DELHI TO DAMASCUS
(In a Circle)
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma calls tabla virtuoso Sandeep Das “a creator myths”, and this album offers eight more such myths. Das’s guru told him that to become a great tabla player he firstly had to make his hands like swords, then like streams and finally like flowers. Now deep into the flower phase, Das consistently makes profoundly beautiful music blossom, regardless of context. Famed for his collaboration with the late Ravi Shankar and with Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, here Das leads his own HUM (harmony and universality through music) Ensemble.
Their motto is “transcending borders one note at a time”, hence the album’s title, reflecting that three great Indian musicians, Das, Rajib Karmakar (sitar) and Suhail Yusuf Khan (sarangi, vocals) are joined by Syrian oud virtuoso Kinan Adnawi. Too often cross-cultural collaborations are surface-deep, or exercises in cynical cultural appropriation, but this one triumphs by allowing both the Delhi and Damascus elements to retain their own identities, while taking flight together via keen ears, open hearts and the miracle of supreme improvisational skills. Then, when the oud sits out, HUM serves up vibrant, sensationally-recorded Indian classical music.