FEATURE: Simon Thacker – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Virtuoso guitarist/composer Simon Thacker talks about the inspiration behind the new Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti double album Trikala ahead of a show at Sage Gateshead on Friday 9th November which is brought as part of the GemArts Riverside Ragas concert series.

Indian classical, folk and spiritual music has been a huge part of my musical development and my career in the last 10 years. Through it I have found a lightning rod for my own creativity. It is not the only one, as my next album (already recorded) after Trikala will be with three jazz based improvisers and a special guest singer from Andalucia, and I’m about to record an album inspired by Romany music, but India is an immeasurably significant one. I can’t really explain where this spiritual connection came from that means I feel so naturally at ease going right to the heart of traditions from the opposite side of the world and creating anew in my own image, but it is there and it is incredibly powerful.

 I’ve never attempted to specifically play exactly like someone from the traditions that inspire me. I’ve never tried to sound “Indian”. But by immersing myself in these musical forms over many years, since early high school, parts of them have become part of me, and have transmogrified in the process to become something that is uniquely me. They are the provocation that pushes my creative impulse into that area of most excitement, inspiration and expansion, beyond the comfort zone.

Trikala is a double album with different lineups (thirteen performers in all) which each focus on innovating on four different aspects of the vast musical macrocosm that exists on the Indian subcontinent: Hindustani classical (north), Carnatic classical (south), Punjabi folk (west) and the Bengali mystical folk Baul tradition of both India and Bangladesh (east). These are forms that really speak to me on a subconscious level and suggest new directions. So Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti is now more of a community than a group. There is also a major solo work with a tangential Tamil inspiration, one of Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore’s best loved melodies reimagined and finally a transformation of India’s “national song”.

I wanted to go in depth with each lineup, to reposition the extremities of what has been done. Doing what has never been done before is definitely an ambition and an inspiration. I suspect putting myself in a situation where I’m not, at the outset, yet the musician and composer I need to be to pull off my (usually spectacular and, most would say, overly ambitious) vision, is an inspiration. This means that I HAVE to become the musician and composer I want to be. The only other option is failure. I haven’t failed yet.

The musicians on Trikala all bring different inspirations themselves, with their radically different backgrounds: K.V. Gopalakrishnan (kanjira), N. Guruprasad (ghatam) and Neyveli B. Venkatesh (mridangam) are legends of Carnatic percussion and have a telepathic understanding; Afsana Khan is, for me, the best young singer India based Punjabi folk and Sufi singer right now;  Japjit Kaur was featured on Svara-Kanti’s last album and is a fantastic UK based Punjabi vocalist; violinist Jacqueline is a guest leader with so many orchestras for a reason (she has a spirit in her playing that few come close to); I’ve played with Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska in our Karmana duo for many years (that album is a testament to her playing) and she has just embarked on a PhD on Indian music; Sukhvinder Singh “Pinky” is one of the tabla world’s great originals and a real rhythmic powerhouse; in India’s Raju Das Baul and Bangladesh’s Farida Yesmin I found two of the leading singers from the West and East folk spiritual Baul music worlds of Bengal that I wanted to unite in one ensemble; Sunayana Ghosh is one of a small but growing number of outstanding female tabla virtuosos; and  Sarvar Sabri (tabla) was also on the previous album, as well as my first Indian group the Nava Rasa Ensemble, and has a rare musical understanding.

Each lineup is totally different and almost all of these performers I tracked down through weeks, sometimes months, of trawling the internet trying to find “the one”. I always have someone very specific in mind in terms of a certain energy and presence. The music that inspires me and that i want to hear and compose always has cosmic levels of energy, whether that be exploding star huge or internal or spiritual energy.

Trikala is the Sankrit word for past, present and future. I invite everyone to join us and explore its three tenses.

Simon Thacker plays Sage Gateshead on Friday 9th November as part of GemArts Riverside Ragas concert series.

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