June 24 2015
Rare and not widely rendered in a South Asian context, this musician’s enchantment with the piano and Indian classical music has led to a debut album of some distinction…
WHEN musician Rekesh Chauhan says he specialises in classical Indian piano, he draws quizzical looks often.
But his newly released album shows a musician of versatility and verve, and one not afraid to take risks.
Modest, quietly spoken, the 24-year-old economics graduate from Birmingham, has been a feature of the Indian classical scene a while (first performing at 12) and was handpicked last year to play for Bollywood star Govinda.
“Beyond Roots” the name of his first album articulates his musical journey, one which shows increasing signs of mixing Indian classical influences with jazz.
“I’ve been heavily influenced by Indian classical music,” Chauhan told www.asianculturevulture.com. “But lately, I’ve been going more towards jazz and experimenting – there’s more of a landscape feel, a storytelling and a journey.”
He very much enjoys collaborating and for “Beyond Roots”, released last month, he has tied up with one of the foremost exponents of tabla, Kousic Sen.
The two first met when Sen wanted an Indian classical music pianist for a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre in 2013 and the musical connection deepened.
“Our musical journey began there. My fascination with exploring how the genus of music from my Indian heritage can synergise with other styles stems from this.”
In the album, produced by Milpafest, a charity that both supports and promotes Indian classical music in the UK, Chauhan has gone ‘beyond’ the piano and the predictable.
“I decided to stick to the traditional format of an Indian classical Music recital; the piano itself provides me with the perfect brewing ground to amalgamate and experiment with different musical styles,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com
“I have been fortunate enough to record this album at the beautiful Capstone Theatre (Liverpool) which helped confine that live ambiance I set out to capture – at its heart, this album encapsulates the compassion and sound from my roots which I hope you will enjoy and take you on a journey ‘Beyond Roots’.
Chauhan has been part of a trio of musicians involved with Project Avartan, which has played in Portugal and brings together different traditions to make new compositions (one of Chauhan’s longstanding collaborators on this is violinist John Garner).
“I like mixing music styles and creating different tracks, it’s a bit like a Bombay Mix,” he described.
He first began with the guitar when he was young and comes from a musical family – his father is a classical composer.
“I had guitar lessons way back in primary school and then I got a keyboard and I was fascinated by what I could do; it grew into a passion and I started to spend a lot more time on the keyboard, I found it easier to compose on a piano.
He told www.asianculturevulture.com his sound is more ‘World Music’ than fusion and he is always looking to collaborate and find a new and arresting dimension to Indian classical music.
Chauhan has accompanied Mercury Prize winner tabla maestro Talvin Singh and upcoming sarod player Soumik Datta and enjoys the cut and thrust of differing styles and adapting and learning.
One of his highlights to date has been playing alongside Ashit and Hema Desai, who are well known for Indian choir.
In the classical Indian tradition, there really is no concept of a choir – ensemble yes, but obviously the numbers are smaller.
Ashit Desai has been composing and making music for more than 15 years and was enlisted by the late great Ravi Shankar to help him with grand compositions such as that for the Asiad (Asian Games).
Desai has imaginatively been adapting classical Indian music for choir performances and Chauhan said it was a special thrill to play piano for the much admired singing duo.
Last year, he was invited to play for Bollywood star Govinda. One of the industry’s most enduring and popular figures, best known for his comedy roles, he enjoys cult status in India and has maintained a loyal fan base despite being a Congress politician some years back. His mother was a well-known singer.
“It was quite surreal,” Chauhan recalled. “You’ve seen him on the big screen all the time – and there he was saying very kind words about my music.”
Of his own influences, he cites the great tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.
“I’ve been to so many of his concerts and the way he adapts styles and relates to different audiences is something I admire a lot. It’s very inspiring.”
He’s been exploring the greats of Bollywood music – Lata Mangeshkar is another singer whose songs he has been listening to more, lately.
He also said classical pianist Lang Lang is someone he looks up to – the Chinese prodigy now commands a global fan base and is a well-known figure on the western classical musical circuit.
So “Beyond Roots” is very much the snapshot of a developing artist, one doing something different and unusual too.
“Having being brought up in Britain I have always been exposed to a wide variety of music which has been intrinsic to my upbringing combined with traditional Indian classical music as my foundation.”
‘Beyond Roots’ Rekesh Chauhan (featuring Kousic Sen) out now £7.99 see here http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/beyond-roots-feat.-kousic-sen/id999817276?
Rekesh Chauhan youtube channel
‘Beyond Roots’ Youtube channel promo