Ranjit Barot: Beautiful Collision

Ian Patterson By

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Ranjit Barot is a well-known figure in India's music industry, where for many years he has written film scores, produced Indie pop, and, more recently, composed and directed the music for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which were held in Delhi. Barot, who spent the first 12 years of his life in England, came to a wider audience as the drummer on guitar icon John McLaughlin's outstanding Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008). McLaughlin—who knows a thing or two about drummers—found in Barot a drummer versed in the jazz, jazz-rock and fusion traditions, as well as one conversant in Indian harmonic and rhythmic accents: a soul-mate, you might say.

It was childhood friend Zakir Hussain who persuaded Barot to get out of the studios where he was earning his bread and butter, and realize his full potential as a musician. Barot toured with Hussain in the United Sates and went on to play with trumpeter Don Cherry and saxophonist Charlie Mariano, honing his craft and growing in confidence along the way.

For Barot, hearing the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti as a teenager were life-altering experiences. The musical vision of McLaughlin and Hussain has influenced and shaped Barot's musical philosophy to a large degree, and has fostered and encouraged a musical duality that was inherent in Barot from the beginning.

Now Barot is venturing out as a leader and composer in his own right, 40 years after first picking up the drum sticks. Bada Boom is an exhilarating and ambitious offering, bringing together a string section, a horn section and an absolutely spectacular lineup of musicians. In addition to McLaughlin and Hussain, there are significant contributions from mandolinists U. Srinivas and U. Rajesh, saxophonist Tim Garland, bassist Matthew Garrison, djembe player and percussionist Taufique Qureshi, guitarist Wayne Krantz, pianist Gwilym Simcock and keyboard player Scott Kinsey.

Bada Boom also introduces several significant new voices on the Indian music scene, including a prodigiously talented 14-year-old bassist, Mohini Day. When such musicians come together, and when such rich and diverse musical traditions fuse under the guidance of Barot, it is indeed a beautiful collision.

All About Jazz: Tell us a little bit about your philosophy on making music and how this played in to the making of Bada Boom.

Ranjit Barot: I have always been conversant with the Western culture; I was born in England and lived there until I was about 12, and then I moved back. My mother was an Indian classical dancer, so I grew up with Indian music all around me in the house. I was going to this school which was predominantly Catholic, and all the affluent kids in the neighborhood were English-speaking and listened to rock and roll—this was all the way through my childhood. I was exposed to both cultures simultaneously, and I fitted in to both very comfortably. I can see the commonality between both cultures without having to force it or intellectualize it, and I think the music reflects that.

AAJ: In the liner notes of Bada Boom, you write about being able to have a glimpse of the oneness of all music. Could you expand on that idea, please?

RB: Yeah, and for that matter not only all music but all art, because if you take a group of musicians from all over the world and put them in the same room and strip away all the things like ethnicity—and what you are left with is intent and spirit—when you get to that point, then anything else becomes superfluous. That conversation, that feeling, is what we are really chasing.

AAJ: Is this oneness of all music something elusive? You talk of being able to have a glimpse of it, as though it's not that easy to find. Or is it something that we don't notice precisely because it's always before us?

RB: Yeah, it's about having the most meaningful conversation you can with other musicians. John [McLaughlin] says it a lot. He plays maybe 100 concerts per year, and he says it's only three or four times that he gets that feeling, and that's what keeps him going on and on: chasing that feeling. It's a kind of nakedness.

AAJ: In terms of the musicians on Bada Boom, you have a veritable embarrassment of riches, but let's start with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. When did you first hear them, and how have they impacted you as a musician?

RB: Zakir is very close to my family. His father, the great Alla Rakha Khan, was very close friends with my mother, and they lived just down the road from us in Bombay. I was very lucky to spend some time with him and be exposed to all the rhythmic knowledge he had. When I went over there, I would see Zakir and the other brothers, but Zakir was the emerging star. He had already shown at a very young age that he was extremely blessed, so I was always in awe of him. Then when he and John came along with Shakti, I was completely blown away. Then there was the Mahavishnu Orchestra; this is music which shapes your life.

In India the culture is that when we are affected and influenced by musicians, they informally become our teachers and we respect them in that sense. It's not a casual thing. We take it very seriously, and as far as I was concerned they were my teachers. An automatic hierarchy was established in my consciousness about who these people were, and I really learned a lot from them. Then I got a chance to play with John, and that was a dream come true.



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