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Two worlds in fushion

A supercontinent that existed about 500 million years ago lends its name to a trio of musicians from different worlds - and now Pangaea is drifting this way.

Pangaea is made up of New Zealand classical guitarist Mike Hogan, recent All India tabla competition winner Saptak Sharma and sitar and flute player Mayank Raina.

The group's fusion of Indian and Western musical styles includes Hindustani and European classical music as well as improvisation, effects and various compositional devices to create their own sound. Pangaea's instruments are acoustic, but the three musicians also experiment with electronic effects and amplification. The trio's mix of original songs and unique covers range from fast, improvised ragas to quoting Bach in the middle of a contemporary song.

Trained in composition and performance classical guitar, Hogan works with styles that range from world, classical and Latin music through to jazz, rock and folk. While living in India, he often attended classical music concerts — then started looking for lessons and became interested in forming a group.

“In Delhi, I was writing songs as a singer/songwriter but I wanted to develop something suitable for an Indian audience who would be new to the alternative Indian music scene.

“I went to a jazz club and saw Saptak. He was playing with a Bollywood covers band at the time.”

Hogan introduced himself and the two had a jam on guitar and tabla.

A musician's music

“I like the sound of tabla,” says Hogan.

Tabla are two barrel-shaped small drums of slightly different size and shape.

“A lot of tabla rhythms are often not describing the beat directly. Often they use time signatures that aren't familiar to us. The system of Indian music is hugely complex. It's a musician's music.”

Sharma drew in his colleague, friend and sitar/flute player Raina to make up the trio. One of the only musicians in India to hold an A grade rating in both sitar and flute, Raina has earned numerous awards and accolades during his career and has performed throughout India and the world. He has given recitals for many of India's top dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and then Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Synonymous with India and Indian culture, the sitar owes its resonance, cascades and ringing fret buzz to two layers of strings. The body of the sitar is made from a gourd while the long, hollow wooden neck has about 20 arched, movable frets. The top layer of seven strings create the melody and drone while the bottom layer of about 13 steel strings, known as taraf (Persian for excitement or joy), are sympathetic strings. These are tuned to the notes of the raga and resonate with the top layer of strings.

Sitar players spend seven to eight years practising before they perform, says Hogan.

“All their learning is done under a guru system. That person will have come from a family or school with a particular tradition.”

Colour your mind

A raga is a handful of notes that act as a melodic framework for improvisation and composition. There are many raga, each of which is considered to have the ability to “colour the mind” and affect the emotions of the audience. Each raga traditionally has an emotional significance and symbolic associations such as with season, time and mood.

Musicians follow the same form in performance. They begin slowly with no rhythm then follow with a slow rhythm before introducing the notes of the raga as they pick up speed, says Hogan.

“Then they will go into the main tune of the raga then a fast section towards the end.”

Some stalwarts might object to the fusion of Indian and other types of music but that sort of fusion is accepted across the world now, says Hogan.

Sitar master Ravi Shankar and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Nitin Sawhney, the Bombay Dub Orchestra, New Zealand's Maharaj Trio, and Anoushka Shankar are among musicians who have blended worlds in their music.

“I have heard people say Anoushka Shankar is watering Indian music down and needs to do more practice. But she has a huge following and is introducing people overseas to the music.

“It's evolving quite quickly.”

Pangaea Indian and Western music fusion with sitar, acoustic guitar, tabla and flute. Dome Room, Saturday, February 22, 8pm. Tickets $20+bf from undertheradar, door sales $20.

EAST MEETS WEST: Two days after they release their self-titled CD Pangaea on February 20, the trio made up of tabla player Saptak Sharma (left), New Zealand classical guitarist Mike Hogan, and sitar and flute player Mayank Raina will bring their fusion music to Gisborne. Picture supplied