Most of the time unknown to and unnoticed by the majority of German listeners, Trilok Gurtu has been living in Hamburg for a number of years . His Indian roots give his music a special meaning, flavour and power - his characteristic style - playing his numerous percussion instruments while sitting on the floor - forces everybody to look at him and gives stuff to wonder about.
Having become "well-known" - as worldmusic is "in" at the moment - Trilok Gurtu now wants to tell his listeners about Indian tradition. The way he mixes traditional and modern styles from India as well as from Africa is shown on his latest CD "African Fantasy" he explained to Carina Prange during this interview in Berlin:
Carina: You started playing music as a young child - would you say it took away something from your childhood?
Trilok: No! I think, it gave me a lot instead of taking. At that moment probably one thinks it has taken something away. Other children are playing normally and you are practising. But on the other hand I could not do without music also. So I can´t say it took away something. When I think about it now it has given a lot of value to my life.
Carina: Your parents were also famous musicians - was it difficult for you to find your own way?
Trilok: No, but nobody was playing percussion except my elder brother - my parents were singers. I wish ... - I should have learned singing from my mother! That is one thing I am regretting, that I should really have learned from my mother. I was only accompaning her. I became a tabla-player at the the age of five. However, I should have learned singing also. I mean I know about singing, but I have been never practicing it ....
Carina: What about Indian tradition - how much do you feel as a representative for it?
Trilok: I am a hundred-percent Indian traditionalist! I am not "playing anything" - that is for the media to be able to say what I am doing. The media puts me into "jazz". I am not even playing jazz! Improvised music doesn´t mean jazz-music. Indian music has been improvised since thousands of years! Eighty or ninety percent are improvised music. That is why we go through the education of learning music as improvised. Now, for just hundred years jazz has discovered improvisation. Any Indian musician doesn´t become a "jazz musician", just because people have little knowledge of Indian music. That is not my problem. That is because jazz musicians always want to play with somebody different.
Trilok Gurtu´s "drum-setup"
And the media and record companies, they don´t actually have an understanding of it and therefore call it jazz. They have no knowledge of African music or Indian music. And without Africa, you wouldn´t have jazz, you wouldn´t have blues, you wouldn´t have afro-cuban - you wouldn´t have a lot of music. And without India - the traditional - you wouldn´t have a lot of the things like what is happening in the modern days here. People are realizing it now. But the media have always said: "Indian music is difficult, it´s for meditation - it´s difficult; only jazz-people like it!" Pop-people have used it, but it has never been a hype as much as some other kinds of music, like "afro-brasil" now. Cuban is a hype! I´ve played with so many creative Cuban people, poor people who were suffering - I am very happy for them that they are getting acknowledgement now. But if somebody starts a hype, you know ... he starts a hype! - Cuban music has been going on for so long! Now the "eyes are open". It is now in India ... So I am a hundred percent of what I am doing: tradition! I am not imitating anybody.
Carina: What does it mean for you to be a musician?
Trilok: What it means is complete - it´s like having breakfast, dinner and lunch and breathing. I mean: I will die - if I don´t play music!.
Carina: For the listener - do you want to transport a kind of philosophy?
Trilok: I think, if you play music, you have to have a message. Like in India: we have a hierarchy system, from father to son, mother to daughter, mother to son - it was from the family. And there are definite rules - and very good rules. See: If you have a rule - and you break it with another good rule, that is no problem. But the rule is "spirituality" in music - "seelisch" ... The basic foundation of Indian music is: music is closest to God, closer to reality than modern day religion. So we have been brought up like that - we don´t mistreat our instrument, we don´t kick it with a foot, we never "cross" our instruments. It´s like a godess for us. So this hierarchy, the message for the young people ... - If you have a mentor, the mentor has to have a strong message. For example, maybe I have five or ten real fans. They will learn! They will really listen if I give an interview and say: This is this way ... - you know! - Because nowadays the mentor changes every one week, it is changing in the billboard. So that is not real "good" message laid down by people who sell millions of records. The young people are not really informed. All are lost, so the society is got to get messed up. The message is to educate them with good music - saying: Indian and African. They all think India and Africa are "third world" - but they don´t know what has been taken away from this sound, and what it is still giving.
Trilok Gurtu - "African Fantasie"
Everybody knows the computer, they can play nowadays - but they don´t know the roots. Where it really comes from, and where it can take you: music! So, what I am trying to do is to make "difficult things" to take that "clichée" out of the heads of journalist people and record companies. Indian music is not "difficult", it is dancable! You will see tonight: people will dance - it is not only to "sit down and meditate". - You have to do something if you want to meditate: you have to stop thinking. You always have to do something, it doesn´t come from alone.
Carina: What about the Germans, do you like them? Or: - you came to Germany and ... - say something yourself!
Trilok: No no, you complete your question and then I say something!
Carina: ... and were they fond of your music? I don´t think so ...
Trilok: You said it. I don´t know, I am playing and I live here by luck. Say, they don´t like it - what can I do? I can´t change. I can´t become Karl-Heinz - I am Trilok, you know! I am not Walter. I can´t do anything. But all the other countries are loving it: America, France and whatever ... - that is why she (Gaby, the tour manager) is there to help me to create this awareness. They are slow, the Germans are very slow. Very rigid - they´re into their New Orleans thing, into their American BeBop - where other countries are going forward. And I hope ... it´s not bad, there are also people who like it ... They are just slow propably, they´re not informed enough. - If there´s a big fashion in England ... wie lange würd´ das dauern bis das ´rüberkommt, Gaby?
Gaby: Kommt darauf an wieviel Mühe wir uns geben!
Trilok: Das ist immer so! ... I don´t know if they don´t like it - but I think they do! It´s not like English or French or American people. For example the Americans think this music is special - they´ve never heard anything similar to this compilation, it´s so different - the sound, you know! The way we are playing is not American. So for them - they are used that everybody is imitating them. The Germans are imitating Americans, I am not imitating the Americans - so they are looking for something fresh. And here I am. The Germans will come one day, and they will propably understand ...
Carina: "African Fantasie" is an album that is much more commercial than those before - why?
Trilok: Commercial !? Maybe in Germany it´s "commercial" - it´s accessable! Why? Tell me, in a jazz concert, how many people come in - twenty? Who understands jazz? Nobody! Yeah! Musicians: The world musician will never buy a CD, the jazz musician will never buy a CD, he always wants to be on the guest list, he always wants to go for "full free". What is that? What kind of a connection is that? I´ve always been "commercial"! Good commercial. I mean, Mozart is the best commercial idea for Germany - Bach and Mozart, the first commercial artists. Everybody sings their melodies, everybody talks about them, plays their music ... That´s the most "pop"! What is "commercial" and "not commercial"? Good commercial? So why are jazz people and classical people selling music? They should just play at home, via satellite! Why are they selling? If they start selling music it´s commercial. Stay at home! Do your concerts for the musicians who understand - and let´s see how you live, what you reach, what message you give - what guts do you have to do it? People don´t have guts, don´t even say this, they don´t have! They should stay at home ...
Take Glen Gould - he said: "I´m not playing! I just make records!" Still commercial - he still wants to sell music! Don´t believe all these people who give you big "guru talk" - all music-bullshit, they still want to be "on top"! They want to be on the billboard - if they get a good call from Sting, they will go. It´s all crap! Commercial music and aesthetic and ... - bullshit. Real b u l l s h i t, nobody has the guts to stop. I do it. I say: I want to make difficult music sound simple and you will see, young people will come. And that´s the best. For me it means that my audience is changing - propably - these jazz audience, jazz guys will say: "Ist zu laut!" Ist laut, mein Freund! Und? So what? He should come to my house, and I will play for him ... (lacht) ...
CD: Trilok Gurtu - "African Fantasy" (ESC 03664-2 / EFA)
Fotos: Guido Harari