Hong Kong musicians fuse jazz, Bollywood and Indian classical tunes

Eugene Pao and Falu the guest artists in concert of arrangements by Brazilian pianist Joao Mascarenhas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 10:30pm

There's nothing new about the incorporation of elements of Indian music into jazz. "Indo-jazz fusion" has been around since the 1970s, while John Coltrane was studying ragas with Ravi Shankar in the '60s well before George Harrison bought his first sitar.

However, despite the substantial Indian community in Hong Kong, few if any experiments mingling Indian musical traditions with jazz have been attempted here. Jayang Jhaveri, a local Indian singer and student of Indian classical music under the celebrated Hindustani vocalist and diva Kishori Amonkar, is a jazz fan who wants to put that right.

A couple of years ago, he tentatively began discussing his ideas for "Indian singers jamming with Hong Kong jazz musicians" with pianist Jason Cheng and guitarist Skip Moy, who put him in touch with pianist Joao Mascarenhas. The Brazilian liked the idea and agreed to write some jazz arrangements of Indian music and act as musical director for a show, entitled "In Harmony", which will be presented on Thursday at the Academy Community Hall at Baptist University in Kowloon Tong.

"Essentially the show fuses jazz and Latin with Bollywood and Indian classical/folk styles - with segues in and out of Hindi film songs, classical ragas and Latin standards," says Jhaveri.

"Our own Eugene Pao is featured as special guest artist, along with Falu, who's a multifaceted vocalist of Indian origin from New York whose repertoire spans Indian classical, folk, jazz and hip hop.

"We have kept the lyrics and the melodies of the originals intact, but we have rearranged a lot of the songs for jazz. Each raga has its own distinct feeling or emotion associated with it, so that is one of the things we are presenting. Then we have folk music from four provinces in India, and some Bollywood classics that easily lend themselves to jazz interpretations," says Jhaveri.

Falu, also known as Falguni Shah, has built up an impressive reputation in the United States, where she moved in 2000 to teach Indian classical music at Tufts University near Boston.

Falu has collaborated with musicians ranging from Yo-Yo Ma, A.R. Rahman and Phillip Glass to Wyclef Jean, Ricky Martin and Blues Traveler, as well as releasing two albums featuring original and Indian classical music. Like Jhaveri, she is a student of Amonkar, whom the other four singers Reena Khubchandani (another student), Supriya Mundhra, Muskaan Samtani, and Mukesh Asnani also venerate. Jhaveri credits their guru with inspiring this concert.

"In Harmony" is the first event organised by Musique Sans Frontieres, a group established by Jhaveri and Mascarenhas "to break through geographical boundaries and touch upon the universality of music", and which they hope will organise more concerts.

Mascarenhas will direct the musicians from the piano. In addition to Pao on guitar, Anthony Fernandes appears on drums, Sylvain Gagnon is on bass, Oliver Smith on sax, Simon Williams on percussion, and Costel Pascu on keyboards. Naviin Gandharv and Yannick Even will both play tabla.

"If this goes well, we want to take it into the studio and we have plans - depending on the response we get - to take it on tour and perhaps do a sequel for which we'd like to work with the Philharmonic. We haven't spoken to them yet, but that's the vision," says Jhaveri.

Mascarenhas also hopes - through Musique Sans Frontieres - to organise a Bric concert featuring music from Brazil, Russia, India and China. "I think Joao is a genius," says Jhaveri. "It piqued his curiosity as it did that of the other musicians, who all said: 'Wow, this is something different. This has never been tried before in Hong Kong.'"

The concert starts at 7pm, and tickets are available from Cityline and all Tom Lee Music outlets.

Take Three

Three noteworthy jazz albums strongly influenced by Indian music.

  • Impressions (1963, Impulse!): John Coltrane's interest in Indian music was serious and he revered Ravi Shankar, with whom he studied and after whom he named his son. On the track India, two basses, played by Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman, are employed to produce an Indian drone effect.
  • Shakti (1976, Columbia): Indian influences were already evident in John McLaughlin's playing with the loud and emphatically electric Mahavishnu Orchestra, but are dominant on this acoustic album.
  • Ragas and Sagas (1992, ECM): Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek collaborated with vocalist Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan to perform four ragas composed by the singer and his own Saga (the album's shortest piece).