Home Lifestyle Entertainment Indian summers

Indian summers

Documentary maker and percussionist Ruairi Glasheen told David Hennessy about his series of films exploring India through their music, how the country welcomed him in and he found that he shared much in common with local musicians.

Obsessed with drums and rhythm since he picked up the bodhran at the age of four, London-based Cork musician, presenter and filmmaker Ruairi Glasheen explores the culture of India through their music in his new documentary series, Hidden Drummers of India.

Following his film Hidden Drummers of Iran, Ruairi travelled to India to see how the drum was used in the Indian tradition and what it means to the culture.

He found that music is a huge part of local and national identity and that the different traditions that exist are really as diverse as the 1.4 billion people that live there with a whole range of indigenous instruments that date back thousands of years.

Ruairi’s journey took him to the south of India where the Carnatic tradition of music is prevalent. There he got to understand the instruments, meet the players and understand their lives to share the real human stories behind the traditions.

Ruairi told The Irish World: “I wanted to see these places through the lens of music. That’s the idea: Experience it all through music and not just what’s on the radio or the busker on the street corner but the traditional, classical musics of different places that have been around for thousands of years.

“That’s the idea with these films really, to explore and maybe even understand different cultures all through the lens of music. Music is great, the stories behind the music interest me just as much and then there’s the lives of the musicians and how they make a living, how the music still makes an impact on them and their lives and their communities.

“That was my ethos to do these kind of films: Music is centre stage but also all the other stuff that surrounds it.

- Advertisement -

“This is really a labour of love and if I have an audience of one or an audience of more than one, I’ll keep doing these films because it’s a great privilege to meet all of these incredible musicians and to amplify their voices outside of their own environment. These guys are very well known in that Carnatic region but beyond not many people know about these incredible artists and I want more people to know about them.

“I think the kind of feedback that I’ve gotten is, ‘Wow, I never even knew these things existed’. It’s a really wonderful thing, just raising that awareness.”

Drumming is hugely important in both of India’s classical music traditions, the Hindustani music from the Northern states and the Carnatic music of the south.

Ruairi found musicians who were more than happy to teach him about one of their local instruments called the kanjira. He was humbled by their generosity.

“Because I’m a musician as well, we’re able to strike up those kind of friendships because we have that commonality. We share the same passion. We come from different sides of the world but we still have the same kind of passion for rhythm.

“There are so many magical moments and editing the film and going through it all again you kind of relive them. I guess that spirit of generosity that we got to experience on a hour by hour, minute by minute basis almost was the highlight. People there were so giving. You’ve picked up on that, how generous and how they don’t owe me or anybody anything but they welcomed us in. They were so generous with their time, with their energy, with their talent and that is something that I did experience on a broader level as well, that kind of generosity and openness.”

To see a kanjira, an Irish person may be reminded of a bodhran because it isn’t that dissimilar in size and it is also played in the same way.

“Of course, a drum is a drum. Whether you play it like a bodhran or like a kajira, whether you’re using a stick or you’re using your hand, a drum is a drum.

“There are so many commonalities and you’re absolutely right, the kandira and the bodhran- a kandira is made out of monitor lizard skin, bodhran goat’s. The kandira is a tiny little drum, monitor lizards aren’t so big so these things kind of evolve in their own way but at the heart of it, they’re very similar: A wooden frame and a skin but you can do a lot with it.”

Filmed over the summers of 2018 and 2019, Ruairi found himself editing the programmes during lockdown when international travel seemed a very remote possibility.

“The whole post-production happened during lockdown so as we were locking down and even not going beyond our front door, I was going to India every morning and reliving it all. We had 14 hours of footage so it was a lot to relive. I guess it was strange but it is really great to put it out there.

“I live in London. You go from sitting on the tube and nobody looking at each other and everyone’s trying to stay on their track. In India it’s very much the opposite. We stuck out like sore thumbs but people are so open to interacting and with no expectations. I think that generosity, that openness, that was the real magic of that trip. It made it possible really.”

Having explored Iran and now India through the lens of music, does Ruairi have plans to turn his attention to the traditions of other countries? “I spent quite a bit of time in the south of Italy several years ago studying traditional Italian folk music. They have an incredible tradition there and they have some really phenomenal players so that could maybe be something in the medium to short term. The longer term will be the more far away places that are a little bit complex socially, politically and so on. They’re the kind of places that I really want to be going to.”

Rhythm has always been a huge part of Ruairi’s life and no less so when he made the move to London after growing up in Cobh and Midleton in Cork.

“I’m twelve years in London now. Can you believe it?

“I came here to study at the Royal College of Music and kind of stayed in London thereafter. I had work. I had a community around me. It’s a great place to be as a musician. There are lots of opportunities. It’s fun.”

After more than a decade, is London home for Ruairi now? “Home for the moment is London but the emphasis is on ‘for the moment’.

“There’s no plans to change right now. I’m always interested in going out and about and seeing different places but for the moment, London is a great city to be based on.

“Of course, I love getting back to Ireland to see my family, see my friends and re-engage with the tradition, the Irish tradition of music which is very much at my core and a big part of my identity musically and on every level really.

“I try to get back as much as possible.

“There’s such a great Irish traditional music scene in London and I did really get involved with that and I still tap into it from time to time. I love getting down to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, it’s a great spot for Irish traditional music.

“I’d love to engage with it more but certainly when I first moved, it was great. I would head to sessions on Friday, Saturday and meet other musicians and just do something different from what I was doing at the Royal College. It was quite an intensive place to be and traditional music was a real tonic for the soul.”

You can find Ruairi’s series Hidden Drummers of India on the Ruairi Glasheen’s YouTube channel.

For more information, click here.

- Advertisement -