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

Ian Patterson By

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In the main, Ghosh remains upbeat about his music's ability to appeal to a broad demographic, regardless of the labels that people wish to stick on it: "I think there are a lot of people at jazz festivals who have grown up listening to Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stone etc. as well as jazz music. I think we've got a sound that appeals to those people who appreciate different genres and that's because that's what I'm trying to express," says Ghosh.

As for the current state of jazz itself, Ghosh definitely sees the cup half full: "I really do feel that jazz is on the up in general because it's reaching more people and a younger audience. It's not alienating audiences, I don't think, in a way that it might have done previously. It's got the historical side, it's got the experimental side, it's got the trad side, it's got the futuristic electronic side, it's got a side bringing in more World Music or song style, and so on. It's diversifying and it's bringing more people in."


These days Ghosh is busier than ever, and seemingly casting his creative net wider still. There's a new piece called "A Handful of Dust—a multi-media reimaging of T.S Elliott's "The Wasteland" featuring the bowed Indian instrument sarangi, an electronic artist, a contemporary dancer and a poet: "It taps a little into my theatre side," explains Ghosh, "but I want it to be stark and brutal sounding in keeping with my impressions of what that poem is about. I don't want it be in any way, shape or form elitist. I want it to appeal to 13-year olds and 83 year-olds. It'll be a real piece of performance art."

As Associate Artist of the Spitalfields Music for the 2013/14 season, Ghosh has a couple more irons in the fire. There's a new commission for a large ensemble suite in 2014 that celebrates immigration over the centuries into the Spitafields area of East London, from the Huguenots and the Jewish to the Irish, South Asians, Eastern European and beyond.

Then there's the Winter Rasa, a work that will explore the pagan and folk origins of music from Eastern Europe, Andalucía Jerusalem and North African. The music is for choir, vocalist and six-piece band and will be premiered in Shoreditch Church in the second week of December. These two projects are ambitious in scope but Ghosh is undaunted by the task ahead: "The South Asian head space helps," declares Ghosh, "because I'm used to bringing together different styles and trying to make them work.

"It's busy," Ghosh admits, "but there are different things keeping me challenged and pushing me to write new stuff. It's a time when new ideas are coming. Hopefully some of the things that develop will find their way onto future albums. That's what has happened so far."

Despite the commissions and the multi-media projects, Ghosh hasn't lost sight of his musical roots: "Ultimately, I'm still a punk and a raver," says Ghosh, "so whatever ensemble I lead, whether it's a group of young people who have never played instruments before or the Beating Wing Orchestra, which is an orchestra I direct of refugees or people who've got asylum from all over the world based in Manchester, there's an ethos that we're not going to make pretty music necessarily. We're going to be passionate in terms of how we play. Even if it is gentle and pretty I want there to be intensity.

Passion and intensity are two words that pretty much sum up Ghosh's approach to music, whatever he's involved in. Whether playing for animated film or Indian dancers or whether playing with his jazz ensemble, a pan-Asian orchestra or refugee musicians, Ghosh's passion and intensity are the common denominators. There's also a tremendous openness in Ghosh towards other musicians, regardless of their origin: "There are brilliant musicians from all walks of life and all places," recognizes Ghosh, "and to have the opportunity to work with them wherever possible is great. It's truly inspiring."

Photo Credits
Page 1, 3: Andrea Artz
Page 2: Mike Stemberg
Page 4: Peter Fay
Page 5: Taran Wilkhu Photography
Page 6: Tom Mallion
Page 7: Courtesy of Camoci Records

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