The hall is silent as a dapper young musician takes his place besides the piano. The scene has all the settings of a Western Classical concert until you notice the tabla maestros occupying the stage. Rekesh begins to play and the Indian harmonies are seamlessly blended with notes of classical piano, the tabla beats and occasional overtures of jazz notes. It is a refreshing amalgamation – a musical idiom that this young British Indian has brought to life with his unique talent. The foundation is clearly Indian, but what he has built is clearly new and global.
That Rekesh Chauhan would grow up to be a musician was no surprise to anyone – being under the tutelage of his father and musician Rajesh Chauhan from a very young age. It is impressive that he is able to show versatility as a performer and composer even before he has reached his 20s. Even having trained in Western classical guitar and piano as well as the harmonium, his Indian roots are a great influence on his musicality. ‘Beyond Roots’, his critically acclaimed debut album released under Milapfest in 2015, is an expression of his journey.
The past few years have seen this young talent, impress audiences across the spectrum and grace some of the most prestigious stages in the UK and the rest of the world including, Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, Southbank Centre (venues in Queen Elizabeth Hall and Royal Festival Hall), Sage Gateshead, Bridgewater Hall, Cadogan Hall and London’s V&A museum; to name just a handful of prestigious venues. He was also a featured on BBC radio.
We sat down with him to discuss his future collaborations, his aspirations of composing scores for big screen productions and his continued experiments in creating a new sounds, including getting his hands on an advanced musical instrument the ROLI seaboard.
1. You’ve studied the piano and the guitar from an early age. How did you first get introduced to music?
Having been brought up in a musical household, I’ve constantly been surrounded by instruments since before I can remember; so I guess I was always just tapping away at instruments.
Having been in the presence of many musicians, I found myself on stage very early – I loved playing instruments and creating music, so naturally I immersed myself in playing anything I could get my hands on, including guitars, synths, and percussion.
I began my training in western classical guitar, and while at home, I was exposed to classical music from north India, which came from records, recordings and my father’s voice. This made me curious into finding out more about the culture, and inspired me to learn the language of music.
I used to imitate my father’s vocal style on the guitar and keyboard when he was not around and tried to combine harmonies to Indian music. The repertoire for this sort of music doesn’t really exist, so I found myself experimenting, which eventually led me to develop my own style that I’ve been working on for over a decade. I later went on to study the piano, which allowed me to better realise what could be achieved.
2. How did your father influence your music?
My entire musical journey began with my father. As well as learning the grammar of music, he was keen on teaching me about the culture of Indian music. Being brought up in Britain, this wasn’t something that came natural to me. After training with him for a few years, I started to really understand the depth of the music being taught which formed my foundation. This is why you will continually hear a classical tint to my music.
The classical tradition places a huge amount of importance on cultural articulation and formality; sitting crossed legged on the floor, respect for instruments and gurus; even how one should carry themselves on stage. It’s a very spiritual practice, cushioned by rich traditions.
I’ve found my music labelled under a deluge of categories, including Asian Underground and Indian Fusion. The eastern half stems from my classical background and the other half from my travels and broader influences. I’ve always been encouraged to experiment, and playing the style of Indian classical music allowed me more freedom to explore, as it is not usually performed with western instruments.
3. Talk to us about one of your songs that is close to your heart. Share the journey of the song.
I absolutely love collaborating with new artists and discovering new soundscapes. A few years ago I collaborated with artists online, from around the UK on a track called Japan Tribute. It started off from a Facebook post in 2011 during the time a Tsunami devastated Japan. I believe music has the power to make a positive difference, so I decided to reach out to various musicians. My idea was that together, we could send out a powerful message that would draw the attention of the masses to do whatever they could, to help the people of Japan.
We live in a world where our emotions are sent on a roller coaster as we scroll down our news feeds, so I was keen on collaborating with fellow artists to use music as a power to change.
4. What has been your most favourite live performance?
I recently performed at the Royal Albert Hall with a vocal artist, we walked onto stage following a performance from Anoushka Shankar. Sitting in the front row were all of my musical idols, giants of classical Indian music, including Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Kavita Krishnamurthy and many more – a very humbling experience.
Live performance has a lot to do with energy from the crowd. If you can’t feel a connection with the audience, it’s almost pointless. Performing at the Royal Albert Hall with thousands of people watching magnifies the power of your performance, taking you beyond your own expectations. It elevates you to play like never before. I’m still coming down from that experience, occasionally pinching myself.
5. What is your dream project
My dream project was to record a solo classical album without any restrictions playing to my heart’s content. Record labels seem to only be interested in 3 or 4 minute digestible tracks, however I was very fortunate. With the support of Milapfest, I was able to record a full recital without any limits on the length of tracks and I toured the album in the UK last year.
I’m really inspired by cinematic music scores so I’d absolutely love to orchestrate score for a big screen production.
6. And what are you working on?
I’m currently working on a series of videos, and a new album. My debut album was a piano solo album. I’ll soon start releasing my compositions where the piano isn’t necessarily the focus.
I’ve been producing and composing music for a number of years but these tracks haven’t left the studio, as I’ve been focusing more on live performances. Between travelling, I have recorded a lot of potential music for a future album, which I hope to create very soon.
I’ve also finished a record with my trio; we call ourselves, “Avartan”. We’re a fussy bunch, so it’s been a couple of years in the making and I can’t wait for you guys to hear it. We’ll make sure DesiYUP gets an exclusive!
I’m also back on the road with concerts this summer, sharing the stage with some really hot names, and curating a new ensemble for my sets this autumn – some really exciting concerts in the pipeline including a performance at the London International Arts Festival. Oh, and, I’ve also been getting used to the ROLI seaboard, which I featured on a session for the BBC.
— Rekesh Chauhan (@rekeshchauhan) October 28, 2015
I’ve been getting lots of requests for new music with that so I will do some more work with it. Check it out, it’s quite an extraordinary instrument. So, lots going on!
You can follow more of Rekesh’s work here:
Official website: http://www.rekeshchauhan.com/
Authored by Vipasha Tilak and Rashmi Ravindran