It goes without saying that legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar is held in high esteem by Indian folk musicians. At the same token, there is also perhaps a sense of frustration among some that, nearly 50 years after he introduced George Harrison (and the rest of the world) to the sitar’s psychedelic sound, Western audiences have not come to embrace Indian music more widely.
Svara-Kanti won’t necessarily do much to change that – especially since this is effectively their debut – but nonetheless, the quartet’s stated remit is to expose audiences to lesser-known styles of Indian music, married with elements of Western folk music.
Punjabi folk song O Pardesiya is given a contemporary overhaul by Simon Thacker’s looping guitar reverb, and though the effect is impressive, it comes off as rather pedestrian when put next to some of Svara-Kanti’s more experimental material.
Nada Ananda, a three-part piece originally written by Indian composer Shirish Korde, certainly fits that category. Thacker precedes the song by offering a technical explanation of why Korde’s composition is an unusual one to Western ears, but an inaudible “whoosh” glides over the heads of the audience as they return Thacker’s earnest explanation with blank stares.
Once Thacker lets his guitar do the talking, he opens Nada Ananda with a rhythmless string of isolated and seemingly unrelated notes that are by no means an easy listen, but sustained attention yields considerable reward. Sarvar Sabri’s mesmeric tabla percussion is a delight throughout, and it’s especially welcome once Nada Ananda segues from the “Alap” (the difficult bit) to the “In Strict Rhythm” (the less difficult bit).
Sa Mi Pa Ma Ni follows at a whipping pace, with vocalist Japjit Kaur and violinist Jyotsna Srikanth driving a song that would easily outstrip anything on Musselburgh Racecourse. Elsewhere, a flamenco-inspired piece is perhaps the most memorable of tonight’s eclectic selection, but it’s testament to the subtleness of the fusions that such influences are not so obvious on other songs. A fine first outing.