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Indian Music Legend to Present Workshop in Malta this July

Indian Music Legend to Present Workshop in Malta this July

Ghatam Giridhar Udupa

On Saturday 16th July, South Indian music legend Ghatam Giridhar Udupa will present a workshop exploring the discipline of Konnakol, as well as a performance of this unique and ancient artform

In less than two weeks, world-famous Indian musician Ghatam Giridhar Udupa will arrive in Malta to lead a workshop which promises to delve into the mysterious and uniquely complex world of South Indian music. Known for his prodigious skills with the ghatam — a versatile instrument resembling a clay pot — as well as his considerable touring and educational work both on the subcontinent and across the globe, Mr Udupa is considered a world authority on his country’s native music, a creative tradition which has remained unbroken for thousands of years.  

A prominent international ambassador for his country’s music, he has performed for the United Nations in New York, at the UK’s leading Darbar Festival in London, and at many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, including Carnegie Hall (New York), Sydney Opera House, The Kennedy Center (USA) and London’s Royal Festival Hall. In addition, he is the Founder and Director of the Udupa Foundation, an organisation set up in 2015 to preserve and promote India’s rich musical traditions. In February 2020, he gave a TEDx Talk entitled Symphony of clay: Tha Dhi Thom Nam. 

Ghatam Giridhar Udupa

Benji, can you start by telling us a little about Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and the type of percussion playing he specialises in?  

He was brought up by his dad in the world of Carnatic music — traditional South Indian music — and was exposed to many well-known and successful musicians, performing and even touring with them from a young age, something which isn’t that common in India. He plays the ghatam, which is essentially a clay pot, though a very interesting instrument; in many ways it’s quite simple, which just means you have to work even harder to bring out all the tones that are needed for this type of music. In addition to his performing career, he also runs the Udupa Foundation. This organisation invites quite big names such as John McLaughlin — as well as a lot of Indian stars as well — for workshops, masterclasses and a bi-annual music festival. He frequently tours India, helping to raise awareness of the country’s traditional music.

How were you first introduced?

I knew I wanted to visit India and learn from musicians there, so, through a series of musical contacts stretching from Malta to Germany, I was eventually put in touch with a group of top musicians in Bangalore, whom Giridhar performs with. I was given the opportunity to play with them, and actually joined them in the studio for some recordings. Additionally, my girlfriend was taking Indian dance lessons from Giridhar’s wife, so quite naturally we ended up becoming more and more involved.

This workshop follows your inviting well-known world percussionist Pete Lockett to Malta in 2021. How did this latest workshop come about?

So, with both Pete and Giridhar, they actually suggested the idea to me. I would love to bring people purely off my own back, of course, but there are immense challenges that come with that approach — especially in terms of logistics and financing. In these cases, it came from a more personal standpoint. They essentially suggested the idea of doing a workshop in Malta, and asked for some help organising the events. This made things a lot easier.

What is it about the various percussion disciplines and instruments from around the world you personally find so inspiring?

In terms of Indian music, it’s really the rhythmic system, as opposed to the instruments used. It’s very rich, and there’s nothing really like it — certainly in terms of depth and complexity. It’s something I think all percussionists, especially drummers, should be introduced to. Additionally, the way it’s approached and the way you learn it, makes it easy to learn very complex things. A lot of this is based on mathematics, and, if we consider other forms of creative expression in India, such as visual arts, we see a strong use of mathematics here too — for example, through the use of geometric patterns.

This system of rhythm works to strengthen your internal pulse, general rhythmic understanding and compositions. One of the greatest things about this for me, is that you can actually practise this anywhere, even without an instrument; they learn everything first through reciting and clapping. They start by clapping rhythmic cycles, or ‘grooves’, then recite larger structures of rhythms over that. This means that by the time you get to the instrument, you already have a lot of things in place. This also benefits musical memory as well.


Ghatam Giridhar Udupa

Is this approach something unique to percussionists in that part of the world?

Not at all. In fact, any type of instrumentalist — assuming they’re performing this kind of music — would be aware of this system. Of course, percussionists go deeper into this, but it is something common to everyone. Additionally, percussionists employ different approaches based on who they’re playing with. For example, should they be playing with a vocalist, this would differ considerably from how they might approach performing with an instrumentalist or another percussionist.

When learning this system, presumably this isn’t something which is done by studying written music?

Not at all, no. One of the main reasons for this that Giridhar shared with me is that, in the moment while performing, you just need to implicitly know what to do, which is determined by the system itself. The system itself tells you what to do. Additionally, due to the rhythmic complexity of what you’re playing, and how they learn this system in the first place, it’s actually far easier to approach this by ear, rather than by using a book.

What do you believe to be the benefits of bringing artists such as Ghatam Giridhar Udupa to Malta?

I think it’s important, both for the musical community here in Malta, and also for audiences. There’s also a lot of interest here in things like world music, as, after all, we have a very multicultural society in Malta. It’s also about networking, and connecting with people. One of the reasons Giridhar is coming here, in fact, is that he has a friend here that he’s coming to visit. He’s also spoken of his interest in seeing Malta and learning more about the country. All of these things are very important.

What can people expect from the upcoming workshop?

I think what they’ll take away from it is a new way of thinking, and a new way of practising and composing music — specifically rhythmic composition. He’ll have his instrument with him too, so will probably explain how it’s made, where it comes from and how it’s played. Anyone who is passionate about music, particularly percussion music, should definitely come to this workshop. I’m confident everyone will gain a lot, and, most importantly, enjoy themselves.

Ghatam Giridhar Udupa will present a workshop entitled ‘A Journey Into South Indian Rhythms Konnakol’ at San Gorg Preca College Middle School (Blata l-Bajda), at 16:15 on Saturday 16th July. For full details and to book your place, check out the event page on Facebook.