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Trechi Shankaran

COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

MAN ALIVE

"DRUM SHOW" PART 3

INTERVIEW W TRECHI SHANKARAN 1:

TRECHI, WHAT YEAR DID YOU COME TO CANADA?

I came to Canada in the year 1971.

'71. SO THAT'S 22 YEARS AGO.

That's right.

HOW OLD WERE YOU?

I was ah let me think. Ah 29.

29 WHEN YOU CAME. WHAT DID YOU FIND THE RHYTHM OF LIFE LIKE WHEN YOU CAME TO CANADA?

Rhythm of life.

IT'S A TOTALLY DIFFERENT RHYTHM IN INDIA THAN IN CANADA EVEN IN THE YEAR 1971. WAS IT VERY SLOW FOR YOU, VERY FAST FOR YOU?

Ah in a sense it was ah it was fast life here compared to what I was used to back home in India. And also it was more of ah cultural shock for me. Ah ah many things, of course you know people looked totally new to me and it took some time for me to ah undersand the way they were speaking even though I was used to speaking in English but even though it was not a common conversational thing back home in India except studying only in college. So to understand their accents and things and the total pace was quite different.

NOW YOU GREW UP AND AS THE PICTURE ON THE WALL YOU MADE YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEBUT AT WHAT AGE?

At the age of 13.

13. YOU HAD A CLASSICAL TRAINING IN THE SENSE YOU HAD ACTUALLY A GURU, A GURU WHO TAUGHT YOU THE DRUMS.

Yes. I studied in the traditional, the method called guru kula method. Of course it started off in my own family. I studied first under my cousin ah Piev Enkuturamin and then ah I studied under the great master that was his guru, Poloneze Birmani Pilei.

THE DRUM IN THE WEST IS THOUGHT OF AS A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT WHICH IT IS BUT DOES IT HAVE A GREATER DIMENSION IN INDIA, IN INDIAN DRUMMING?

Yes it does, it does have greater dimension.

CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT IT.

Okay we can do that again. Okay is it a trial, you already started?

NO NO, WE'RE STARTED.

Okay sorry, okay. Did I say the age right when I came? Let me think. Ah that's right, I'm 51 now, right.

GOOD.

Okay. I had to think, okay.

SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS ADDED DIMENSION IN INDIAN DRUMMING?

When you are asking about the added dimension you want to know like the cultural context and everything?

THE CULTURAL, SPECIFICALLY THE SPIRITUAL.

The spiritual context. Okay. Ah music, dance and drumming are highly integrated with with, with the cultural life and religious life in India. In fact we don't see a separation and it's an integrated whole the way I have experienced the way they operate. And drumming really plays an important role. There is no festive occasion without music and dance and specifically drumming. And drumming is used on all occasions on all cultural activities and religious activities including in religious from the earlier days, announcement of events and things like that. So you know, drumming is used as a mode of communication, as a power of communication. And in the spiritual sense drumming is used to evoke spirits you know from the village level to the urban level, and ah and it's supposed to evoke spirits and also the person who gets into trance. Drumming is considered to have been really supportive to that, that's the supportive element. Really it enhances and it creates tht kind of excitment. So there are so many aspects around drumming.

LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THE ENTRANCEMENT PART OF IT BECAUSE I THINK YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR STUDIES AND BECAUSE OF HOW YOU LEARNED YOU HAVE A LOT TO TELL US ABOUT THAT. AND THIS IS VERY COMMON IN OTHER CULTURES. IT'S COMMON IN ALL INDIGENOUS CULTURES AROUND THE WORLD.

Of course.

THE DRUM IS USED FOR FESTIVE OCCASIONS BUT IT'S ALSO USED TO PUT THE PRACTITIONER OF THE DRUM AND OTHERS INTO TRANCE, INTO DEEP TRANCE.

Yes.

CAN YOU TELL ME HOW YOU THINK THAT WORKS MECHANICALLY IN THE BODY, WHY THE DRUM IS SO GOOD AT PUTTING PEOPLE INTO TRANCE.

Okay. Probably here I can relate just my own experience. I think it is the best, you know, I can I can think of. Ah ah even though I am classically trained, the drumming that I the drums that I perform come from the classical tradition but looking at the drumming at an aspect in general and how it works in the body movement and how it is felt deep insight, perhaps there's nothing better than citing my own experiences here. Ah perhaps in the beginning when I was learning I just you know to get .... as art. Of course the teacher felt in me some natural talent, some kind of rhythm some rhythmic capabilities, the mixed skills maybe inborn or ah or he noticed something, whatever. I was really fascinated even as a child so I actually started at the age of 5 so to speak. So in the beginning it was just to me a fascination and I love the drum sounds because the music was happening all the time in my home. Ah so probably I didn't really take it you know too ah deep so as to feel in my body and things like that. So it was more, you know, learning something, learning an art, that kind of thing. In later years, ah as I matured as a performer and relating to ah ah the melodic music, the raga music ah I started experiencing a lot of deeper ah details. I came to ah ah a total understanding of the meaning of drumming because what it has done, it continues to do to me is to really ah one thing, uplift my energy because energy is always associated with drumming and ah and really it takes me to a different state, different state of mind and in that I'm able to really relate my drumming to the music and and have begun to experience that as a whole. And sometimes, you know, I can't even separate my drumming from the music because it has become one of it. And in that aspect if I want to go further, I would like to talk about what I consider ah lya. Lya is the term, is the Sanscript name which has several meanings. One of them is oneness; that is tuned with time. And that to me is more of a religious experience. Since I worship nada sound as god and of course in a rhythm energy and all related to sound so this becomes in a way a religious experience for me and also totally, you know individualized experience. It's my own individual experience in that. And in that oftentimes I go into a deeper meditation with my sound and sometimes I think that's what really makes me just to go with my drumming with a lot more ideas, particularly when I am in an improvisatory session and things like that. So to me it's very symbolic in one sense; it's very spiritual and it really uplifts my energy and not necessarily when I think of rhythm, probably I can also talk more about that. Rhythm is not sometimes always really ah up and up and up in energy and it can also really calm. And depending upon what type of rhythms I play and how I play and how I experience.

CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF SAY THE RHYTHMS THAT CALM VERSUS THE RHYTHMS THAT

I'm going to try because sometimes it's hard to separate it from the context and try to do instantaneously but I'm going to show it. Here I will use the conjyra. It's a .... drum which has the lizard skin. When I speak about the sound that can really calm your mind and ah and really experience something, kind of really put you in lull so to speak, (drumming)

SOMETHING'S HAPPENING THERE WITH THE HEARTBEAT I FEEL.

Yes.

CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT.

Sure. Generally I think it's ah it's also talked about in other cultures that I have seen, how rhythms are really connected to heart beat. It's very interesting. In Indian experience, rhythms are related to breathing. They call it prana energy. And it's amazing of course the breathing, heart beat, they are all life elements. And in fact the whole ah tala, that's the name for all the rhythmic aspects. Tala is a generic term which encompasses all aspects concerning rhythm. Tala is defined in terms of dasa pranas, 10 vital elements. And the way they have discovered is the most important one is even the very way they have said is prana, is the lift element, energy, breathing, heart beat . And that I think really summarizes.

SO WHAT YOU WERE DOING, THAT PARTICULR RHYTHM, THAT CALMING RHYTHM IN ESSENCE MY HEART BEAT WAS SLOWING DOWN.

Mhm.

THAT WAS THE RESPONSE. THERE IS A PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSE.

There's a physiological response and at the same time when I am making a sound and just this particular example I was giving you on the kanjura I was making a sound and then I was connecting to the next sound. And in that, I was actually experiencing in one sense the duration. In another sense I was really experiencing the silence because to me the sound and the silence, if we think the sounds are important, silences are equally important. And I think that's what makes music so beautiful. And sometimes the silence has much more to say than the actual sound. Ah in other words we can call that profound silence.

BEAUTIFUL. VERY NICE.

(B.G. TALK)

VERY NICE. THIS IS GOING YOU FEEL VERY GOOD AND I FEEL VERY GOOD TOO. THIS IS GOOD.

Thank you. I didn't demonstrate the exciting one because ...

WELL WE CAN GET TO THAT. IT'S A NATURAL TIME TO I THINK GET INTO A MORE EXCITING RHYTHM. COULD YOU DEMONSTRATE.

Oh okay sorry. Okay some of the exciting moments can be related to rhythms such as the following. (drumming)

(laughter)

YEAH VERY EXCITING.

Okay. Really up up and up in energy.

AND ALSO

(B.G. TALK)

Some of the exciting rhythms can be demonstrated in the following way. (drumming)

I'VE GOT TO TAKE A DEEP BREATH. YEAH, SOMETHING IS HAPPENING THERE. IT'S A PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSE. WHEN YOU CAME TO THE WEST AND NO I WANT TO BACK UP. LET'S START SOMEWHERE ELSE. BECAUSE I WANT TO GET TO IS IT A CHILA YOUR

We call a ryaz or saddana practice.

THERE IS A PRACTICE BUT YOU ALSO AS PART OF YOUR PRACTICE ... WITH YOUR GURU YOU DID A RETREAT.

A kind of retreat you can say yes, that's right.

YOU WERE IN ISOLATION?

Not in total isolation. That's why I said it's a kind of retreat. But all the time, all the time with my guru. And in fact I observed that one whole year with my cousin, my first teacher and then another year with my guru doing nothing but music, nothing but music.

ALL DAY LONG.

All day long. In fact I had done like 8, 9 hours a day practice. Probably I think that's what is still keeping me going. (chuckles)

I'VE HEARD IT SAID IN SUCH TIMES THAT THE PERSON WHO IS THE STUDENT CAN EXPERIENCE SOME VERY UNUSUAL THINGS IN SUCH EXPERIENCE. DID THAT HAPPEN TO YOU?

Oh absolutely.

WHAT KINDS OF THINGS HAPPENED?

Ah some of things I can think of ah relate to for example after listening to the master's performance in concert, I'd be in a in a trance actually you know, thinking about the concert, the way the master had played and ah that to me was a was a unique experience.

ANY VISIONS?

Visions in the sense like the music would be ringing in my ears and I would be thinking about it for easily another week or two and things like that. And this was like a total immersion. And also the occasions that I had with my guru to play duels in concerts which was also a unique opportunity. Not every disciple ah happens to get that, only the senior disciple and also whom the guru had you know the total trust in terms of keeping the playing, you know, had been given that kind of chance. And I had performed on many occasions and on the concert stage I wouldn't in the concert hall I wouldn't know anything else excepting the music and my master's face and his hands and the drumming and nothing else. And those were some memorable, memorable moments in my life. And it was totally totally music.

OKAY NEW TAPE.

INTERVIEW W TRECHI SHANKARAN 2:

OKAY YOU WERE SAYING THAT YOU WANTED TO TALK ABOUT AN EXPERIENCE IN BANGALA.

That's right. This was in the early '60s. I was featured in a concert with one of the senior musicians at that time and this concert was part of a big ah rama namami festival, a festival held in honour of Lord Rama. It was like a 10 day concert series. It was a beautiful setting and some actually close to thousand people in the audience in the open pundal. And the whole atmosphere was so serene and sure we had had our exciting moments in our music concert and then after the drum solo happened a moment actually which was part of a song which I was accompanying, and I was totally involved with that. Generally you know I am I want to be totally involved whenever I play. It's not that only for that piece but it somehow it was so intense on that particular day at that concert. And I was trying to match the music with the suitable patterns on my drum. Sure enough it matched well and all that but I wasn't happy. I still tried and I was this was the experience that was going deeper inside me. And then at one stage, I simply stopped. I was listening to the music. I enjoyed. I thought that was the greatest accompaniment I ever provided. It's still so vivid.

YOUR FACE IS LIKE A LIGHT BULB.

Thank you.

THAT'S A GREAT STORY.

Thank you.

THAT'S GREAT. WHEN YOU CAME NOW LET'S LEAP AHEAD. WHEN YOU CAME TO THE WEST COMPARED TO INDIAN, COMPARED TO AFRICA, OUR RHYTHMIC TRADITION IS IMPOVERISHED. DID THAT SURPRISE YOU? HOW DID YOU ADAPT?

In fact several things surprised me. The first and foremost thing that really surprised me was when I was hearing ah ah a string ensemble at youk playing and I was looking for something. I was looking for a drum. There was no drum because in India I have never seen any concert, any music concert without drum. My goodness. Doesn't mean, you know, didn't mean the rhythm was not part of the music or anything. Sure enough I could hear the rhythm but I was looking for the drum. So that was kind of interesting, a shock to me. And then ah I started listening to music and experience what was going on in this culture, the thing that surprised me was that like mostly the rhythm seemed to me relatively speaking, you know, rather simple compared to what I had been into and what I am exposed to. And ah I even remember even in my earlier years I had an informal, impromptu jam session with Darius Brubeck who had come to town to perform here and he brought a drummer. I don't remember his name, the drummer's name but they were really fascinated. And perhaps the interesting thing that I first experienced or first I listened was ah only in the jazz idiom, only in jazz. And outside jazz I didn't really hear any interesting complex rhythms. Of course then in later years when I started listening to African drumming it kind of came closer to the Indian type of rhythm. Yeah sure I agree that ah I didn't see this kind of complex and subtle rhythms happening. Ah but ah the harmony and first time it was kind of new experience for me to listen to the harmony. That was really something. Probably that was filling the place for rhythm.

EXACTLY. HARMONY, MELODY THESE THINGS VERY WELL DEVELOPED IN THE WEST. BUT THE DRUM WHICH THE DRUM IS NOT NEARLY SOPHISTICATED. I THINK BECAUSE I'M A BUDDHIST MIDDLE WAY YOU KNOW, EVERYTHING IN EQUILIBRIUM, IN BALANCE AND I THINK WESTERN MUSIC IS VERY UNBALANCED THAT WAY. AND YET RECENTLY WITH I THINK ROCK AND ROLL HAS BROUGHT AFRICAN PATTERNS OF RHYTHMS IN AND AFRICAN PATTENS OF RHYTHMS ARE COMING IN VAROUS WAYS. AND SOMETHING CALLED WORLD BEAT IS INTRODUCING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF COMMUNICATIONS, THROUGH THE MOVEMENTS OF PEOPLES, THROUGH PEOPLE LIKE YOU LIVING IN CANADA, WE'RE GETTING EXPOSED AND OUR MUSIC IS BECOMING MUCH FULLER FEATURED. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO SAY ON THAT?

Surely. I think in this kind of awareness to global music and I think the world music in that respect has really has contributed and people are really aware and even to know this was not happening some even 10 years ago. Now I think everybody is for rhythm concert where you turn, there is rhythm concert and people paying so much attention and it is really amazing. It's wonderful to see you know this happening. And certainly I could see the influence coming from many of the Asian traditions and particularly so from the Indian tradition and the people have learned to incorporate many of the ideas, the concepts, some of the interesting rhythms and I'm sure some of the patterns in 78 and 98 but unheard of some 10 years ago. And now of course in besides jazz you hear that in many of the contemporary music. I think the 20th century music, if I may say, I think are turning towards exploring a lot of rhythmic possibilities, interesting rhythmic ideas.

AS THEY TURN TO EXPLORING INTERESTING SPIRITUAL POSSIBILITIES.

As well, exactly. I think we can really make connections there.

TELL ME WHAT IT'S LIKE TO PLAY WITH WESTERN MUSICIANS.

Aah well ah it's been quite fascinating for me and I have always learned to enjoy. I don't know where it came from and I have always like to experiment with ideas. One thing thing people don't realize that as a drummer how much I improvise and how much of my own compositions go into. So my composing ability started reflecting and then collaborating with Western musicians, you know, particularly the drummers and the group Nexus here and who have also been exposed to many of the world music cultures from where they have taken their musics. And it was kind of in a way interesting for me to collaborate and they also heard me first time back in the early '70s. And so when the invitation came to me to perform with them, I took it very supportively adn I thought it was working perfectly well. In fact my experience when you take Western musicians I think it's a broader term and to bring it to a more focus I will say I had performed with electronic music. In fact in my earlier days at York University I had worked with David Rosenbaum ah who was an electronic music specialist. And even tuned his synthesizer to one of the raga modes, the pentatonic mode and then it would be just random patterns. And it was connected to a dancer who was supposed to produce during the meditattion more of the alpha waves. So we connected that where we had a dancer, the electronic synthesizer and on top the modangum. The modangum would highlight all the rhythms because I was searching an undercurrent of rhythm because this was not in these were all random patterns. There was no at times no consistency. But my task was to really, to go deeper and to find it and to highlight the whole thing. So that was one of the unique experiences. Then I started performing with some of the jazz musicians and I think the interesting thing is the unique type of rhythms and as modern meters like uncommon in the regular European classical tradition such as the 78, 98, 118 and so on and so forth. And then on top, the improvisation that I can carry on with ah some wonderful musicians, I think that's what really made me going, you know, keep going.

THAT'S LOVELY. DOES THIS EXPERIMENT AT YORK UNIVERSITY DID ANYBODY DO ANY VIDEOTAPE?

Indeed they did. And that was back in '74 or '75. I can even name the piece Alpha T'ai Chi Tala. Because it was the t'ai chi, Chinese dance. And ah (laughter) ...

..... CULTURAL SOURCES.

Three cultures being at least.

(laughter) ALPHA T'AI CHI TALA. WE'LL TALK ABOUT GETTING THE VIDEOTAPE. OKAY I THINK THAT'S IT UNLESS YOU THINK WE MISSED SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT.

There's one more thing that I would like just to highlight. Probably people have known less about me ah in the area of composing. People have known me as you know um as a top ranked drummer and ah who have performed with all leading musicians. The composing has always been, you know, an innate quality in me and which I have shown in drumming. And then in later years I wanted to you know develop that idea and also I got into writing music and I have collaborated with the Gamalon Ensemble here in Toronto and I have featured at least 3 Gamalon compositions and I'm also working you know more towards that line and I have always been interested in this area and actually I would be also doing a concert soon with members of Nexus. I have written special pieces for other instruments such as .....phone, congas and other drums.

I KEEP HEARING GAMALON GAMALON GAMALON AND I DON'T HAVE I HAVEN'T BEEN EXPOSED TO IT ENOUGH TO APPRECIATE WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT THAT FORM OF MUSIC.

Gamalon is the type of music that you hear in Indonesia, in Java, in Bali, in Sunda. But of course each region specializing in its own style so to speak. Gamalon actually refers to an orchestra and the percussion is its main staple. And it includes gong, bronze, the ... xylopones, many of the pod gongs, medium sized gongs and then bigger gongs. And then they have the ah several bronze instruments and ah it's so beautiful. It has a shimmering effect and ah I think the way one can describe is it has a colortomic texture to it, all layered and then candong is the drum which accompanies that music. My interest in this music actually started not with actual music but with its culture because I wanted to experience Hindu culture by going to Bali because Bali is described as Hindu Bali as Java is more a Muslim Java and I wanted to experience that. And when I was there and I was attracted to this music and in terms of music they are very different. But I really started showing some interest and I have been doing this kind of fusion music and I thought it has been working really well and which I really enjoy the most.

GOOD, OKAY.