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Ganesh Anandan’s
Light Fingers

Philippe Renaud


WHILE MOST Western drummers play using sticks, percussionists from the Indian tradition play directly with their fingers – a fascinating spectacle. While Western drummers surround themselves with an array of cymbals, drums and paraphanalia, Indian drummers seem to get the same range of sounds out of a simple skin stretched over a wooden frame and their own ten fingers.
   To spend an hour with percussionist Ganesh Anandan is to discover the complexity of his art and with it the rich and colorful palette of sounds he creates. Anandan makes his drums speak with his palms, his fingertips and even his nails. He creates glissandos and short sharp tempos. He plays the skin, the rim and mentions the importance of jingles… He sings his rhythms too (keeping within the rules of kirtana, the raga in South Indian music) playing in 9/4 or 5/4.
   Ganesh Anandan has been a Montrealer for the past twelve years, and before that he lived in… Jonquière! He also lived in Toronto for a time, en route to the west coast to plant trees. “I had to earn money to return to India for further studies with my master,” he explains over a bowl of café au lait. His last trip took place a year ago and he stayed for five months. He forsees a lifetime of study before becoming a master in his own right.
   Tonight, expect to be fascinated. Ganesh Anandan presents a concert entitled FingerWorks and Guests, as part of the Portraits de musique nouvelle series at Théâtre La Chapelle. The concert includes Anandan’s trio FingerWorks, playing music from the album of the same name, followed by pieces from his second demo, Ganesh Funk, a mix of airy percussion and liquid funk. Special guest Carlo Rizzo, expert in the Italian tambourine, will accompany Anandan on traditional and invented instruments.
   A small detail: tonight, no sitars or tables, instruments common to the North Indian Hindustani musical tradition. Ganesh Anandan plays South Indian Karnatak drums such as the Kanjera, as well as the Goumki and the Bodhran.
Pardoxically, although it is being presented in a series of new music, the Indian finger-drumming tradition is at least 1200 years old! “My work has been to transpose traditional Karnatak techniques onto alternative surfaces,” explains Anandan. “I like to explore different textures, as well as integrating contemporary music, such as funk, into my playing. I also invent and build my own instruments.”
   During his last stay in India, Ganesh Anandan concentrated his effort on transposing his playing onto different instruments. The fruits of his inventiveness are seen in his collaborations: Ramasutra Project with DJ Ram, Omar Sosa’s Cuban quintet, American jazz-fusioners Oregon…
   “What fascinates me with Indian music is that even if its rules are complex and its techniques demanding, the result is very accessible and universal. I think that’s part of its appeal. First came Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain in the 70s, with John McLaughlin’s Shakti – all North Indian Music. Representing the south, violinist L. Shankar became known. Today there’s a whole scene of musicians established in London (Talvin Singh, Badmarsh and Shri…) whose work is contemporary but influenced by Indian music. Our musical structures, once you understand them, are relatively easy to learn and offer inspiration to musicians working in jazz, in electronica, etc…”
   “The challenge for me it to take a rhythm in 7 or 9 and make it accessible. It’s got to flow, to groove, without being square or jarring!”