When tabla meets guitar: A musical 'conversation' between Ravi Srinivasan and Az Samad (VIDEO)

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — If solo musical performances are akin to monologues and a symphony orchestra requires team effort, then surely a duo playing together is having an intimate conversation. It’s the best of East-meets-West as Berlin-based tabla guru Ravi Srinivasan collaborates for the first time with Malaysian guitar maestro Az Samad for two nights at No Black Tie this Wednesday and Thursday.

The performance will see Ravi’s percussive magic playfully weaving with Az’s expressive jazz-tinged guitar stylings. They first met in Berlin, Germany during Az’s first solo Europe tour last July. Ravi says, “We got along very well and decided to collaborate when I return to Malaysia.”

Born in Singapore, 48-year-old Ravi was brought up partly in Kuala Lumpur where he studied classical violin as a child. He shares, “Before I left to further my studies, I played in the Simfoni Ibu Negara during the late 1970s. The highlight was a 'live' show at Angkasapuri in 1980 where I got to perform before the Yang di-Pertuan Agong!”

Many years of travelling in Europe and India followed where Ravi studied the tabla, a traditional percussion instrument, in India and later singing in Berlin. He then became a freelance musician, performing solo and in ensembles all over the world. Today he has his own band called the Indigo Masala; his bandmates play classical instruments from both Indian and Western music such as the sitar and the cello.

Berlin-based tabla guru Ravi Srinivasan (right) will collaborate with Malaysian guitar maestro Az Samad for two nights at No Black Tie this Wednesday and Thursday. — Picture by Yin Yin Boey
Berlin-based tabla guru Ravi Srinivasan (right) will collaborate with Malaysian guitar maestro Az Samad for two nights at No Black Tie this Wednesday and Thursday. — Picture by Yin Yin Boey

This inclusive, multi-genre repertoire fascinated the 33-year-old Az who recalls, “Although we had never met before, Ravi and his family welcomed me into his home in Berlin. It was a really beautiful experience; he shared stories about music and being on tour around the world. His dedicated music room was filled with percussive instruments from all over the world. There was even a kompang set!”

Their collaboration is a blending of both musicians’ distinctive influences and backgrounds. Ravi explains,“Playing together is very easy when the musicians you are working with have complete mastery over their instruments, like the way Az does. For our concert, we rehearsed for an hour and came up with a full set quickly. It’s a unique way of making music without notes or a score. A collaboration is about opening your mind and listening, and then reacting to your partner – it’s a conversation.” 

Az agrees, adding, “The chemistry is brilliant because of how we both listen to each other. It’s a necessity in duo performances and improvised music but not all musicians listen. Sometimes people play a part and listen to themselves more than the other person performing with them. It’s a delicate balance. There’s also Ravi’s sense of humour. I love working with musicians with a sense of humour as well as a strong sense of discipline for the artform. If you’re too serious, it gets very intense and if you’re too laid back the music suffers.” 

For Ravi, the partnership is an opportunity to witness the change in the Malaysian capital’s music scene. He says, “When I was starting here, it was more about orchestras. Today music in Kuala Lumpur seems to be growing and moving into different fields. I’m excited for Malaysian musicians and hope to meet more of them.” 

He acknowledges there is plenty of room for the local scene to grow though. “By comparison, Berlin has a massive 'live' music scene. At any given day of the week, you could have 150 to 300 performances, from those in small jazz clubs to stadium shows. The competition is fierce – you have musicians coming from North and South America, and the rest of Europe just to play in Berlin.” 

Ravi’s experiences and techniques have inspired his younger partner. Az says, “I hear my own songs differently now especially after our first performance together. Ravi mixes so many different influences into his playing and that brings out the spaces in between what I play. In my piece The C Factor, Ravi plays a tabla part that makes the unison melody line I play sound more Indian music-influenced rather than the original Celtic feeling I imagined. For some people, this may seem like a departure from the original music’s intent but for me it really shows the connection between different styles of music from different cultures.” 

Both musicians liken their musical “conversation” to a casual chat that builds into an intense debate. Az adds, “I can imagine my own solo renditions morphing because of this collaboration.” 

Ravi says, “I invite folks to come and watch two musicians with different backgrounds, not just musically, but of different ages and the times, perform together. I lived until I was 15 in Kuala Lumpur so in my head are memories of the city as a much smaller town, with a population of less than a million people. Now it is massive, the old memories are mixing with new experiences.” 

So what are you waiting for? Watch how two creative geniuses invoke a singular sort of magic; if you are lucky, Ravi might even give you a taste of his signature pitch-perfect whistling!


From Berlin to KL: Ravi Srinivasan and Az Samad


Date: Wed & Thu, 6 & 7 August 2014

Time: 9:30pm

Venue: No Black Tie, 17, Jalan Mesui, Off Jalan Nagasari, Kuala Lumpur

Fee: RM40 cover charge (includes first drink)

For reservations, call 03-21423737 (after 5pm)


More about Ravi Srinivasan: http://www.essence-movement.de/live/ravi/en

More about Az Samad: http://www.azsamad.com/about

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