The Spirited Music of Samvad | Daily News

The Spirited Music of Samvad

Samvad means to 'speak together' or 'accord' in Sanskrit. The Samvad Trio, a travelling group of musicians, hailing from Italy, inspired by India are now on our own little island to teach and perform. Igino Giovanni Brunori, Virginia Nicoli Igino and Ciro Monatanari have made different journeys, but together they are reviving classical Indian music in their own special way, through traditional instruments like the bamboo flute and the tabla, in fusion with Western instruments like the silver flute and the saxophone. We caught up with the group a day before their concert at Colombo's Italian restaurant Santore, to talk about music, spirituality, and their plans in Sri Lanka.

Q : You don't hear every day of Italian musicians performing what is thought of as traditional Indian instruments. When and how was your relationship with classical Eastern music born?

I: Virginia and I both studied music. I was from a Western classical music background and felt like something was missing in the music. When we discovered Indian classical music, at the first listen of the bansuri (bamboo flute), there was a depth, and a magic of spirituality.

V: Both of us are into yoga and meditation, into Indian philosophies already and we found this music to be very meditative and open for improvisation. We were really impressed. We had been stuck in the notes of Western music, and also needed to create our own music. Indian music was the meeting of the two. It has a very deep structure and long history. Hariprasad Chaurasia was one of the first Indian musicians we listened to.

C: I've studied piano when I was around 10 to 13 years old, then a bit of guitar, sang in a rock band and started percussion by myself. Some friends gave me CDs of Indian music - I just fell in love with it. It is very imaginative, productive music. I fell in love with the sound of the table. A friend gave me my first lesson, after which I went to study under Pundit Shankar Chatterjee in Venice in my early 20s.

Q : Igino and Virginia met in 2006 and then you two met Ciro in 2007. You've been on this journey together for almost a decade - where have you travelled to so far? Do you consider Italy your home?

I: We have been to quite a few places around Europe - Spain, Slovania, Italy mostly, Greece, Turkey, States, and on this side of the world, India. We've performed at big festivals in India. Back in Italy, we live in a mountain, surrounded by nature, at a place called Garda Lake, very near Milan. There is the peace of mind to study Dhrupad there, so we could focus inwards.

V: Home is many places for me, I enjoy travelling.

Q : What is the musical diversity back home like - is there a lot of Indian classical music being explored in Europe today?

C: For sure it is growing, many Indians are coming to Europe now and Western musicians come back to Europe with knowledge of Eastern music. Still, the scene is small. There is more audience for it in France, Holland and Germany.

Q : Have you released albums? Your compositions are founded on the Dhrupad - tell us more about that.

V: Yes we have made two CDs, and a few more are due in 2016, with some videos in the making too. Our music starts from the dhrupad, the most ancient core of north Indian classical music.

We like to bring out original compositions - call them more contemporary and experimental. The raga-tala structure of Indian classical music is there in our compositions. The incorporation of the saxophone and silver flute is a kind of fusion, of East and West. Dhrupad is mostly vocal music, vocal is different from playing instrumentally, so when we play with instruments we have to adapt to it.

Q : Can you tell us a little about your thoughts on how Western, Eastern instruments and musical styles can come together to create new genres?

C: We came from the West to the East, so our roots are Western. The instruments we are playing come from our roots, although they are influenced by the East - that is to say, I learned music in India but I am Western. Learning in India made me better understand instruments from my own roots.

I: Indian music is soul music, I don't play anything Western anymore, but I like to play together with people, in the raga structure. It is a new dimension of Indian music that's multi-layered when many play together at the same time.

V: We play Eastern music on Western instruments. Music has a feeling and as long as you get into the feeling there are no boundaries in the way. As long as you get deep into one tradition you can do it with whatever instrument.

Q: Do you feel that classical music is a dying thing? Some people claim it is. How do you feel it can be revived?

I: By teaching it in schools. It has to reach young people through education.

V: This is not the music for the masses. Classical music generally is from a classical tradition, so the listeners often have to be trained to the sound; that is why it is not appealing to the youth. Someone once said that classical music is the music of the eternal and pop music is the music of the moment. Classical music stays on unlike pop hits which will not be relevant next year. And Indian classical music is adapting to time, it is fluid, not fixed in a composition. It is like a river, it moves forward but it stays the same. It will stay alive for sure. There is so much space for innovation in this music.

I think the dhrupad is an example of that. Only a few decades ago it was said that dhrupad will be dying and now there has been such a big revival - it shows how a few people can make a big difference, by just teaching a few people. Indian music can never die because it is improvised music - inside the framework of the raga and the tala, you are actually improvising. Each master brings a new innovation to the music. For example, Hariprasad brought in new techniques of the sitar, flute and the dhrupad style, and he was criticized at the beginning but now he is a classical icon for this kind of music. Other examples are Zakir Hussain and his integration of folk elements, Kadri Gopalnath and his playing of the saxophone in the Karnatic style and Srinivas and his playing of the mandolin.

Q : What are your plans in Sri Lanka? Have you explored classical music here, which is closely related to Indian classical?

We have a Tribute to the Sea concert on December 26 in quiet memory of the tsunami at the Hangtime Hostel in Weligama, a concert on December 29 at the Sri Yoga Shala in Unawatuna, Sunrise & sunset concerts on January 2, 3 and 4 at Dutch Bay Resorts in Kalpitiya, and a Sing & Chant workshop on January 6 at the Prana Lounge in Colombo 7, ending with the Night Ragas concert on the last day of the workshop. We have not explored Sri Lankan classical music yet but of course it is something we are interested in listening to.

Q : As fusion artists, who have you collaborated with or hope to collaborate with, musically?

V: We have played music with our teachers and also with the Western classical music orchestra.

C: I used to go to Greece, where I collaborated with different artists, and focused on traditional music. There, music is given a peaceful environment, without distractions. I collaborated with Ustad Daud Khan Sadozai of Afghanistan, who learnt with the renowned Ustad Mohamed Omar. I like to collaborate with musicians of different cultures, which would enrich my way of playing and my understanding of music.

Q: You have spoken of the spiritual benefit of music - can you tell us more about that?

I: It is a sadhana, a life practice. Music is something you can share - your inner happiness can be shared. We are hoping to transmit this. Consciousness is required when playing music, you should become very aware, and that is the mystic theory of the raga. There is pure emotion in it, which can bring you to a little enlightenment, just in that moment of being fully aware and listening.

V: The musician becomes a medium for the energy of the raga, which goes to the audience. The listener is moved to a passive state of meditation.

C: I feel like I am just a grain of sand in all this vastness, and in that vastness it is a nice feeling to know I have made a small contribution to this wide ocean of music out there.

For more info about the Samvad Trio and their gigs, call 0774001117. 

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