Published on: Roots of the World, written by Richard Hurren

Simon Thacker’s Svara Kanti, Sage Gateshead, Thursday 6th December 2012

I had been very much looking forward to this concert having had the chance to listen to some of Svara Kanti beforehand. Despite a cold wet December Tyneside night, I was not going to be put off some hot music! Indeed this music fusing together Indian and Western traditions proved for me a perfect vehicle to transport myself to somewhere warmer than Gateshead!

Simon who is a classical guitarist and based in Edinburgh was joined for this project by violinist Jackie Shave , also a member of the Britten Sinfonia, vocalist Japjit Kaur, as well as internationally renowned tabla player Sarvar Sabri. Together they combined to perform the constituent parts of the project which included works by a number of living composers, as well as Simon Thacker’s own compositions and arrangements of existing pieces.

Simon gave a helpful brief introduction prior to each of the pieces which highlighted a variety of influences including Indian Rags, the sacred Hindu texts Upanishads, blues, Hispanic influences, and minimalism. Jackie Shave’s violin at times played melodies and sounds which reminded me of aspects of the Russian 20th century composer Shostakovich.-The palette that the work was drawn from was therefore truly a fusion of cultures. There was also more detailed musical theory information regarding the music from Simon as well as much warmth and humour which contributed to the enjoyment of the evening.

From the very beginning, with the first piece Dhumaketu , one of Simon’s own compositions an Hispanic style of guitar playing took me to somewhere like a hot day in central Spain, the guitar then adopted a plaintiff mournful tone whilst the tabla expertly played by Sarvar Sabri , began its insistent percussive waves creating a sense of drama that never left the whole evening. I was prepared for the further musical and emotional excitement that lay ahead by the manner in which violin, guitar, and tabla engaged. It felt to like musical jousting or call and response- an exhilarating interplay. This set the overall tone for the evening, there being no sense of anti-climax after the initial work. We were then joined by Japjit Kaur whose sweet harmonies, hand movements and the sheer joy she displayed in her music making added another wonderful layer to the music on offer. Throughout the evening, the instruments conversed with each other, in a musical conversation. At times there were layers of sound built up including when the pace of the music particularly on tabla, voice and guitar was frenetic- it felt as if an explosion would take place. At other times there was utter tranquillity, Jackie Shave’s violin in particular bringing this for me in music that was dissonant and had a languid quality. This was an evening of great variety musically but also of varying feeling and energy levels. The whole effect for me of this musical cocktail was one of energy, calm, and emotional release as I felt myself taken on a sensory and emotional journey.

The highlight of Svara Kanti for me was the work Anusvara 6th Prism for voice, guitar, violin and tabla . Although short it made up for this with the wonderful combination of short stabbing sounds of guitar and violin, Japjit Kaur’s quickfire singing and Sarvar Sabri ‘s rapid delicate tabla playing producing a time of great excitement. I for one would love to see the music interpreted in dance adding movement and the physical colour of dancing garments to it! The piece resolves in a very laid back end with sitar backing leaving the listener at peace which is also how I was left at the end of the concert!The conclusion of the evening also included a thoughtful encore-a Punjabi love song beautifully sung by Japjit Kaur.

If you are wondering whether Svara Kanti or any of Simon Thacker’s projects/works are for you , and if you like East meets West or “classical” meets “World” then this may be for you or at the very least an intriguing and potentially highly rewarding prospect. Simon promises further works which hopefully will mean he will get the chance to return to Sage Gateshead with Svara Kanti or a new project once again.

Before ending this review thanks are due to the Sage Gateshead and local multicultural arts organisation Gem Arts for helping to make this evening a reality.

first published on Dec 7th 2012 at