Being a musician, when you are playing music it isn’t just for entertainment. It is like an offering or a prayer to something bigger than yourself – Mattu, the Bahh band
Earlier this year, I interviewed the Bahh band, an Irish band with deep set roots emerging from India, for Citizen Brooklyn. Here’s what went down:
In recent times, India has seen a massive growth in gigs and concerts with Bangalore at its epicenter. Art and cultural organizations across the world have begun showing interest in the music scene here and the city has seen several musicians from different countries perform at packed venues.
The Bahh Band, a Galway seven piece was in the city recently as part of a tour organized by the Irish Arts Council. The band has been drawing attention in India with their musical fusion that has been built on a bedrock of Indian classical music, tangled up with bluegrass, driven by pulsating acoustic and electric rhythms, and infused with ethereal vocals in the Eastern and Irish traditions, brewing a musical melting pot.
Every time someone mentions Indian classical music, one is teleported to the world of ragas and the sitar. The Bahh Band was a world apart and a wonderful experience. I happened to interview Mattu, who plays the sarode for the band, and he was a real fun guy!
CBK: How did a group of Irish folks end up playing Indian classical music?
Mattu: Well, actually, it is just me and another Italian tabla player (Ciro) who play Indian classical music. He’s more of a guest and doesn’t play with us at every gig (he wasn’t present for the India tour). I met him in Calcutta where I have been studying Indian music since 2004, we used to visit in the winters and learn together. I am originally from Australia where I used to play rock music before I shifted to Ireland. In Ireland, Ciro and I met a couple of other musicians who were really interested in Indian music and we started playing together. It wasn’t very long before we were able to come up with our own sound and create cohesiveness between the various instruments.
CBK: What inspires you most about the Indian culture?
Mattu: What I love most about the Indian culture is the music. What inspires me about the music is how there is a deep philosophy and spiritually that is infused in it and in almost every aspect of life. Being a musician, when you are playing music it isn’t just for entertainment. It is like an offering or a prayer to something bigger than yourself. Even when I am playing other kinds of music, I try maintaining that same philosophy and spirituality.
CBK: How did you come up with the name of the band?
Mattu: Well, Ciro and I were staying in Calcutta for a while and in Bengal, they said “Bahh” as an expression when something is good. So, when we were practicing we used to say “Bahh, kya baat hai” (Translation: “Wow, wonderful!”) to each other. People in Ireland used to hear us say this and it became something like a joke. When we formed the band, we decided to name it The Bahh Band.
CBK: I’ve noticed the band has a total of seven members, but there’s only five of you here today.
Mattu: Well, it’s more like a collective than a band. The members playing together vary from gig to gig and there are times when we even have twelve members on stage. It’s all about the various musical influences that each band member brings along. There have been gigs when we’ve had a drummer and an electronic artist along with vocalists all collaborating on stage.
CBK: What are your musical influences?
Mattu: Everyone in the band is playing a different instrument. So each member brings in different musical influences to the sound of the band. Tom has a blues background and writes his own songs. Brian has an Irish background and plays traditional Irish music. The vocalist, Malgorzta is from Poland and draws influences from traditional folk music. Pauli, the bass player, has roots in punk music. So every band member has their roots deep set in different kinds of music and they bring it all together to create The Bahh Band.
CBK: The band has performed all over the world in various festivals and concerts. What kind of reception do you get from audiences across the world?
Mattu: In the present scenario, a lot of people around the world know about India in one way or another. People relate to India either through Bollywood, Ravi Shankar, or through some musical instrument like the tabla or the sitar. Also, I’m not playing Indian music, but merely playing on an Indian instrument. That being said, the culture definitely is an inspiration to the kind of music that I play. People really appreciate the kind of music we play because it’s an unusual sound and an unusual line up of the instruments.
CBK: Do the songs you play have a story behind them?
Mattu: Some of the songs are instrumental and I feel those are the ones with the deepest meanings. Like how Hindustani music has a lot of meaning and improvisation to it. We try and leave room for personal interpretation of our songs which lets the listener come up with a deep set meaning that is not about you, but very abstract and sometimes spiritual. The songs we do tend to have a spiritual and philosophical nature, but it’s not about Hare Krishna or God. Even when we do covers, like a song called “Blacksmith”, we ensure there is opportunity for the audience to develop their own meaning from the song and appreciate it on different levels.
CBK: With each band member involved in their own kind of music, how do you guys manage shows and rehearsals?
Mattu: Sometimes it’s really difficult. All of us live in Ireland, but we are all spread across. Most of us are travelling for shows and recordings and it’s difficult to meet up and rehearse, but there are times when we decide to get together and rehearse continuously for a week. Then there might be times when we don’t meet for months, but even when we don’t meet, it’s easy to pick up where we left off. I think that’s the connection we share where we know each other’s music and it’s easy to connect. The great thing about Indian classical music is that you don’t need to rehearse. The improvised nature of our music also helps and we trust each other knowing that we can all meet and pick up from where we left. It’s such an unusual mix of talent and music; I don’t think I’d want it any other way.
CBK: How did the transformation from indie rock to Indian classical music happen?
Mattu: When I first listened to Indian classical music, I actually felt the energy. Especially with North Indian classical there is a lot of emotion and pathos. I think that’s what rock music is trying to do. It’s music with feeling and is heavily improvised. So, the connection is very similar for me. I feel rock music can be related to raga, how it builds up slowly and gets very intense. I think in the end it’s all about the expression. Everyone must express himself or herself regardless of the instrument they play.
CBK: How did Calcutta happen?
Mattu: I actually went to Calcutta first when I heard of the Dover Lane music conference. I wasn’t playing any Indian music at the time and at the conference I heard Pandit Tanjendra Narayan’s music and it was amazing. There were many foreigners at the concert who were already playing Indian music and they suggested I try my hand at it. After that my whole lifestyle changed. I was supposed to stay in Calcutta for five days, but ended up staying there for six months while studying music. It can be really difficult to find your way around India, but I think the whole experience was just great. The music was really intense and I think that was what kept me coming back year after year.
At the end of the interview, Mattu also pointed out how it was wonderful that the cultural council of Ireland was organizing the tour giving the band a chance to interact with the Indian audience and also helping deliver their music at a global scale.