Chennai’s SAMUR brings musicians from Germany, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh and India

The auditorium of KM College of Music envelops a cacophony of sounds: violins, the tabla, electric guitars… each in it own bubble of sound check. And then out of nowhere, trance music booms out of speakers. Live instruments add on their layers, riffing with the electronic track: man matching pace with computer.

We are at rehearsals by SAMUR III (South Asian Music Residency programme), organised by Goethe Institut-Max Mueller Bhavan. The 15 musicians in this programme, from countries such as Iran, Germany, Bangladesh, Nepal and India, will be performing two concerts in the city over this weekend.

“For this programme, we found artistes who could come together from various South Asian countries, and of course, Germany,” says Ramesh Shotham, an Indo-German percussionist who will be playing the African drums in the ensemble. Ramesh, along with Roger Hanschel, a German composer and saxophone player, is directing the concerts. KM’s James Bunch, conductor and composer, is the co-director of the show.

The three directors, as well as the 12 students from the two-week residency programme, will take part in the show to make cross-cultural contemporary music. You can expect, for example, sounds of the Iraninan tombak (a goblet-shaped drum) to keep time with the Indian flute and the tabla.

“It’s my first time in India, but I have just been rehearsing so far. I didn’t get much time to actually see it,” says Behnam Masoumi, a 34-year-old tambok player and manufacturer from Tehran. “I found that Indian music is close to Iranian music in terms of melody, but the Indian rhythm is very complex,” he adds.

Playing Soon

Behnam Masoumi – Tombak, IranCalvin Lennig – Bass, GermanyHari Saran Gurung – Guitar, NepalHarini Padmanabhan – Vocal, IndiaJulia Brussel – Violin, GermanyMilan Ghimire – Flute, NepalNishad Pandey – Guitar, Germany/IndiaPuranjay Guha – Shree-taar, IndiaSabrin Zahan Kriti – Vocal, IndiaShayekh Mohammad Arif – Electronics, BangladeshThritha – Vocal, IndiaVinayak Netke – Tabla, India

Each player will be playing in smaller ensembles of duets, trios, quartets and quintets, apart from the larger ensemble.

“My favourite set is with Harini Padmanabhan, on the vocals. It’s interesting because we will be performing a famous track from Iran called ‘Chehre pe Chehre’,” says Behnam.

Cross-culture

Roger, who has been a part of the previous SAMUR as well, explains this process of collaboration of artistes coming from different musical backgrounds — even the two Indian vocalists differ in their styles with one leaning towards jazz and the other, rock.

“Our main aim was to get together, experiment and create music,” he says. “When we selected the applicants, we narrowed down people in trios who we thought would play well with each other.”

During the first few days of the residency programme, the participants started jamming together. “We actually picked names out of a bowl, and then had those people play with each other. Even though it was random, it was clear that there was a level of comfort already, and that this would work,” he says. All the players introduced themselves and their work, and what followed was free improvisation and a discussion of ideas on what they could play together. To bond off the stage, the group even headed up to Mamallapuram, on a trip.

Besides the different styles of music meeting on a common stage, you can also expect to hear original instruments, that combine the East and the West. Kolkata’s Puranjay Guha, who goes by the name Mandola Joy, will be playing an instrument he developed: the shree-tar. “It is an electric fretless improvised mandola, which is more appropriate for rendering Indian classical music,” he says.

SAMUR’s concert at KMMC Auditorium will be held today, from 7 pm, and the grand finale will be held at Goethe-Institut Auditorium on August 31, from 7 pm.

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