Edinburgh Festival Fringe music review: Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jim Gilchrist
RAJU das Baul looks as if he has stepped out of a particularly opulent piece of Mughal art. Clad in vivid motley topped by an orange turban, bells jingling at his ankles, he is extravagant in garb and gesture and sings with passion.
The latest recruit to venturesome Scots classical guitarist Simon Thacker’s ongoing Indian explorations, Baul proves something of a revelation, representing a seven-centuries-old Bengali tradition of itinerant minstrel-mystics.
He also plays the khamak, a small drum tightened or slackened by a string which he strikes with a plectrum, producing an astonishingly vocal sound that can range from rhythmic twanging to explosive barks and yelps.
In Thacker’s “re-imaginings” of Baul repertoire, singer, guitarist and long-standing percussionist associate, Sarvar Sabri, seemed to be thriving on the collaboration. Songs such as the traditional Menokaa Maathaay Dilo Ghomtaa, saw Baul’s impassioned singing accompanied by almost bluesy strikes and riffs on guitar and some dramatic sparring between guitar and the khamak, the distinctive rattle and thump of Sabri’s tablas underpinning all.
Thacker’s guitar work was seamlessly subsumed into the mix, rather providing any overtly lead passages, although an untitled instrumental opened with a Hispanic-Indian sounding guitar prelude before the trio worked up quite a groove together.
The Baul tradition was apparently a big influence on the Bengali poet and polymath Rabindranath Tagore, the trio playing his song Ekla Chalo Re, which became an anthem of the anti-partition movement in the early 20th century and which in this arrangement, with its flamenco-like guitar flurries, developed dramatically.
The final song, Dil Doriar Majhe, was, we were told, a warning of the insidious nature of evil and lustful thoughts. With its forcefully percussive climaxes, such thoughts were dismissed, if with a decidedly suspicious degree of relish.
Summerhall (Venue 26), until 23 August, 9:05pm / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 20 August 2015
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