INDIA ALBA (Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Isle of Skye, 3 August 2009)

5 Aug 2009 in Highland, Music

TERRY WILLIAMS hears an exciting fusion of cultural influences.

India Alba

India Alba

INDIA ALBA’S four musicians (two from Scotland, two from India) say many raga themes are similar to Scottish Highland melodies. Their music fuses Indian Classical and Scottish Folk, and includes several compositions by band member Ross Ainslie (cittern, border pipes and whistle).

His tunes meld the two traditions without losing the individuality of either, alternately weaving Indian intonations in and out of Scottish rhythms, and presenting Indian rhythms with a Scottish accent. It’s an intriguing mix.

The Scots – Ross Ainslie and Nigel Richard (cittern) – sat on chairs. The two Indian musicians, Gyan Singh (Tabla hand drums) and Sharat Srivastava (violin), spent the whole performance crossed-legged and straight-backed on a raised platform – two still figures with flying hands in a whirling storm of music that demanded total concentration from all the players if it weren’t to unravel. It never did, though the audience gasped at times.

This was a showcase for some remarkable playing. Every tune – from ‘Hawthorn Vale’ to ‘Donald Willie and His Dog’ – was memorable. The liquid sound of the tampura skimmed the surface and dived into deep-water resonances; the violin impersonated the whistle, the pipes moved fluently between Indian and Scottish rhythms; the citterns, whistles and pipes showered notes into the mix with unerring accuracy.

There were two particular highlights. Sharat Srivastava’s performance on hang drum was like melting ice in the Swiss mountains. A Swiss invention, the drum looks like one very large wok turned upside down on top of another. Each part of the resulting “hill” produces a different note when struck by the fingers. It was a gentle interlude.

The musical maelstrom resumed with Gyan Singh’s tampura solo, which grew out of a classical Indian raga composition and became a jaw-dropping, five-minute-long display of hand drumming that mesmerised not only the audience but the drummer himself. Somehow, the rest of the band rejoined him seamlessly, despited the phenomenal pace he had reached. That was a stunning achievement in itself.

This band is an extraordinary musical collaboration, not to be missed. Their new album, High Beyond, is due out shortly. It was recorded in the high Himalaya – where else?

© Terry Williams, 2009