Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Magic Beats Of Trilok Gurtu

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Magic Beats Of Trilok Gurtu

The Mumbai-bred, Hamburg-settled drummer recently performed in Mumbai at the Tata Theatre in NCPA

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Friday, March 08, 2024, 03:40 PM IST
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When drummer Trilok Gurtu walked on to the Tata Theatre stage on Saturday, March 2, he was received with a huge response. It was his third concert in Mumbai over the past month, and fans were thrilled to see him.

Each of the three shows had different types of music. The Tata show featured Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and pianist Rita Marcotulli playing jazz and world music. Besides compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim of Brazil (O Que Tinha de Ser) and Armando Manzanero of Mexico (El Ciego), they played individual creations of the three members. Gurtu’s pieces consisted of Water Song, based on the five elements, and Balatho. The show was part of a tour that included New Delhi and Bengaluru.

Earlier, the Mumbai-bred, Hamburg-settled drummer did the solo set Peace Of The Five Elements on February 1 at the Studio Theatre of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC). At the same venue on February 2, he led a group comprising vocalist Chandana Bala Kalyan, keyboardist Rahul Wadhwani, and drummers Vaibhav Wavikar, Shravan Samsi and Umesh Varbhuvan. They played fresh arrangements of pieces like Om, Maracatu and Jhulelal.

All shows were completely different from Gurtu’s appearance at Tata Theatre in February last year with the Castle In Time Orchestra, an Israeli outfit conducted by Matan Daskal. That show showcased the interaction between a solo artiste and an orchestra.

One wouldn’t be surprised at the diversity of styles. After all, Gurtu has loved interacting with different types of musicians, whether in his solo projects or while collaborating with guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Jan Garbarek or producer Robert Miles.

The son of thumri doyenne Shobha Gurtu, the 72-year-old drummer is seven months younger than Ustad Zakir Hussain. In their own way, both musicians have played a major role in taking Indian percussion forward. While the former is one of the greatest tabla maestros, Gurtu bridges drumming and percussion. On stage, he uses a mix of the traditional drum kit with a djembe, tabla, cajon and maracas, besides dipping shells and bells in a bucket of water to create a special effect. He half-kneels or stands while playing. While his basic sound is rooted in Indian music, he has incorporated elements from Africa, Latin America, European folk, China and Japan, creating a distinctive style.

The young Gurtu began by learning the tabla from Abdul Karim, who played dholak in Hindi films. When he was 13, he had to suddenly accompany his mother when the scheduled accompanist did not turn up. He also took guidance from the maestro Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa.

In his early 20s, he shifted to the drum kit, beginning with the Mumbai band Waterfront, which played at nightclubs and pop concerts. He was also part of R.D. Burman’s live troupe. Later, he went on to become one of the most admired names in jazz and world music percussion, winning the Downbeat award for best drummer on numerous occasions. Yet, he continued to take guidance in taal vidya from Suresh Talwalkar.

While his live shows invariably spring new surprises, his extensive discography contains many gems. Among albums he’s led, one can start with early masterpieces like Crazy Saints and Usfret, featuring Shobha Gurtu, or check The Glimpse, a tribute to trumpeter Don Cherry. The 2000 record African Fantasy featured singers Angelique Kidjo, Sabine Kabongo and Oumou Sangare, and The Beat Of Love, released the following year, had Roopkumar Rathod. Gurtu’s last two albums God Is A Drummer, dedicated to his spiritual guru Ranjit Maharaj, and One Thought Away are also recommended.

Gurtu’s best-known collaborations have been in Live At The Royal Festival Hall and Que Alegria with McLaughlin. With Robert Miles, he released the experimental Miles Gurtu. He also played on violinist L Shankar’s Song For Everyone with Garbarek and Zakir Hussain.

Last year, Gurtu had told this writer that his focus would be on doing quality concerts. “I won’t compromise on my style by playing anything to please the audience,” he said. One surely looks forward to more.

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