British multi-percussionist Pete Lockett was introduced to Indian rhythm when he heard Zakir Hussain play at a concert in the UK when he was 21 years old. Constantly thinking about his music, he has invested a lot of time working in traditional Carnatic and Hindustani music as well as traditional Japanese taiko drumming. He believes cultures are healthy only when they cross-fertilise, learning from one another.
His ethnic percussion has been heard in the last five Bond
movies. He has also recorded with AR Rahman on the 2007 blockbuster, Sivaji. In
this interview, he shares his love for Indian music and percussion.
At the international level is it artistes like you who are showcasing Indian percussion to the largest and most discerning audiences as compared to Indian percussionists who on many occasions, especially in the South, are mainly accompanists to singers?
Many great Indian percussionists are, and have been for a very long time, touring worldwide and spreading the exposure of classical Indian percussion to a wider audience. In the North and the South of India there are so many percussionists playing solo and developing their own projects. Maybe fifty years ago what you say may have been true but nowadays percussionists worldwide are making their own projects, playing solo and leading performances with their excellence. The future is bright and I feel blessed to be able to go out there and share some of these amazing traditions with an audience that otherwise might not get exposed to it.
Do you see an increase in interest and an openness towards Indian rhythms and is there an increase in the number of students wishing to learn Indian percussion?
With the advent of the internet and YouTube, exposure for everything is on the increase. For me when I learnt 30 years ago, information was very hard to come by. The best resource was the local library which was an hour away by bike. Just to look up ‘Ghatam’ or ‘Kanjira’ would be a whole afternoon endeavour. Now, people can find out on their phone in three seconds. However, one of the extremely attractive things about Indian music is that you then need to spend years and years, even to understand the very basics. This remains an obstacle to the adult enthusiast who looks into the subject for the first time. However, all that said, the interest and enthusiasm around Indian percussion is growing year on year. My book, Indian Rhythms for the Drum Set, on Hudson music does very well and I get a lot of letters and reactions to that worldwide. The great thing about it is that these responses come from every avenue of the musical world, from composers to heavy metal drummers and from jazz players to pure percussionists.
Do you incorporate a lot of Indian sounds in your playing and vice versa do you find Indian musicians learning from you?
It’s not just about sounds. It is about the whole musical system. Once you learn the Indian way of developing the rhythmic timeline then your approach to rhythm is expanded exponentially. There is so much to help expand your musical horizons. Of course, this works both ways. Composing and improvisation have very different approaches as you travel across the world. Sharing in each other’s musical systems is one of the most magical things you can imagine. There are so many treasure troves uncovered when you explore each other’s musical worlds. Most of the Indian musicians I have worked with are as excited to explore this as me.
Is there a greater audience pleasure in hearing sounds from different streams coming together?
There are audiences for everything. Many people are comfortable with a specific idea, Be-Bop, Rock, Karnatic, Taiko, Orchestral etc. There are also people who tire easily of hearing similar approaches over and over again. They are more into the musical explorers and the creators of new musical horizons. These are the people that want to hear Zakir with an Irish group or a heavy metal drummer with a group of Taiko drummers. This type of audience is getting more and more as far as I can tell. It is great to have all these people with minds wide open, waiting for the next amazing collaboration where they can witness musicians from different cultures speaking with one voice.
How would you compare a completely percussion ensemble vis-a-vis a typical Indian concert.
There are so many ways of percussion groups playing together. Indian classical music has a very thoughtful intellectual approach. Western classical music does so similarly, albeit is a very different way. Neither of these musics are for dancing, in the sense of folk dances or community gatherings. (Classical Indian dance and Ballet are of course dance but, also on the intellectual path). Dance musics have a necessity to create pulse and rhythm for groups of people to dance to. Therefore, these musical styles are incredibly far apart in their basic function and starting place. That said, it is obvious that they have very different formalities in the structure of their ensembles.
The next thing to consider is that Indian music and rhythm is very linear, in that only one voice is focused on. Even with groups of string players or groups of percussionists, they often tend to play in unison, or one after another. Other percussion from around the world, such as Cuban or African, has many drummers playing different interlocking parts which make up one whole voice, or rhythmic melody. This creates such a different approach that the structure of the music is completely different.
From this follows, in all your collaborations and journeys around the world do you see a rhythmic pattern or are cultures too varied to be bridged?
There is no gap that cannot be bridged. As I mentioned earlier, we can clearly see how some traditions differ. The task is to be able to meet with another tradition in the middle. For both parties to explore and come to some understanding of the musical intent of the other. Once you understand what they are doing and why, then you can find a common ground for exploration and creativity together. Keeping the integrity of your own music and musical voice is incredibly important as well in this process. The question is, how do you explore each other’s cultures and musics to the point where you can create together and all parties keep their integrity intact. This is my life quest.
What inspires you most about the playing of Zakir Hussain?
After that last question, this is the perfect follow up. Zakir is one of very few Tabla players who plays completely comfortably outside of his own idiom but, retains 100% of his dignity and integrity. He is a master of the Tabla but he knows how to work within a Jazz setting or a Western Pop setting or within the structures of a classical orchestra or traditional Irish group. A total genius, I am certain was beamed down from a planet a lot more advanced than ours!
Is Indian music enhanced or is it distorted if one were to use modern apps? Is your DrumJam app a possible future for Indian music too?
Indian classical music is Indian classical music. The instrumentation and musical formalities are absolutely set. Centuries ago they might have been changed very slowly and minutely over the decades but now, with the digital age I think it will stay set. Any music that classical musicians play outside of the idiom of course can involve electronics, apps, technology, other musical styles and different instrumentation. I have seen many performers do this.
think Indian recording studios have the technology and the expertise to produce
music for Western films?
They already do. AR Rahman has a studio in Chennai. Bollywood is the biggest creator of music for films anywhere in the world. The technology at the top end in India is, if anything, superior to many places in the west.