It can be a tricky business bringing the traditions of different musical cultures together purposely, to produce something that sounds whole, complete and intelligent. Of course, the entire history of music is replete with examples of musics mixing, influencing, fusing and merging; it is something that often happens very naturally and undetectably. The resultants frequently become new cultural traditions, sometimes seamlessly taking the place of old ones.
The premeditated hand-knitting of the intercultural can be more difficult to pull off, but Simon Thacker is an experienced intercultural collaborator, and deftly avoids all the potential pitfalls. On the face of it, putting together a classical guitarist, a tabla player and a singer of the Bengali Baul folk tradition might at best seem eccentric, but what Thacker’s Indo-Western ensemble delivers is the opposite: various elements of their respective traditions are teased out and brought together to create something new and very sane.
In many ways the star of the show is the singer Raju das Baul, whose most beautiful of voices is simply entrancing to hear. His performance is wonderfully understated—timeless—and he punctuates it with graceful movements and turns that set his ankle bells off in an accompanying tintinnabulation.
Thacker’s accompaniment makes use of a number of extended techniques, which allow him to integrate fully within a tradition whose sound world is differently inflected and nuanced to the Western one. His guitar playing becomes part of the warp and woof of the ensemble—integrated rather than distracting. The ensemble is held together by Sarvar Sabri’s brilliant tabla playing, which punctuates the music with great subtly, dotting its i’s and crossing its t’s.
The intimate setting—one of Summerhall’s many quirky spaces—wholly works in the ensemble’s favour, allowing the audience to hear with absolute clarity, the delicate traces of the music. By the end of the evening, Thacker has more than shown us exactly how good an intercultural collaboration can be.