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Ranjit Barot: Beautiful Collision

By Published: November 30, 2010
AAJ: It's a fantastic track. The drum intro is reminiscent of Billy Cobham.

RB: Yeah, it was a slight tip of the hat to Billy. It was. And you know, the bassist on "Dark Matter" is 14 years old. I met her when she was 13, when her father introduced me to her in the studio. We did some gigs together, and it was just the most incredible experience to see a 13-year-old girl on stage, who was looking me in the eyes and holding me note for note. Then she came on her 14th birthday and played the rest of the song. She nailed that song. I'm looking to do a lot of projects with her. I want her to explode onto the scene. I think in another couple of years she will just be unstoppable. She's going to be a great musician.

AAJ: That's amazing. Changing subject a little, who are the drummers who have most influenced you?

RB: Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
, man, for the jazz he was a big influence. He took the sort of approach where he would play over the byline, and he was so free. Another person was Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
—another big influence on me. Because I came from the jazz-rock world, Cobham was really my first big influence. The thing that struck me—and it's true in all great drummers, but especially Billy... You know, in India we have a great vocal tradition and the Western world doesn't have this vocal tradition, and drummers have the ability to emulate speech, and Billy was the first drummer I heard who was talking. I was floored when I heard him the first time. I could hear him talking. I look for that in players.

I've also been influenced by unknown guys—I can take something away from a gig. We are a collective; we are influenced by other people and then put our DNA on it and put it back out. That's the really beautiful thing about art—we cannot really claim ownership to anything because it comes from so many places. It would be arrogant to do so, in my opinion. It comes from so many places, and I have so many people to thank.

AAJ: You mentioned the rich singing tradition of India, and your own singing on Bada Boom is very impressive, particularly your konnakol. Is that something you learned as a child?

RB: Not really as a child, because I was too busy playing soccer. It came much later in life. The funny thing is, as I was growing up, I had all this Indian music around me, but really I wanted to play drums. I was playing rock and roll, I was playing Led Zeppelin, I was playing in a cover band in school. There was no inclination in my psyche at all. Then it's like I came full circle. It started to make sense. I realized that there's a rich tradition in my own country, and I became drawn to the harmonic and rhythmic accents of my own country. I'm as much a student of Indian music as any Western drummer. I have a slight advantage because I'm able to listen to it and internalize it and deconstruct it very quickly—it's in my psyche, it's a part of my consciousness. But when it comes to physically interpreting the Indian rhythms on the drum set, I'm like any Western drummer; I have to figure out the physicality of it and the mechanics of it.

AAJ: Is konnakol something you have to constantly practice like any instrument, or is it something that, once internalized, you never forget?

RB: You have to practice. Anything which requires muscle movement, you have to do over and over again, like an athlete. Even your facial and mouth muscles have to be familiar with those sounds and shapes. You'd better keep doping it, or you will lose it. I'm still very early in my konnakol training. The really fast parts I struggle with sometimes. The truth is, I don't practice enough.

AAJ: Coming back to Bada Boom, you dedicate "Revolution" to saxophonist Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
1923 - 2009
. What was your relationship to him?

RB: Charlie was a very, very good friend. I loved him dearly. We did a European tour together once. It was a big learning experience for me. He taught me the whole thing about dynamics. He'd come back stage and say, "Ranjit, I love playing with you. You're one of the most beautiful drummers," and I'd be so humbled because he's played with some of the greatest guys. Then the next gig, he'd come backstage and say, "What's wrong with you, man? Why are you playing so loud? Do you think I'm deaf?" He was teaching me. I was learning to listen, and most of playing together is listening.

When I heard that traditional tune, a traditional south Indian tune played at the temple, I thought I'd dedicate it to Charlie because Charlie had been learning Nadaswaram [a hardwood wind instrument] in south India. When I got down to doing it, I met my friend Amit Heri—who's on the album as well—and he knew Charlie very well. Amit told me, "It's funny you should choose this tune, because that was Charlie's favorite tune on Nadaswaram." I had no idea. It was really very poignant.

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Download jazz mp3 “Singularity” by Ranjit Barot