Incredible India–Week One
Words are inadequate to describe India, absent firsthand experience. But I’ll try…
First some of the bad aspects: overcrowded, polluted air and water, huge economic disparities, beggars, noisy, unbearable traffic jams, etc.
Now some of the good aspects: friendly people, ancient culture, philosophical wisdom embodied in noted leader such as Gandhi, amazing cuisine, unique historical structures, beautiful handicrafts, mangos and more, beautiful music, etc.
I’ve visited India more than a dozen times, mostly on music-oriented tours. This year’s tour is more tourist-oriented, including our upcoming tour of South India.
Explaining my love affair with India
As Susan and I work on our bucket list of things we want to do while we still can, we are embarking on a two week guided tour of South India, a region that neither of us has visited before. All my previous trips to India were in North India, which is home to the Hindustani classical music, which is one of my lifelong pursuits. South India is home to a quite different style called Carnatic music, though the two styles share some features, such as the fundamental Indian concepts of raga (melody) and tala (rhythm).
I’ll begin with some background on my musical adventure that have let me to return to India almost every year, except during covid.
My personal history in India
My love affair with India began with my first visit as a back-packing hippie in 1971. I discovered Hindustani classical music as played on the bamboo flute, the bansuri. This discovery changed my life as a musician. On my first visit to California in 1974, I discovered the existence of Ali Akbar College of Music, (AACM) founded in 1967 by master musician Ali Akbar Khan in Marin County, California. I resolved to enroll at that college. In January 1975, I moved from Georgia to California and have lived in the West, California and Nevada, ever since.
While attending AACM over a period of eight years 1975-83, I established my music career in Marin County, playing saxophones, flutes, and clarinet at jam sessions, recording sessions, weddings, parties, whatever gigs I could find. I didn’t earn money playing Indian music, but it enriched and improved my musical skills immensely.
My first musical tours in India
In 1982, I took the opportunity to join a tour in India as a musician with a dance troop led by the late master Kathak dancer Chitresh Das. We performed concerts in five major Indian cities, from Calcutta to Bombay. At the end of the tour, the imminent table virtuoso Zakir Hussain (whom I had met when he was on the faculty of AACM) introduced me to the “godfather of Indian jazz,” keyboardist Louiz Banks. Louiz brought me in to the Bollywood film industry to record for legendary Indian composer/producer R.D. Burman. I have maintained my contacts with Louiz and Zakir and will be seeing them in two weeks when Susan and I return to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) again.
I returned to India again in 1983 to play jazz. I might have returned every year but for the fact that in 1984 I met my current traveling companion, my wife of thirty-six years, Susan Mazer. I traveled with Susan to India in 2002. Starting in 2006, I toured India with the Swedish group Mynta for a decade. Most recently in 2020, Susan and I performed at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai with our dear friend, Kathak dancer Aditi Bhagwat.
The first week in India of our four-week visit
I had met Aditi in 2015 while on tour in India with Mynta. Aditi visited us in Reno, where she performed in one of our home concerts as well as on stage with the Sierra Nevada Ballet. So when we arrived in Mumbai this past Wednesday, Aditi was the first of our friends in Mumbai that we met. In fact, we are hoping to present her in concert this coming summer 2023 in Reno. Watch for a future announcement!
Aditi informed us of a concert on our second night in India (this past Thursday) by the imminent master drummer/percussionist Trilok Gurtu. I had met Trilok previously when Mynta opened for him at a huge fusion-jazz festival in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Before this past week, I had heard Trilok perform several times. Every time I hear him I think, this guy is absolutely one of, if not the best percussionist in the world! I don’t say this lightly. I am familiar with so many great jazz drummers, e.g. Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, Jack Dejonette, Elvin Jones, etc. I just encourage anyone interested in investigating the accuracy of my praise of Trilok to search for his recordings with guitarist John McLaughlin, the group Oregon, as well as his solo albums as leader. He performs on his substantial drum set, along with table drums, cajon, and a wide assortment of percussion instruments. In the concert this past week at the NCPA, we heard him in concert with an eleven-member eclectic Israeli group called Castle in Time. Their concert was astounding, a fantastic musical welcome to India.
Traveling from Mumbai to Goa
After two nights in Mumbai, we flew to Goa, a region of India that was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961, when India expelled the Portuguese and annexed the Goan territory. It became an official state of India in 1987. It is India’s smallest state, but one of its most prosperous. The Portuguese influence is still present in the many Catholic churches (including many Indian Catholics) as well as the presence of pork in the Goan diet. Pork is not served anywhere else in India due to Hindu and Moslem restrictions. Goa became a favoring hippie destination in the 1970’s onward. Nudity and other outrageous behaviors by hippie tourists were more tolerated in Goa than elsewhere in India. More recently, Goa has become more commercialized, including being a cruise ship port destination, as well as the construction of huge hotel resorts.
In 1983 I had visited Goa for the first time, performing a concert on the renowned Baga Beach with the group Ji-Whiz. Ji-Whiz was a great Indian-fusion group, in some ways a predecessor to the Swedish group Mynta. The drummer with Ji-Whiz, Ranjit Barot, has achieved great success touring for several years with guitarist John McLaughlin. Another musician, Remo Fernandes, that I met in 1982 in Mumbai is a native of Goa. He is something of an Indian superstar, writing pop hits and touring widely. I had a long phone conversation with him, though we couldn’t get together this time. Remo divides his time between Goa and Porto, Portugal. (Having grown up in Goa, he speaks Portuguese as well as Hindi.) Susan and I had the pleasure of meeting Remo several years ago in Porto, when we were on our Viking Douro River cruise.
My American friend who arranged this year’s concerts
Another close friend of mine in American Dee Wood, a San Francisco native who has lived in India for several decades. He was previously married to an Indian woman, and they have a beautiful adult daughter. Dee is a bass player who is well connected to the music scenes in Mumbai and Goa. Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of playing three sets of great jazz with Dee, and three other musicians, two of whom I had performed with on previous visits. The setting was an excellent Italian restaurant, frequented mostly by tourists and expats. There were four women (contemporary “hippie chicks”?) who danced to our jazz most of the night. When Susan and I return to Mumbai in three weeks, Dee has arranged a club date for us there. That will be my opportunity to invite everyone I know in Mumbai to come hear us. I call Dee my Indian manager.
As I write this on February 14, 2023, Susan and I have met our driver/guide for a two week private guided tour of South India. The adventures continue…I will be blogging!
DannyFebruary 14, 2023 at 6:58 pm
According to the Portuguese, Goa was a province of Portugal and not a colony.
Dallas SmithFebruary 25, 2023 at 7:28 am
…Goa was a Portuguese province like Putin thinks Ukraine is a Russian province.
MonaMarch 6, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Amazing as always, Dallas!!