Vikku Vinayakram, one of India’s finest ghatam (a large clay pot percussion instrument) players, studied with his father, Harihara Sharma. He is in great demand in India and has accompanied nearly all the leading South Indian musicians and vocalists like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, MS Subbulakshmi, Balamurali Krishna, Bhimsen Joshi, Hariprasad Chaurasia and VG Jog.
Vinayakram became known in the West as a member of the group Shakti, an innovative acoustic jazz/Indian fusion band with guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L. Shankar, and Zakir Hussain on tabla. He has also played under the direction of Zubin Mehta and shared the stage with internationally acclaimed musicians like Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel and Larry Corryell.
In 1991 he participated in the recording of Planet Drum as a music composer and co-producer together with The Grateful Dead’s drummer, Mickey Hart. The album featured other world class percussionists like Zakir Hussain and Airto Moreira. Planet Drum won the Grammy for Best World Music Album in 1991.
The extraordinary speed and precision of his duets with tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and mrdangam player Ramnad V. Raghavan have captivated listeners throughout the world. Vikku devotes much of his time to teaching at his own ghatam school in Madras. In addition to touring with Shankar and Zakir Hussain and accompanying other musicians, he has performed with J.G. Laya in an experimental group that includes pianists and other percussionists.
Recently Vinayakram was featured in a percussion show called Drums of India, along with Zakir Hussain, sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, drummers Sivamani and Taufiq Qureshi and enchanted the audience with his dazzling performance.
Vinayakram has won numerous prestigious awards in India. He has many recordings to his credit and is also the author of several books on percussion in Tamil and English. Vinayakram forged and led the group “The Mahaperiyava,” an ensemble of young, talented artists from Chennai.
Planet Drum, the percussion album that became a world music sensation 25 years ago is available again, remastered and with new tracks. The 25th Anniversary Special Edition will be available on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 in various formats, including Vinyl LP for the first time.
On Planet Drum, American drummer Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead) brought together percussion maestros from various parts of the world: Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram (India), Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju (Nigeria), Airto Moreira and Flora Purim (Brazil), and Giovanni Hidalgo (Puerto Rico).
The Remastered 25th Anniversary Edition includes 3 new tracks: Sea Of Showers, Throat Games, And The Spot. Sea Of Showers features Flora Purim And Babatunde Olatunji. Throat Games is a vocal percussion piece with Baba, Sikiru, Zakir, and Airto. The Spot starts with the sound of water drops, and then showcases Zakir and Airto.
Planet Drum: Song Descriptions by Mickey Hart
1. Udu Chant 3:40
Udu Chant represents the struggle of Life and Death, which throughout history has been portrayed in ritual using percussion. Airto plays Portuguese wooden shoes called tamanco. I play the “Beam” and a giant hoop drum from the Arctic Circle, which together form the resounding low end. Sikiru maintains a timeline bell pattern, while Zakir plays custom-made electronic triggers connected to digitally-sampled ¬Udu drums.
Island Groove is the soft side of percussion. It is a slow but simple 4/4 samba of ashiko rhythm, based on the sounds of the Yoruban consonants: go, pa, gun. When put together, they become drum talk. This song evolved as the rhymes one person played reminded another of something in their own background. We were able to collectively draw upon our various traditions, and contribute individually to the creation of this composition.
Airto started this song with a slow groove which had the power of the drum set, without the usual accompaniment of cymbals. He used a variety of unusual instruments in the composition. Among these were Mexican donkey jaws and a metal spring which resonates on the body of the instrument when hit with a stick.
Dance of the Hunter’s Fire demonstrates the basic African polyrhythm, four beats against six beats. It is an interesting comparison of two rhythmic traditions, the African and the South Indian. What you hear is Baba’s interpretation of the six-beat rhythm laid against four-beat carpet, while Vikku improvises on the Ghatam.
Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Frank Colon – Shekere
Giovanni Hidalgo – Shekere and Congas
Airto Moreira – ¬jembe, shakers
Caryl Ohrbach – Shaker
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe
Flora Purim – Shaker
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam
5. Jewe “You Are The One” 4:06
Jewe is an example of the use of the human body as a percussion instrument. Five of us are playing in this song, slapping our chests and singing. This cupping of hands and slapping of the chest cavity created a hollow thud, and allowed us to control the vibration of our voices.
Mickey Hart –Vocals, body percussion
Bruce Langhorne – Vocals, body percussion
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals, body percussion
Flora Purim – Vocals
Gordy Ryan – Vocals, body percussion
6. The Hunt
This song represents the primitive with a feeling of the relentless pursuit of the hunt. Sikiru’s talking drum speaks over the djembe, Jew’s harp, and drum set to form a unique rhythm.
At the dawn of religion, the Paleolithic trance dancers gathered in subterranean temple caves for ritual celebration. The natural sounds of the caves were an eerie backdrop to the dances. The echoes, the bats, the water dripping from the roof, the whacking of palm against stalagmite and the stalactite resounded thought the caves, creating unique percussive sounds. These sounds were the inspiration for Temple Caves.
The Dancing Sorcerer features Airto on berimbau, and Zakir on tabla and madal. The berimbau is one of the oldest instruments known to man. In fact, it may be the image of a musical bow in the caves at Les Trois Freres (15,000 BC) that provided the first documentation of percussion’s connection to the sacred. This picture resembles a man wearing the skin of an animal and playing some kind of instrument, possibly a sounding bow or concussion stick.
Zakir Hussain – madal, tabla
Airto Moreira – berimbau
9. Bones 4:10
This song is based on a rhythm I played on the balafon, with bones as mallets. The rest of the ensemble added their own sounds. The use of bones, especially human bones, exhibits a relationship between percussion and ritual. Hitting one bone against the other, or using bones on drums instead of sticks has an influence on the sound produced, and on the person who produces it.
Mickey Hart- Bones, balafon
Giovanni Hidalgo – batá
Zakir Hussain – Dundun, shaker and bell
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals
Flora Purim – Vocals
10. Lost River 2:58
Lost River is a high-spirited song that demonstrates an interplay between the human voice and percussion instruments. To Zakir, this song brought to mind the singing of children in the mountains of India. The drums provide the strong rhythm which lays a foundation for Flora’s flowing melody.
Evening Samba is a mixture of Brazilian and Angolan rhythms, a perfect frame for out extended bell improvisation.
Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Mickey Hart – Bell
Zakir Hussain – Bell
Airto Moreira – Bass drum, snare drum, tom toms, tambourine, whistles, wood blocks, metal percussion, cymbals, bells
Babatunde Olatunji – Shaker, bell
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam
12. Iyanu “Surprises” 2:02
Iyanu was recorded in 1986, after the Olatunji sessions which resulted in the recordings of the “Invocation to the Orishas” and “The Beat.” The gourds were grown in my garden, and arranged into a new instrument, a gourdophone. Airto played metal brushes against split bamboo.
Mysterious Island began with recording I made of ocean waves late one night in Kona, Hawaii. I brought back the recording and played it for the ensemble. It was the inspiration for Flora’s seagulls and for her dialogue with a circle of wind chimes which she assembled and walked among during the recording of the song. Mysterious Island mixes the natural elements of water, rain, blowing wind, and birds with the sound of metal bells and the human voice.
Mickey Hart – Grand dumbek, body percussion
Airto Moreira – Bird whistles, nose flute body percussion, tambourine
Flora Purim – Wind chimes, seagulls, vocals
Jeff Sterling – Udu Drum
The Bonus Tracks
This special, remastered 25th anniversary release includes three new tracks produced by Mickey and Zakir, with Zakir’s arrangements of material from the original 1991 recording sessions.
14. Sea Of Showers 4:52
Sea of Showers features Flora Purim and Babatunde Olatunji singing over an elegant rhythm base that includes sounds from Airto’s Aboriginal Australian bullroarer to Flora’s chimes.
15. Throat Games 2:27
Throat Games presents a pan-global scat-a-thon by Babatunde Olatunji, Sikiru Adepoju, Zakir Hussain, and Airto Moreira, using styles of vocalizations from their various musical traditions.
16. The Spot 4:34
The Spot begins with the sound of water drops, and then Zakir Hussain and Airto Moreira dance with the rhythms of the tiny waves in an homage to the water gods.
One of the more unusual lineups of Indian classical musicians took the audience to new heights of excellence and entertainment: the concert series “Splendour of Masters,” held in a number of cities including Bangalore.
Organised by Mumbai-based Banyan Tree Events, the concert tour lineup this year included Ustad Shujaat Khan (sitar – Hindustani), Ganesh-Kumaresh brothers (violin – Carnatic), Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam – Carnatic), George Brooks (saxophone), along with Satish Kumar (mridangam), Amit Choubey (tabla) and Ojas Adhiya (percussion).
While some of the musicians have played with the others, this was the first time that sitarist Shujaat Khan played with the violinist brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh. And this is definitely the first time I have heard Western jazz (saxophone) along with Carnatic violin and Hindustani sitar!
Banyan Tree Events also organises an annual international festival of Sufi music across Indian cities, called Ruhaniyat. It has drawn musicians from India, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt; more on that in another review.
The evening performance on January 26th was extra special since it was also India’s Republic Day. Over a thousand music fans gathered in the landmark violin-shaped Chowdiah Hall for a spectacular three-hour two-set performance of Indian classical music.
Ghatam legend Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram and his grandson Swaminathan joined the group in the second set; the first set was dominated by terrific interchanges between sitar, saxophone, and violin duets.
The musicians shared a strong rapport with one another and a jovial interaction with the audience. “We should thank the sponsors for showing that there is more to India than just cricket,” joked Shujaat Khan. “Thank you for indulging me as I live out my fantasy and play with these amazing lineup of musicians who I admire so much,” said George Brooks.
The opening piece in Raga Shankarabharanam, (Carnatic equivalent of Hindustani Bhilaval) set in adi talam of 8 beats (tri taal of 16 beats in Hindustani), was followed by a George Brooks composition in honour of jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. Brooks also dedicated the song to his father (who just turned 85) and his son (who just turned 16). The riffs were then picked up by Shujaat Khan and extended by Ganesh-Kumaresh. There were high-energy jugalbandis (call-response interchanges) between the violins and mridangam, in rupak talam.
The next piece featured Raga Bhupali in tri taal (adi talam), with the violinists having a lot of fun at the high notes and drawing loud applause. Shujaat Khan then sang in ghazal style for the next piece, followed by a solo in Raga Bhilaval. The haunting lines were picked up by Kumaresh on the violin and the piece climbed in energy to a fast-paced table solo.
After a short break, the second set began with ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram, accompanied by his grandson Swaminathan. Swaminathan led with konakkol and bol singing (percussion language), and played the kanjira with flair. With Swaminathan singing shlokas for Ganesha and Chandrashekara, Vikku Vinayakram played tala chakra on a set of five ghatams, each tuned to a different note (sa re ga ma pa in ascending order), and threw one up in the air in a fine show at the end of his performance.
They involved the audience with clapping in some of their three pieces, but soon left the audience behind as they explored the intricacies of 5-beat, 8-beat and 9-and-a-half beat cycles! The maestro-grandson performance drew a standing ovation. I first heard Vikku Vinayakram playing the ghatam during a 1984 performance of Shakti in Bombay, and it was an honour and delight to meet him backstage after the Bangalore performance.
All the musicians appeared on stage after the percussion set, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime treat to see all the nine masters create new musical textures. George Brooks again delivered a solo with shimmering ascending and descending notes on tenor and soprano saxophones, showcasing his mastery of jazz and understanding of Indian classical music. Brothers Ganesh-Kumaresh showcased a beautiful duet in Raga Bhimpalasi (a famous composition of Shri Thyagaraja, “Nagumomu ganaleni”).
The last piece began with Shujaat Khan in ghazal style. He also had a special sitar-ghatam jugalbandi with Vikku Vinayakram, and the violinists joined in Raga Khamaj and Baaro Krishnayya, a composition by Kanakadasa (popularised by the late M.L. Vasanthakumari), in the Raga Mand.
The musicians again received a standing ovation, and it would seem inevitable that this lineup receives standing ovations through the rest of their India tour also!
Shujaat Husain Khan belongs to the Imdad Khan gharana (tradition) of the sitar and is the seventh in the unbroken line from his family that has produced many musical masters. His style is known as the gayaki ang, and is imitative of the human voice. He is the son and disciple of sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan. His musical pedigree continues back through his grandfather, Ustad Inayat Khan; his great-grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan; and his great-great-grandfather, Ustad Sahebdad Khan.
Shujaat Khan is also known for his exceptional voice, which he uses for singing folk songs, poetry and accompaniment to his sitar, eg. on albums like Hazaron Khwahishen (A Thousand Desires). He has recorded and played extensively around the world. He has more than 100 CD releases on a variety of international labels. His Indo-Persian collaborative venture, the Ghazal Ensemble, produced the album Rain, which was nominated for a Grammy award in 2004.
Ganesh and Kumaresh are brothers who took to performing the Carnatic violin right from their childhood years in Tamil Nadu. Now in their thirties, they have become world-renowned artistes. Trained by their father — artiste Shri Rajagopalan — Ganesh and Kumaresh completed their hundredth stage appearance before the younger brother was ten years of age. They have played with a range of musicians such as John McLaughlin, Trilok Gurtu, Nadaka, Vikku Vinayakram and others.
George Brooks is an American saxophonist and composer and a prominent American voice in Indian jazz fusion. He has performed with jazz and blues greats John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Etta James, Kronos Quartet, Anthony Braxton, Albert Collins, Roy Rogers and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. George has been hailed for building solid collaborative bridges between the improvisational art of Indian classical music with jazz, Americas’ own classical music. He has collaborated with the who’s who of Indian Hindustani and Carnatic classical music: Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Kala Ramnath, U.Srinivas, Ronu Majumdar, Vikku Vinayakram, A. Sivamani, Shankar Mahadevan and L. Subramanium. See my interview with him, conducted the day after the concert.
Vikku Vinayakram is a Grammy Award–winning Carnatic Indian classical percussionist. He is credited for popularising the humble ghatam (clay pot) on the national and global music scale. Though almost 70 years old today, his performances continue to break new ground with their energy and innovation. He has accompanied many famous vocalists in Carnatic music such as M. Balamuralikrishna, Madurai Mani Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M. S. Subbulakshmi and Maharajapuram Santhanam, among others. In the 1970s he joined fusion supergroup Shakti, with John McLaughlin, L. Shankar and Zakir Hussain. Vinayakram’s son V. Selvaganesh is a world-famous percussionist in his own right, and grandson Swaminathan is a public performer as well. Vikku is the first South Indian musician to be awarded the Grammy for Best World Music Album for his participation in Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum. The Indian government conferred on him the Padma Shri award.
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