Matt Keegan’s musical journey to India
On bringing a new musical concept to life, from jamming in 2009 to performance and touring in 2017
JK: How did this project come about?
MK: I first travelled to India in 2009 with my wife on our honeymoon as part of a round the world trip. I had been invited to visit and stay with a family friend, Sutopa who has an apartment in Santiniketan, a small university village in rural West Bengal, three hours north of Kolkata by train. Sutopa had offered to introduce me to some of her family and friends in the area, most of whom are musicians and artists. Being in Kolkata was a life changing experience but it was travelling and staying in Santiniketan that really opened my eyes and heart and made me fall in love with India.
I met and spent time with some of the local Baul folk musicians who live in that part of the world. I learnt enough about their music and culture to become quite intrigued. I also really enjoyed the way that music was integrated into Indian society much more deeply than it is in Australia.
It was during this first trip that I met the members of The Three Seas. We were introduced individually in different scenarios. I got to know them personally and musically as we played in varied formal and informal performance situations. I met and jammed with many people on that trip in 2009 but I felt that three guys in particular stood out and I had a strong sense that, in collaboration with some specific colleagues from home, we could create a really interesting sound together.
JK: Tell us a little about the Indian musicians you are working with.
MK: The musicians are all from West Bengal but come from very different backgrounds. Raju Das is a Baul musician. His father is a tabla player and he grew up immersed in that tradition, studying the culture and music at a dedicated Baul ashram. When I met Raju he was a talented young boy but he has blossomed into a master singer and khamak player who now travels the world performing.
The khamak was a very big part of the sound that really excited me about Baul music. It is a pitched string instrument that is strummed but acts and sounds a bit like a talking drum.
Gaurab Chatterjee, or Gaboo, is the drummer from a well known rock band in West Bengal called Lakkhichhara. His father was also a musician and Gaboo was brought up listening to and playing with musicians from India and abroad. He was also exposed to music from the Baul culture. He plays wonderful drum kit and is
also a master of the dubki – a traditional Baul hand drum.
Deo Ashis Mothey is a very enigmatic person who has fascinated me since I met him. He is Indian but with parents from a Nepalese background. He brings a different musical flavour with a folk music style from high in the mountains in Darjeeling. He has studied music formally in Santiniketan and has also spent time with the Bauls so understands that culture too. He works incredibly hard for his community through his Warnamala Pariwar foundation which helps teach children through music. He has taken me on many adventures to meet some very interesting people.
JK: What have you discovered through this musical collaboration?
MK: I have discovered how much effort it can sometimes take to bring a musical concept to life! The experience has also highlighted my strengths and weaknesses as a musician, composer and band leader. I have had to work incredibly hard on certain aspects of my playing and musicianship and have had to let go of certain concepts and ideas as my understanding and awareness has deepened over the years. Some of the places that these friends have taken me in India is beyond my ability to put into words. I have some amazing experiences as a musician and person to thank them for. I am really excited to host these guys in Australia and can’t wait to return the favour and hopefully provide them with an unforgettable experience here.
JK: What is the most inspiring part of this project?
MK: I think the most inspiring part of the project so far was the time we shared together at the Piramal Haveli in the Rajasthan desert. I was the winner of the 2011 Freedman fellowship and my proposal was to take myself and my brother Tim, who plays bass, plus recording engineer Richard Belkner to India to record an album with Raju, Ashish and Gaboo.
We all met up in Delhi and stayed with our friend, guitarist Cameron Deyell who was living in India at the time. We rehearsed for two weeks and then made the long five hour Journey south of Delhi to the tiny village of Bagar to stay at the Piramal Haveli, which is a beautiful 100 year old Italian style guest house in the middle of rural India. We took over the whole place for a week and turned it into a recording studio.
Living and recording there each day and night was an amazing and inspiring time for us all. It really was a magical experience and one that will be hard to top.
JK: What have been some of the the challenges?
MK: The main challenges are always logistical ones with a group based in two or three different countries. It adds extra time, expense and red tape to anything we try and organise. Working on the visa’s for this trip to Australia was very challenging for me!
Aside from that there are a few cultural and language differences that provide challenges in communicating clearly together. Making sure we are all on the same page about things can take extra time.
JK: What can we expect to hear during your shows in March?
MK: We have been sending tracks back and forth as we begin figuring out the new music we will play. I have made a great start on the sounds and ideas I want to bring to the table and the other guys will have their ideas and songs to add too. It will be a eclectic mix of traditional folk music and instruments with a contemporary twist of sounds and compositional ideas. The interesting fusion of instruments and
voices make for a really unique starting point but it is up to us to make sure we get the blend just right. There will be a few traditional songs that we include, but we will present a mostly original program that has been inspired and informed by our previous experiences together.
We have a week to rehearse once everyone gets here, so we have to make the most of that time. We are all very excited to present our music to Australian audiences and the experience of being together once again will no doubt fuel the band with a vigorous energy and add a special feeling to the music we make.