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Ranjit Barot: Beautiful Collision

By Published: November 30, 2010
AAJ: The track "Supernova" is dedicated to Zakir Hussain's father, Alla Rakha Khan, of whom Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead said, "He is the highest example of rhythmic development." Would you agree with that comment, and could you maybe explain it?

RB: Absolutely. Maybe you made the connect, but the whole album is scenes and events from the Big Bang onwards. "Singularity" is when the whole universe was a pinpoint; "T=0" was the birth of time; "Revolution" is the first time we experienced orbits within planets; "Supernova" is self-explanatory because Alla Rakha Khan has maybe gone away from this world, but he still illuminates our lives. We still feel his presence, stronger than ever. Not only was he a great, great musician and a rhythmic genius, but he was one of the most beautiful people I knew. He was a saint.

For me, that is really important. I mean, you can be a great musician, but if nobody can spend five minutes with you in a room, then that's a bit of a drag.

AAJ: Zakir Hussain certainly has all the talent of his father, and his playing on "Supernova" is wonderful, but it's maybe surprising that this is the only track on Bada Boom where you significantly employ a table. Is there a simple explanation for that?

RB: I don't really know. I'm a kind of a busy drummer and I'm not a fan of playing in big rhythmic ensembles all the time.

AAJ: So you felt there was enough going on there?

RB: Yes, I did. You know, there's so much Indian-ness going on in the album, and I didn't want to feature rhythm instruments all the time. This album is as much about my compositions as well as my ability to play the drums, and I think that's something I want to maintain. I don't want to be a drummer; it's my primary instrument, though I'm a musician who wants to compose meaningful music.

AAJ: You toured the States with Zakir Hussain in the Masters of Percussion tour. What was the setup and how was the experience?

RB: I started out playing drums, but for a long time I did the whole studio thing because, basically, I had a family to support and I wasn't making any money from playing drums, man. Zakir Bhai invited me to play at a gig in Bombay, and he told me that it would be a shame if I didn't get out there and play. That was a big judgment for me that he thought I was talented enough to get out of the studio and go out and play. He kept pushing me back to playing drums, and one day he said, "We're going on the road."

That was a demanding tour, especially coming on after him, because he goes on stage for an hour, and he kills it, man. He says pretty much everything that needs to be said. You end up thinking, "Well, what am I going to do now?" At one gig, I said to him, "I've got a great idea for the next gig." He thought I was coming up with a new arrangement, and I said, "You should play last." That way, I could have some sort of respectable moment on stage, because after that guy it's over, you know?

He's extremely encouraging, and I owe a lot to him to be doing what I'm doing right now.

AAJ: You played on John McLaughlin's Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008), an experience which you described on A Meeting of the Minds—The Making of Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008) as the best five days of your life. How did the experience of recording Bada Boom compare?

RB: I'd got my drumming back together and I was feeling better about myself, and then I get a call to play with John McLaughlin. I told myself, "Don't piss it away, man." I learned the songs and I was prepared to do my best. When I got there, the thing that got me was how generous John is with space; you had all this space to do whatever you wanted. You've grown up listening to a guy your whole life, and he's played with my favorite drummers—Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham
, Narada Michael Walden
Narada Michael Walden
Narada Michael Walden
and Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
—and here he is behind the glass looking at you as you're recording something. It was surreal, quite surreal.

For those five days, most of what he did and said validated a lot of what I felt as a musician and as a human being. That was the best thing. It's great to have your mentors validate you in that respect, and also believing in the same things you believe in, which makes you think you're not so far off in your thinking. It was magical.

My album, on the other hand, was something that had been brewing inside me for a while. I live in a country where the film industry and film music is really the biggest thing, and I'm not allowed to work creatively in those areas; it's very narrow. So ever since I played with John, I had been affected, basically, and needed to do something meaningful. I went about casting musicians for each song, and I'm lucky that I got pretty much everyone I casted. I was so intent and focused on it, and when I was finished I looked back on it, and yes, I was extremely happy that I had done something meaningful.

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Download jazz mp3 “Singularity” by Ranjit Barot