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DO the words `gyil' and `darabuka' strike a chord? Or have you missed the beat completely? Never mind; the players of gyil and darabuka won't. Got it! These are musical instruments, insignificant to many, but which are vital spokes in percussionist Pete Lockett's musical mission to integrate different traditions and styles of the world.
Gyil, which has its origins in Ghana, is made of wooden boards that rest on a frame over calabash gourds. The player has two sticks with which to strike the board, much like in a xylophone. Darabuka, which has West Asian roots, is goblet-shaped bigger than the South Indian temple instrument udukkai; another difference being that, unlike the latter, darabuka can be played with both hands, with one hand doing the primary job of holding on to the instrument. These instruments were in action during the workshop conducted at the British Council, Chennai, by Pete's group, Network of Sparks, which includes Nana Tsiboe and Simon Limbrick, who are multi-instrumentalists like Pete.
On this tour of India, the group has performed in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, with kanjira player and son of ghatam vidwan T.H. `Vikku' Vinayakram, V. Selvaganesh, and members of the Indian band Mrigya.
The challenge in introducing gyil and darabuka to an Indian audience or tabla and kanjira to a Western audience lies in presenting the music "on a platform which is recognisable by the people", says Pete. A sample of this was evident during the workshop when Pete tried to replicate on the darabuka the mridangam korvais, about which he has studied.
Network of Sparks has worked with various musicians in different countries whose traditions it has tried to integrate into its music. To start with, "we agree on a common goal," says Pete. This goal, however, doesn't restrict an individual's freedom of musical expression, although it also doesn't allow domination by a single musician or a genre. But there are similarities in cultures, which allow a musician to move from one to another, says Simon.
Understanding the music isn't enough; one has to understand the culture too, the musicians say. This becomes even more important for African music, which has been an integral part of the group's concerts. Ghanian Nana says the African drumbeats are actually phrases! So, in order to play a phrase, the percussionist has to understand the context in which it has been said. Quite a task!
The group is clear about what it aims from such an experiment. Not money, for sure. "Why should I care about commercial viability," asks Pete. "Playing music inspires me. I want to learn and be challenged."


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