Free Spirits of the East and West

Published by: New Music Scotland
About: Simon Thacker

Simon Thacker on the inspiration behind his latest project:


The latest chapter in my lifelong journey seeking new soundworlds through the meeting and expanding of South Asian traditions makes its full premiere in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival this August, as part of the Made in Scotland showcase, with a new trio lineup of Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti. A programme expressly absolutely contemporary, initiating a new tradition, will simultaneously also be rooted in the ancient mystical Baul Bengali folk tradition, a culture that I’ve aspired to connect with in this way for many years.

I’ve always been inspired, fascinated and moved by the diversity of ways people around the world express themselves through sound. If something speaks to me deeply, no matter how counterintuitve, far removed or just plain different to my musical “background”, I immerse myself in it, I ruminate on it, I analyse it (if necessary), I amplify the elements that affect me the most and make them part of my musical language, I make it part of me, of how I express myself on a subconscious level. This has allowed me to successfully compose for, connect, collaborate and perform with a range of performers I could barely have dreamt of when I was doing my music degrees. Whether I’m playing with great jazz performers in my Ritmata quartet (taking inspiration from every imaginable source, medieval Spain, the Middle East, Afghanistan and more, all transformed through the prism of my musical language), with great Indian performers in Svara-Kanti (where I expressly extend, reimagine and subvert aspects of traditions from South Asia), or in my duo with Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska (where I explore my influences in a more abstracted way in a virtuoso chamber music setting), my voice is still unmistakable. Performance, composition and improvisation are inseparable to all of this work.

The programme I am bringing to the Edinburgh Fringe in August will be the most concentrated any of my projects has been on one Indian form (Svara-Kanti and my first Indian group, The Nava Rasa Ensemble, have previously been explicitly wide ranging). Svara-Kanti has, since its inception in 2011, been a quartet of guitar, singer, violin (or cello) and tabla. We made our Indian debut in November 2014 to standing ovations and great reviews. As part of those performances I initiated a collaboration with Raju das Baul as special guest, for two songs. Made in Scotland will be the premiere of the full programme for the trio of me, Raju and tabla master Sarvar Sabri (who himself has a lineage in Indian classical music which can be traced back to the 16th century court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, and has performed in all of my Indian based projects), a lineup that has massive possibilities in terms of both composition and improvisation. The latter is an area that has become increasingly important in my performances in all of my ensembles (and solo classical recitals) and again this programme will mark another first, where the balance has been tipped in favour of improvisation and spontaneous interaction.


Baul music, which famously heavily influenced and was championed by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, is one of the most emotionally direct, distinctive and compelling forms you will ever hear. Dig a little deeper and you will find wonderful poetry with universal messages about love, life’s mysteries, spirituality and truth, wrapped in symbolism, metaphor and allegory. Baul musicians invariably sing and play a variety of unique instruments, with spontaneous dancing in joyous response to their music. I’m delighted to have connected with Raju das Baul, possessor of one of the most soulful voices on the world stage and a virtuoso of the khamak, a characteristic Baul string instrument capable of a truly remarkable range of sounds, from the most delicate whisper to a ferocious howl.

The Baul repertoire is a vast oral tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. As well as reimagining songs by luminaries such as the great mystic singer Lalon Fakir (c.1774 1890), the programme will include music by the aforementioned Bengali polymath Tagore, who wrote many songs heavily influenced by Baul music and culture, which were subsequently appropriated by and reinterpreted by Bauls themselves. A specially written instrumental showpiece completes the music.

It is a great honour to be part of Made in Scotland, a curated showcase of the best arts across all genres from Scotland at the world’s biggest arts festival, once again representing Scotland to international audiences and promoters (Simon Thacker’s Ritmata was selected last year and as a direct result of those performances we will be touring New Zealand extensively in September).

Svara-Kanti features a very special lineup, with music that will simultaneously connect, expand and transcend the cultural knowledge and expressive means of the peoples of disparate continents and centuries, to arrive at a soundworld that is only possible now. Audiences will experience three kindred spirits creating some of the most liberated, free-spirited new music that the east and the west can offer.

The show will be on 15-23/08/2015 21:05 in Summerhall. Tickets available from:


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