James Asher Travels to India Part 2
In Bombay with Mahesh Vinayakram
In January 2009, I made another trip to India, visiting Bombay, Chennai and Jaipur.
Being in Bombay offered a chance to meet up with Times Music, and do some promotional work for Bravado Masala. Mahesh Vinayakram, with whom I made this album, came to Bombay as one of the musicians playing for a large and colourful dance show at the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts).
This vibrant presentation involved 60 dancers and combined several forms of traditional Indian Dance.Mahesh delivered a magnificent contribution with spirited vocal gymnastics that was well attuned to the energy and vitality of the dance. Together Mahesh and I conducted a series of press interviews and also filmed a TV interview for NDTV.
We were also introduced to a successful Bollywood composer – Anand Raj Anand, who was an inspiring person to meet. Full of creative ideas and enthusiasm, he played a selection of his recent songs, which were not only great songs, but excellently produced by his engineer Kohinoor, both of whom are clearly extremely talented.
Anand suggested how we might collaborate on a project, and we look forward to exploring the idea of this joint venture in the future. We were introduced to Anand by Shekhar Mennon, a lawyer specialising in music and media, who was warm and welcoming to Bombay. We also enjoyed meeting up with him, and look forward to staying in touch.
In Chennai with Sivamani at the Sangamum Festival
Bombay is the now the home town for Sivamani, with whom I recorded Drums on Fire back in 2003. We were lucky enough to catch him in the midst of his very busy performing schedule. He was in exuberant form, and it was great to see how well established he is, as was confirmed by frequent requests by passers by for his autograph etc. He entertained us lavishly at his home, and was full of stories, humour and fun.
Sivamani played his recently released album ‘Mahaleela’ for us, which is a major tour de force, and magnificently recorded. The culmination of years of work, excellently concluded. As we were due to head on to Chennai anyway, we accepted his invitation to come a day earlier to join him in his performance for the closing ceremonies of the Sangamum Festival. Not really sure what to expect this to be like, the scale, colour and celebrational quality of this event was staggering.
Sivamani invited me to join him for the opening number of the show, and introduced me to the crowd. I played the ashiko drum I had with me, and jamming with him was not only a lot of fun but a brilliant experience.
Successions of costumed traditional folklore drummers and dancers came in procession up onto to the stage, and the atmosphere in the warm night air on the Chennai beach where it was staged was jubilant and exciting.
Visiting AR Rahman at his studio in Chennai
Whilst in Chennai, I was lucky enough to meet up with AR Rahman – the winner of the recent oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. He invited me to visit his studio, which is a large, impressive and obviously highly capable facility. We chatted about Slumdog, and I mentioned reading that he appreciated the fact that Danny Boyle has a genuine affection for India, which he confirmed. AR exudes a warmth and gentle quality, which is most engaging, and for all his success, which is clearly now huge, he remains humble, grounded and affable.
He invited me to give a talk to the music conservatory that is run with his support – the KM Music Conservatory – to talk about what I do in my field of music and how I go about it. This was clearly an honour, which I appreciated. The next day I gave the talk to about 30 students, and played excerpts from my albums and explained how they came into being.
Impromptu music making with Uma Mohan in Chennai
Mahesh and I had some other good visits in Chennai. Times Music had introduced us to Uma Mohan, a remarkable singer, who has made many albums of a spiritually inclined nature for Times Music. She kindly forgave us for being late for lunch after our extended meeting with AR Rahman, and we had a marvellous afternoon of impromptu music making. Her whole family is highly musical – her mother who has written many excellent songs, which she sang for us, and her two daughters both of whom play piano, sing and help with production in their home studio. A really fun visit. If they were to get Skype, we could carry on with virtual jamming!
Navin Iyer (Chandar) – the amazing flute player who had joined us from the Delhi Wedding in December lives in Chennai. He hosted me for a day with great warmth, and gave me a good sense of Chennai. It was exciting to see the outer shell of the studio he is building, which looks like it will be a great facility, and his family were kind and most hospitable.
Our further promo activities included radio interviews for All India Radio, Radio Mirchi and a TV shoot for SS Music. At this latter Mahesh and I performed several numbers from Bravado Masala, did some in the moment improvising and interviews.
Food, Fusion and Funk with Manju Malhi at the Jaipur Literary Festival
The final leg of the trip was in Jaipur. My friend Manju Malhi, who is an author of cookbooks, a chef and TV presenter (NDTV) invited us to join her for a food and music lunch event, as part of the Jaipur Literary Festival. This event was organised by Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Productions, and held at the Clerks Amer Hotel in Jaipur – a stylish venue with a delightful garden. Our lunch event was held by the swimming pool behind the hotel. Manju created a special menu and food selection, and gave a cooking demonstration. After this we played – Mahesh Vinayakram singing, Navin Iyer (Chandar) on flute, Prasad Karembelkar on tables and myself drumming. The music met a great response, and the idea of combining the food and music elements proved successful and fun.
Samit Garg from efactor4u accepted my invitation to attend the lunch, and he brought with him Bill McKinnon who is a balloon pilot, and business colleague. Sadly my flight was early the next morning, and I couldn’t go, but the others – Manju, Mahesh and Navin enjoyed a balloon ride over Jaipur – wow! See Manju’s shots.
The Indian connection continues strongly for me, and I look forward with enthusiasm to the next part of this adventure. India is unique as a country – the warm spirit of the people, the deep-rooted connection to longstanding expressions of spirituality, its extraordinary appreciation and love of music, and its astonishing and striking prowess and agility both with computers and media generally give it an edge not found elsewhere.