20 February 2012

NAADRO: harvesting the rhythms of the sun

In the classic sculptured posture where Lord Shiva is depicted as Nataraj or Lord of the Dance, that which symbolizes life (according to some interpretations) is the drum (‘fire’, held in another of the four hands depicting ‘death’).  It does not take mythology or faith to tell us that rhythm is basic, however. 

We begin with heartbeat after all.  It is said that the most reassuring thing for an infant is the mother’s heartbeat.   From then, until death, our lives pulsate with beat in innumerable forms.  This is perhaps why we involuntarily tap our feet to music, even music that is totally foreign to our ears.  We may not know the lyrics or understand the logic of melody, but we recognise and identify with the beat.  Our lives are made of and surrounded by percussion, although we don’t necessarily think of it like that. 

Drums are basic, in other words or rather ‘drumming’ is fundamental to the human condition.  It comes patterned in so many things we don’t automatically label as ‘music’.  In the play of hammer and anvil, that of fingertip on keyboard, the working of a press, the work of mortar and pestle, the swish-swish of winnowing fan, or the incessant right-click-refresh of a nervous IT trouble-shooter, we remain a ‘percussioned’ species.  

Percussion is universal and is made of rhythmic commonalities that cuts across time and space, region and continent, language and dialect, faith and myth, politics and ideology.  It is timeless.  It is specific. Right now.  

Specific because its universality is articulated, absorbed and celebrated by singular embodiment of the genre, Naadro.

Naadro.  The name was coined by the incomparable Arisen Ahubudu and means hiruge naadaya ada gannaa or that which draws the sound of the sun, which as we know is giver of all, especially energy.  Naadro  consists of an eclectic mix of young and mature talent and is a highly trained, meticulously professional group of young men united in their common love for and pursuit of supreme proficiency in percussion from the Sri Lankan, Indian, African, Mediterranean and Latin idioms.

It all began in 2007 when six young undergrads studying the Performing Arts at the University of Colombo were brought together by their common passion for percussion.  Led by Rakitha Wickramaratne whose percussionist talent was identified at a very young age, the group included Gayan Manokumara, Nalinda Dilupama, Ranga Nuwantha, Nupathi Nilambara and Uthpala Iroshan, all artists who were trained by those considered to be doyens of percussion in Sri Lanka such as Piyasara Shilpadhipathi and Ravi Bandu Vidyapathi.  The team has since been strengthened by
Chaturanga Chitrajit, Gayrika Weerasinghe, Nuwan Liyanage, Lahiru and Tharindu.

They are all ideologically committed to the kind of cross-cultural sharing and learning that rhythmic universality makes for and this is evidenced in its preoccupation with fusion music, where they’ve drawn from many sources, from many cultures and musical traditions. 

Naadro began its long and yet unfinished and necessarily unending journey across the global musical firmament as a percussion band, starting off with some rudimentary percussion instruments, some of which were popular across the world.  Within a short period of time they not only obtained instruments from a wide range of cultures but through sheer dedication, practice and love for music became proficient at using them to expand the horizons of their percussionist passions.  In this way Naadro made a mark among the few globally recognized percussion bands. 

Learning does not end and Naadro constantly explores the potential of employing the traditional percussion instruments from India, Japan, Latin America and Africa along with traditional Sri Lanka drums to create new percussion music.  Perhaps this is why they have attracted a large and growing following across the world. 
One of the key and unique features of Naadro is the deliberate effort to go beyond percussion instruments and to incorporate anything and everything that can produce sound as appropriate for the particular creative exercise in order to mould a signature style of percussion.  This includes at times a kitchen utensil, at times vehicle spare parts or even the implements used by a mason. 

It is perhaps indicative of the freshness and creative uniqueness of Naadro that many advertisers have recognized in them an immense communicative potential in introducing products and services.   Naadro quickly emerged as a ‘must have’ element in corporate events and have received many invitations to provide background music for movies and songs.  Perhaps the ‘coming of age’ of the group is best indicated by the kinds of global brands they endorse.  The Latin Percussion Company (drums), Gibraltar (hardware), Sabian (symbols), Vicfarth (sticks) and Remo (drumheads) have all found Naadro to be effective brand ambassadors.

Rhythm is common and that which is common cross-fertilizes and is made for experiencing and sharing.  Naadro has sought, shared with and learned from the most accomplished exponents from all parts of the world.   They have performed in the USA, South Africa, Australia (Para Masala Festival, Sydney), India and Singapore and are set to tour the UK, Norway and New Zealand shortly, along with revisits to Australia and the USA.  They’ve shared stage with the likes of Shakira, Shaggy and Linkin Park at the Singapore Ground Prix and yet remain utterly young and full of energy and humility. 
Most encouragingly, Naadro is committed to popularizing percussion among the younger generation.  They have devoted the entire first quarter of the year 2012 to conduct various programmes for school children. 
Drums are about rhythm.  Rhythm is common to all cultures across time and space.  It is a phenomenon that everyone can relate to, can identify with, can own, share and celebrate.  Naadro believes that this particular genre of music is ideally suited to setting up ‘common ground’ for communities separated by geographical realities, political processes, histories of mistrust and fracture to come together in non-threatening and non-confrontational manner and thereby facilitate dialogues pertaining to peace, mutual respect, healing and co-existence.

It is then not just about the freeing, intoxicating and indescribable thing called passion, but a responsible engagement which includes deeper reflection of the human condition as well as the social reality that surrounds them.  Maybe that’s what drums are all about.  Maybe that’s what the timeless sculpture of Nataraja is all about. Maybe it is impossible to say in words but eminently articulated in rhythm.  Maybe it is time to stop and listen.

[published in 'The Nation', February 19, 2012]


Jani Bee said...

You've done the needful! Kudos+ hats off for this one:)