Deepak Ram - Reviews, Articles & Interviews

"Ram is certainly an accomplished player, displaying a technical masteryreminiscent of his famous teacher's….Ram’s playing is mysterious andhaunting. Ram proves on this recording (Prasad) that he’s likely tobecome a central figure in a new generation of Indian musicians." - Gerry Farrell, Songlines, UK, 2002

"His work was impressive. He made emotional and technical magic come out of that close-to-a-yard-long wooden instrument. He proved that he possesses the lungs, the lips, and the fingers to control his ungainly flute. And he conveyed feeling ever so effectively as each raga moved from melismatic, heart-of-space exhortation to virtuoso exhibitionism, from carried-on-a-breeze atmospherics to rip-snorting pyrotechnics." - Peter Jacobi, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, 2001

"... phenomenal flute playing, accomplished performer and composer" - London Guardian, 1998

"... this is an artist in the real sense of the word..." - Blues and Soul, London, 1998

"Deepak is a master of the bansuri flute, a haunting traditional Indianinstrument that he mixes masterfully with acoustic jazz improvisation. Music for the soul, make no mistake." - Wax Magazine, London, 1999

"... le flutiste reussit son coup: realiser une musique entrainantet dansante, entetante et prenante" - Vibrations, Paris, 1998

"This is mind-opening, spacious composing that offers a unique change of pace for those willing to take the trip" - JazzTimes, USA, 2001

"South African composer Deepak Ram’s score is rich and haunting, innovative without straying too far from its ancient roots." - Cape Times, South Africa, 1987

"He provides a round even tone, with a purity which commands a gamut of dynamics. No speed is too fast if the music demands it, and any player would envy his flutter-tonguing." - Grocotts Mail, Grahamstown, South Africa, 1989

"He is able to make this deceptively simple looking instrument do astonishing things." - Natal Witness, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 1990

"He does not play his instrument, he is his instrument. It seems asthough the breath of a melody was passing through the air which he simply reached up and caught in his flute." - Daily News, Durban, South Africa, 1991

"... he’s developed an unique flute voice combining Hariprasad's atmospherics with a bubbling full-bodied tone" - Jazzwise, London, 1998

"... inspired virtuoso flute..." - Spirit Magazine, London, 1998

"Assaporate un paio di minuti di assoluto silenzio, poi apritevi al meraviglioso suono del Flauto Bansuri di Deepak Ram, spledido viaggio tra suoi pensieri, (Silenzio e armonia)" - Discoid, Rome, 1998

"Ram’s elegant melodies and soothing timbres at once feed and quiet the listener’s mind, achieving that elusive balance of musical intrigue and peaceful ambience" - Yoga Journal, USA, 2001

"Ram’s playing is lyrical with a clear sweet tone that shows of his extensive training with Hariprasad Chaurasia" - India Currents, USA, 2000

For unlike Western classical music, Indian classical music has never removed itself from the concepts of improvisation. While throughout the development of western classical music the distance between composer and performer (or replicator?) grew, the performer is composer in this non-western classical genre. So then it is not strange that there is an association between jazz and this genre, and South Africa is therefore not without its exponents.

North Indian classical music has been the focus of Deepak Ram’s life and research, and while many South Africans may know him from his associations with the group Tananas, he remains devoted to this cause. His formal training began in SA in 1975, under Sri Jeram Bhana, and after only two years he went on to study further in Mumbai, India, under India’s master flute maker, Sri Suryakant Limaye.

According to the traditional Indian method of study, the process of mastering an instrument in one of “study under a master.” Deepak refers to his own tuition as such, calling it “a discipleship.” In 1982 Deepak realized his dream of becoming a disciple of the flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and embarked on what by all indications was an amazing period of growth.

Hariprasad Chaurasia is a widely revered and respected musician, in many instances being recognized as the master of the Indian bamboo flute or bansuri. He has done much to popularize the instrument, even performing and recording with saxophonist Jan Garbarek (of the ECM label), as well as guitarist John McLaughlin. Deepak’s education time was further rounded by simultaneously studying tabla under Sri Yashwant Padhye and music theory and voice under Pandit Rajaram Shukla. Deepak’s commitment to research and study is evident throughout his life, and in 1996 he earned a masters degree in music from Rhodes University, for a research paper concerning the relationship between western and Indian music.

Deepak is also a gifted teacher, and has the ability to effectively communicate his knowledge and love of Indian classical music. He lectured fulltime for four years at the University of Durban-Westville and most recently; he has served as visiting professor in Indian Music at the University of California, Santa Cruz (where he is currently based). His role as mentor has taken him around the world, performing and conducting many workshops in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Holland, France and Austria, among others.

But what of his recordings? His albums have been highly acclaimed and he clinched “Best Instrumental Album” at the 2000 South African Music Awards for his album Searching for Satyam. This album is a perfect example of the cross-fertilization of styles, bringing jazz and funky elements to the bansuri, while the western guitar is infused with Indian and Middle Eastern elements.

Deepak’s most recent CD release is called Beauty in Diversity (a fitting title for a South African musician), and dates from 2002. It features Sujata Ghanekar on voice, Ian Herman on drums (another South African musician resident in the US and the ex-drummer for Tananas), Dan Robbins on bass, Rabin Ram on sarod and Vivek Ram on sitar. While the album was recorded in California, the number of South African musicians on this recording outweighs the US influences and adds meaning to the title. This album displays Deepak’s love for the cross-cultural mixing of influences, and highlights the chameleon-like ability of great improvisers to float between genres. By all indications this album is a highlight for the “Jazz meets Indian” catalogue.

For a more traditional or classical approach, check out the Golden Horn release Prasad (Blessing), which was recorded in October of 2001. This album features the musicianship of Deepak on bansuri, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla and Bhavani Siegel on tanpura. This album focuses on the Indian classical art, a music which is based on exploration and improvisation of two entities – melody and rhythm – within strict boundaries as governed by what are known as the Raga and Tala systems. Western classical music is dominated by harmony (chordal relationships), and this difference is what makes Indian classical music initially sound foreign to the uninitiated western ear, but once you set aside this expectation, the beauty is breathtaking.

Deepak is fast becoming recognized as a prime exponent of the bansuri, so why not pick up one of his recordings? Not only will you be supporting one of our finest local ‘classical’ musicians, but you may also gain respect for a music that precedes Bach!

Jonathan Crossley, CLASSICfeel, “Deepak Ram Exclusive”

The dedication on the sleeve of Flute for Thought, the new Deepak Ram album, is an important one. It is to the late Shri Suryakant V. Limaye, a highly skilled flute maker who had a profound impact on the musical development of Deepak Ram. “He was crucial in my progression as a flute player. He was a craftsman who lived in a very poor part of India and he made bamboo flutes for about 40 years, for anyone and everyone,” explains Deepak. “He was very close to me. I lived with him for about a year and when he died he left all of his remaining flutes to me – they were stored in his attic.” I suppose you could say that the instruments were really destined to go to Deepak. “It’s strange the very night I went to collect them – about four years after his death because I couldn’t go to India at the time – the attic caught fire but we managed to get al of the flutes out in time.”

Shri Suryakant V. Limaye would be happy to know that the fruits of his labour are in good hands. Deepak Ram has, on Flute for Thought, composed a series of pieces that remain true to the high degree of craftsmanship that the young flute player saw in the master flute maker. Flute for Thought is an album of rich melodies that float deftly between cultures; the musical idioms of Europe, Africa, and Asia are all ornately woven into the writing of Deepak Ram. This is not a showcase for flute playing á la Herbie Mann or Hubert Laws. There are no high-pitched theatrics or snap-crackle solos with Deepak Ram. Flute for Thought is dominated by the warm, low and economic sound of the bansuri – the Indian flute.

“The sound is very different, Indian flute is much softer. It’s funny because the flute they use in India is similar to the one that was used during the time of Bach and for baroque music today they still use a wooden flute. I think if you look back at the history of the flute, people decided to change to metal flute so they could actually project more – so they could play above an orchestra.” Although Deepak Ram is only accompanied by no more than four musicians on any one track on the album, there is nevertheless a full, colourful backdrop against which he pitches some dramatic, spacious improvisations. The most striking component of the ensemble is the magnificent kora of Tunde Jegede, a musician who has already gained considerable plaudits through his collaborations with idiosyncratic composer Paul Gladstone Reid.

“Tunde is a really interesting guy. He was one of the first people I met when I came to London from South Africa four years ago. I saw him playing kora in a group that had cello and sitar and I thought yeah I’d really to like to work with that guy,” enthuses Deepak. “We originally brought him in as a session musician but he ended up doing much more because so many things just seemed to work with him. Tunde is really from two different backgrounds. He has studied traditional kora but he started out as a cellist.”

It’s hardly surprising that the affinity between Deepak and Tunde is as strong as it is when you consider the close parallel of their musical evolutions. Both are united by classical training – Deepak in Eastern music, Tunde in Western. Both have worked within a wide range of musical idioms – Tunde has composed suites for the BBC and you’ll find Deepak’s name on recordings by anyone from Transglobal Underground to Kiki Dee. Both have a majestic command of instruments that are not often heard in jazz-influenced music – bansuri and kora.

The two intertwine beautifully on tracks such as “Kitu” and the perky “Cabbage and Roti”, producing an intricate patchwork of sonorities that defy the reductive pigeonholing that the term world music has led to over the years. Combining the musical riches of Africa and India was not, however, the primary motivation for Deepak Ram.

“I come from South Africa and I’ve studied music in India but for me bringing Africa and India together is not what this album is all about. It’s all music, basically – no matter where it comes from. For me the most important thing is the sound and that can come from anywhere – right now I’m writing something for harp but if the musician were the right one, I’d do something with bagpipes or banjo.” Now that’s something to think about.

In the air tonight, Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise Magazine

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