Q Theatre, Penrith, February 24, 2013.
About 1500 years ago a tribe that would become known as the Roma, or Gypsies, straggled westward from northern India. Their phased progress brought them to the Balkans 600 years later. There some stayed and others dispersed across Europe, including to Spain, where they arrived in the 1400s.
This slice of history is handy to understand how Andalucia’s flamenco music came to have conceptual overlaps with Hindustani music. It is these overlaps that Adrian McNeil (sarod), Damian Wright (flamenco guitar) and Bobby Singh (tabla) explore in their fascinating cross-cultural project, Rasa Duende. “Rasa” is the aesthetic, emotional and spiritual core of Indian culture, and “duende” the heightening of life as it stares at death that underpins flamenco’s passion and drama.
They began the afternoon by hosting a cooking demonstration. While Singh cooked an aloo gobi curry McNeil drew parallels between the ingredients and a raga’s notes; between cooking and improvising. With some refinement this strategy for offering a rudimentary introduction to Hindustani music will have wide appeal.
A taste of the curry later we heard the theories realised as McNeil and Singh shared a pensive afternoon raga. Wright then performed a solo flamenco piece, so we had nibbled on the two separate ingredients before the fusion feast: the intertwined intellectualism and spirituality of Indian music followed by impassioned, dramatic flamenco.
Areas of overlap between the genres include modal improvising rather than harmonic movement, and rhythm cycles with stressed and unstressed beats rather than time signatures. When Singh overlaid a 12-beat flamenco bulerias cycle with a 12-beat Hindustani pattern of different stresses the effect was a rhythmic complexity that was both labyrinthine and playful. The most successful fusion of all was the raga Kirwani, where a rumba-related rhythm bound the idioms, engendering crying sarod lines and ravishing guitar.
This project is still some distance from a complete and unselfconscious marriage, but the lengthy honeymoon is already full of surprises.
Rasa Duende performs at Camelot Lounge, March 3.