I’ve long been fascinated with the vastness of the planet and the number of people on it, with the idea that over 7 billion people are going about their daily lives, compiling experiences and memories, emotions and thoughts, and that I will cross paths with only the smallest number of them. Even greater is my fascination with the human beings I have met, with the personalities I’ve interacted with and the lives I’ve briefly shared.
I think about Rafik, the auto-rickshaw driver who showed me around Jaipur; Julian, the grinning Bolivian who guided me into the Amazon Jungle; Govinda, the affable Nepalese trekker who walked me up and down the foothills of the Himalayas. I think about the short time I spent with each of them, and the fact that they’re still out there, living in those places and doing the very same things, while I’m sitting here at my desk in London.
On Sunday night, the roles were reversed.
Before introducing the 9 musicians from rural Rajasthan to a keen audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, renowned percussionist Pete Lockett described the journey you’d have to take to visit one of their villages. First, you’d spend 9 or 10 hours on a plane flying from London to Delhi, where you’d then have to board a train or bus to Jaipur, a trip that could take anything upwards of 4 hours. Once in the Pink City, you’d have to find another bus – this one smaller and much less frequent – to take you out into the desert, and eventually, after 5 hours or more, to one of these musicians’ villages.
Pete spent 20 years visiting India before he made the journey himself, but when finally he did, he unearthed a musical world untouched by the West, free from the vices of fame and fortune, and thus preserved with an authenticity that he found irresistibly captivating. Naturally, he collaborated, and with the support of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation built a number of musical relationships which, ultimately, is what brought us all to Alchemy.
They walked onto to the stage with palpable pride, apparently unaware that the privilege they felt to be playing in London paled in comparison to the privilege the audience felt in being able to witness a performance by 9 musicians who’ve barely set eyes beyond rural India. Their reserve, grace and measured movements only added to their charm, giving way to a raw intensity when they began playing their instruments. It was instantly mesmerising, and intensely evocative.
Lockett, who began the concert with a virtuosic solo performance demonstrating the full breadth of colours that can be painted by the percussion family, held the group together without once stifling the performance, adroitly blending traditional Indian rhythms and sounds with other musical flavours, from the clave pulse of samba to the dizzying scales of Tim Garland’s saxophone. At times, the dazzling diversity of musicianship meant it was difficult to know where to focus one’s attention.
Overall, the evening was a glorious exemplification of how music can transcend cultural boundaries, paying scarce regard to differences in language, tradition or place. It was fantastic to see a group of performers from such a broad variety of backgrounds play together, and to do so with a joy that was infectious, but even greater was the opportunity to peer directly into a new corner of the world. Those musicians will now travel from the heart of London back to the depths of Rajasthan, to a life far removed from our own, but for the briefest of moments our paths met, and that’s an experience I’ll never forget.