Could you introduce yourself and let us know more about your role in the performance?
I am a Vancouver-based percussionist named Curtis Andrews. I play various percussion instruments from different traditions, notably West African (Ghana/Togo/Benin) music/dance, jazz/funk and related American-derived musics, and of course Carnatic music, which I have a special affinity for. I have been initiated into the universe of Carnatic music and mridangam through the maestro Sangita Kalanidhi Sri Trichy Sankaran, whom I have been a sishya of since 2000.
My role in this production was “percussionist”, but really I am mostly the mridangist as I play some other percussion for just a couple of minutes. On a purely functional level I keep everyone else in time together, acting as a rhythmic glue, support, and propulsion. In other capacities the mridangam acts to embellish the abhinaya of the dancer (Arno) through sound effects that are both rhythmic and arrhythmic.
What do you feel was your mark on the project?
I did my best to support the overall intent of the project, via the musical creations and “acting” of the dancer to portray/highlight the various rasas, characters and scenarios. In essence, the mridangam should serve the music/dance and not use it as a showcase for the mridangam or the player’s prowess.
How did you balance the Hindustani and Carnatic elements?
This was an interesting challenge. I know a very limited amount about Hindustani music (HM) and though they may share some similarities, to those who are intimate with them, Carnatic music (CM) and HM are worlds apart in many ways. There were some portions where I had to accompany the sitar in some idiosyncratic roles (a jhala part for example) or also a short HM composition. Having gracious musicians such as Akhil, Satpreet and Sharanjeet made it all very easy and welcoming though.
How did you feel when you were rehearsing and performing at the Chan?
To those who do not know, the Chan Centre is one of the best venues in Vancouver and perhaps west of Toronto. So many amazing artists have graced this stage, so to share in that legacy was fulfilling. The crew and staff of the Chan Centre were also top-notch and made the whole experience enjoyable on another level.
What was it like creating something during this pandemic?
So many of us artists have suffered during this pandemic. I feel blessed to be able to meet with other artists in the same room and create/perform/share. It is very rare. There were some minor challenges like trying to create and share music over Zoom, rehearsing in masks for example (no idea how Arno could dance in a mask!), and finding rehearsal space large enough to accommodate us all with social distancing requirements. But these were minor issues compared to the luxury of being able to meet and play together.
Watch Curtis perform in Parāśakti: The Flame Within, streaming on March 19th.