Arun Ghosh: A Very British-Asian Jazz Head-Space

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Who Ghosh is and what he's about musically are the sum of the eclectic influences—geographical, ethnic and social identities included—that he has experienced. Ghosh's parents are first generation immigrants to the United Kingdom: "My mother came over in the late 1950 and my father came in the 1960s, both from very different parts of India. They met in the UK. That's an important distinction in some ways, because in terms of South Asian culture I'm mixed.

"My Dad is from West Bengal and my Mum's heritage is Sindhi, which later became part of Pakistan, hence the little reference to "Soul of Sindh" on A South Asian Journey." Ghosh's mixed South Asian culture serves as an illustration of the complexities of Asian communities and Asian identities in the UK today: "Our culture here is so varied," says Ghosh, "based on religion, class, how long people have been here, education, where you've grown up, segregation in various cities, which isn't necessarily present in other places etc. etc. etc. It's so sprawling."


Ghosh's own set of circumstances meant that he was exposed to a wide range of music from different cultures: "Through my Mum I was listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Through my Dad I was listening to James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
and Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
1920 - 2012
sitar
. We all listened to Michael Jackson, Nina Simone
Nina Simone
Nina Simone
1933 - 2003
piano
and Carole King I'm very much a product of the 1960s—The Doors, the Rolling Stones.

"Listening to that music was slightly different to your standard South Asian upbringing where two parents are from the same place and retain their shared culture. Because my parents were from two very different places culturally our common ground was England and English, Britishness. That influenced who I was, what I played and how I played it."

The music scene that Ghosh's parents' encountered in 1960s and 1970s England was vibrant and revolutionary. Manchester itself was home to Van Der Graaf Generator, Joy Division, The Fall and Buzzcocks—a heady mixture of prog rock, punk and alt rock. In the 1980s, when Ghosh cut his musical teeth, Manchester was no less a hub of musical creativity; New Order, The Happy Mondays and The Smiths all enjoyed critical and commercial success. Ghosh was drawn to the rockier end of the spectrum and by his own admission it has had a huge impact on his music.

"There was a lot of great music coming out of Manchester," says Ghosh; "Indie music like the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, the Charlatans, the Inspiral Carpets and dance music like 808 State." Manchester's club scene then as now was internationally famous and Ghosh hungrily absorbed the different rhythms to be found right on his doorstep: "As I got older I started getting into hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, Jungle and clubbing, going out dancing. I was also very into bands like Nirvana—high-energy passion. I think that's been central to the performance style I wanted to get."

Classical music too played an important role in Ghosh's learning the ropes of the clarinet and he took classical studies at the Royal Northern College of Music. Right around that time, however, Ghosh began to delve deeper into jazz and the two musical worlds couldn't happily co-exist. "I realized that the classical world wasn't for me," says Ghosh. The constraints of classical music etiquette meant that Ghosh's gyrations as he played were frowned upon: "Well, I tried," says Ghosh laughing. "I would move when I was playing Brahms or Mozart but I got criticized for it."

Ghosh hasn't turned his back entirely on classical music: "One day I'd really like to have the opportunity to play classical music again because I love it. But sadly that world was too closed for me—at least there and then—and I was too open for it." Ghosh gravitated towards a freer and more informal style of schooling— jam sessions: "I was going out clubbing and playing with DJs, playing with samba drummers, playing at parties and just getting a sense of whole other worlds," says Ghosh. "That was a really important time. A lot of the things that ended up on Primal Odyssey developed around that time."

There were also more instructional fortnightly lessons with Mike Hall, who Ghosh describes as "a fantastic educator." Hall taught Ghosh jazz standards, the piano and composition.

Shortly after finishing college Ghosh took his first steps as a professional musician and another important period in his development began: "I started getting work in theatre composition, working with Indian dancers and Indian musicians and learning katak styles. It was a really good grounding in South Asian rhythm because rhythm is so important for Indian dancers' steps and cycles."


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