, it was a breakfast concert!) the sight of which made be doubly sure that this was going to be one of those non-serious concerts, where no one is really paying attention to the music.. you know, the kind you saw in slightly pretentious restaurants in India in the 80’s and 90’s where in a corner, on a small dais sat a small group of classical/semi classical singers/musicians singing in the background trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to disturb your dinner conversations….THAT kind!!! The only redeeming factor seemed the fact that all chairs faced the stage and the buffet was laid out at the back end of the room… so well, at least someone was pretending to be serious about the music! AND, the room was full… although, I questioned whether it was for the breakfast or the music?
We found a table as close to the stage as we could, grabbed our breakfast and settled into the chairs, waiting for the performance to begin. Nishita, of course, refused to stay in her chair… and just as I began to freak out over her running all around the place, Nelson pointed out some dozen toddlers doing exactly that. “Let her be”… was his favorite phrase every time he saw me restricting her from doing anything, anyways! So, letting her be… I focused first on the breakfast and then on the hitherto empty stage. About 30mins after we had arrived, the stage began to be populated with different instruments, some I recognized as Indian, some Nelson recognized as African and the rest remained mysterious. Some 10mins anticipation and Trilok Gurtu took his place on the stage, alone!
The next couple of hours were one of the most mesmerizing hours of my life, as he proceeded to first, introduce the instruments, individually, and then in combination, bringing out melodies and sounds that were unbelievably evocative. He was playing some half a dozen different instruments, by himself. Slowly the stage became populated with 3 other artists. Each entry was a short solo with whichever instrument/s they would be playing followed by a blending of sounds from those already present on the stage. I cannot even begin to describe how wonderfully seamless the whole introductory episode was. And what followed left me filled with incredulous joy and enlightenment. It made me change my taste, my views about non-Indian, non-classical/semi-classical music. The music itself was rooted in classical Indian, blended with folk music from India, Africa and other countries/continents that I could not identify.
It was an amazing experience… the fusion… of music, of melodies, of cultures, of colors. It made me realize once again, how closed we Indians tend to be… so sure that “OUR” music, our food, our way-of-life, our beliefs ARE THE best in the world… we forget that if we close the doors of our minds and our senses, the outside world may have progressed far far beyond us.
The room, that day was filled with Scandinavians, for whom, in reality, this kind of music was very very far from anything that was familiar to them and yet they were curious and open enough to want to come and listen to it. And through the two hours of the concert, there were no murmurs that drew your attention away from the music…no screeching chairs, no crying toddlers…nothing! Even though the little ones present were running around and playing, I have no recollection of being disturbed by their presence. And although there was an Indian at the center stage, the only Indians present were my friend Narmada, Nishita and me. That day, I promised myself that I would always be willing to experiment, willing to expose myself and my senses to new and unfamiliar experiences…. And have never regretted that… it has added dimensions to my character/personality that would otherwise not be part of who I am today. All this I owe to this one, unforgettable experience.
I have heard fusion music and artists who are way better than Trilok Gurtu, since then…but as my first exposure to this genre, he deserves all the credit…