Indian music, dance troupe to perform at Livermore's Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
Borne aloft on classical Indian music traditions known to centuries of maharajahs, fueled by the propulsive energy of acrobats, fire-breathing artists and daredevil dancing, Bharti has added a contemporary touch: Bollywood tunes and a mashup of Western and Indian instruments including bass drums, side drums, trombone, tabla, dholak, harmonium, clarinet and more.
The 17-member troupe, with four female dancers and a main acrobat, will bring the past, present and future wonders of the "Spirit of India" to the Bankhead Theater on Tuesday.
"We are cultural ambassadors coming to entertain with joy, happy love and lots of color," says Bharti.
A native of Jaipur, India, Bharti is a professional tabla (Indian drum) player born into the seventh generation of an Indian musical family. His ancestors played for royalty; Bharti plays for anyone, exuberantly. He says fulfillment rises from sharing traditional songs. "The lyrics come from India's dialects and 26 languages, the songs are taught through oral traditions, the themes connect to my forefathers' and foremothers' songs of war, happy village life and other things."
The performance at the Bankhead includes solo and ensemble instrumental and vocal pieces, some paired with spinning or snake charming dances, others adding foundation and tempo for pot-balancing, sword demonstrations and fire-breathing. "My idea was to create something other than films, what people think of when they think of Bollywood. It was my idea to add dance to the live concerts because it brings a new color, more visuals to the show."
The idea to incorporate Western instruments into the orchestra came from a deeper desire -- an artist's natural but urgent need for novelty. "Indian brass bands became an important part of India because they play for marriages and festivals. I learned that I could create a new sound I couldn't imagine (by mixing) loud brass with traditional instruments to create a new, big sound. This music I've listened to since my childhood, keeping my traditions and adding the new brass, it's India of today but also of history."
Bharti says an unexpected pleasure of the "Spirit of India" tour is the parallel journeys it provides. He selected top musicians from small villages to comprise the band and says many of them have lived traditional Indian lives, rarely leaving the country until now. They are reveling in the international sights and sounds. At the same time, audiences in Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States are experiencing "complete travel to India." He says, "The show is rich. It's like a passage. That makes them happy."
Less happy are the moments he's faced with mountains of paperwork. "Visa documents, itineraries, paper and more paper," he says. The company is represented by Columbia Artists Management Inc. and he's grateful for the arrangements they make. Even so, there are many questions at border crossings about mothers' and fathers' names and there are food preferences to anticipate. "We have vegetarians who don't eat meat, so we put a rider in our contract that says we want to eat in Indian restaurants."
Learning of the large Indian community in the Bay Area, estimated at 270,000 people, Bharti is pleased but says everyone will be invited into the fold of Indian life and culture. "This is a live show. I talk in between says everyone will be invited into the fold of Indian life and culture. "This is a live show. I talk in between and explain the history. It's important for me to present the culture. Some of the instruments are Western, but the soul is Indian."