Srdjan Beronja: The Sounds of Varanasi (ARC Music)


By: 

Graham Reid


(The New Zealand Herald & Elsewhere Web)

(March 2, 2016)


 

 

 

"Given the stealthy return of concept albums in rock, we welcome this entry from world music where -- if the title suggests people bellowing in your ear, taxi horns honking incessantly and smiling man asking "Where are you from?" -- the subtitle is more telling: A Unique Sound Journey Through the Holy City.

 

Serbian percussionist/composer Beronja -- who adopted Varanasi as his home while he learning Indian classical music -- here constructs a dawn-to-dusk exploration courtesy of field recordings of prayers and ceremonies, as well as more formal recitals by sitar and violin player Pt. Dhruv Nath Mishra and others.

 

It opens with a brief Morning Mantra by some old men (and green parrots) in a field and  ends of course with an Evening Mantra by singing holy men and the short  evening rage, Raga Bhairavi, by Mishra and tabla player Ravi Tripathi.

 

Beronja -- or his record label -- is astute enough to rein in the atmospheric pieces to just snippets (none more than two minutes, and don't really need more than the 44 seconds of monkeys scrapping over a piece of roti bread).

 

But the music is often beguiling (Pahari Dhun with bansuri flute player Hari Poundwal) and the field recordings throughout collection bring an atmospheric authenticity to the hour-long journey towards nightfall.

 

So this isn't the high end of raga but rather postcards or missives from a day in the holy city where you get to hear chants recorded in alleyways or on ghats, and the happy noise of drums at a wedding.

 

Real life, in other words.

 

A worthy, if marginal project, where Arc's liner notes fill in details of the locations, styles and instruments."

 

- Graham Reid

(The New Zealand Herald & Elsewhere Web)



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Live from the Streets and Temples of India’s Holy City


The Sounds of VARANASI by Srdjan Beronja


By:

Angie Lemon


(ARC Music Media Relations)



 


"The Sounds of Varanasi is a unique collection of field recordings and original music made by Serbian composer and musicologist Srdjan Beronja between 2001 and 2011. The Sounds of Varanasi brings the atmosphere of this great holy city to life, exploring music that was born and lives in the streets, temples and river banks of Varanasi performed and played by hitherto unknown musicians, wise men and singers.

 

The Sounds of Varanasi includes field recordings from the steps of the Ganga river as in Dasaswamedh Ghat Ganga Aarti, music of devotional love sung to deities in temples as in Paayal Ki Jhankaar Baraniya and also a prayer recorded in a narrow alleyway beside a temple dedicated to the goddess Sita and Lord Rama – Sita-Ram.

 

While there are polished studio recorded ragas and recitals on The Sounds of the Varanasi, there are also some surprising sounds on the field recordings such as crickets in the background, chirping green parrots, monkeys and the sounds of ceremonial bells, drums and shankh shells which are used in Hindu and Buddhist rituals. Wedding Drums also features an authentic wedding with drums and laughing children.

 

The musical director of The Sounds of Varanasi is Serbian composer, percussionist and writer – Srdjan Beronja – who travelled over 100,000 miles researching and recording traditional music from India, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey to Israel. Srdjan studied classical Indian tabla and music in Varanasi and while he performs on the frame drum on the sixteenth track, the music is wholly performed live by local Varanasi musicians.

 

Varanasi is one of India’s colourful sacred seven cities, or 'sapta puris' as they are known in Hindi, which include Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kanchipuram, Ujjain, Dwarka and Varanasi. Varanasi – also known as Benares, Banaras or Kashi – is considered the holiest of India’s seven sacred cities situated as it is on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. As Varanasi is to Hindu mythology, so is the music on The Sounds of Varanasi a reflection of the devotion and culture of its people.

 

Just as the holy city of Varanasi is associated strongly with the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, many of The Sounds of Varanisi are steeped in a world belonging to Hindu deities and worship. For example, Paayal Ki Jhankaar Baraniya is a devotional romantic love song associated with Lord Krishna and his consort the goddess Radha, while Dasaswamedh Ghat Ganga Aarti celebrates the main ghat or holy steps in Varanasi that lie on the sacred river Ganga – supposedly created by Lord Brahma. Legend has it that Lord Shiva was the founding deity of Varanasi and also inspired the music and dance of this holy city.

 

While Varanasi has given the world the iconic sitar player Ravi Shankar, the shehnai or double-reed oboe maestro Bismillah Khan and the vocal music singer Girija Devi, within the city walls are many unknown Indian classical musicians, who have now been skilfully recorded and presented to the world for the first time in field and studio recordings on The Sounds of Varanasi. Out now through ARC Music."

 

- Angie Lemon

(ARC Music Media Relations)

 


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A delightful, unusual set of Indian devotional music


By:
DJ Joe Sixpack

(Slipcue Guide To World Music, HALL OF FAME TOP 1000 REVIEWER)

(May 31, 2015)

 


"I enjoy a lot of Indian classical music, mostly slower ragas, particularly the introductory alap movements, some bhajans and religious music, and I especially love southern Indian Carnatic music.

 

This album was a delight - an ear-opening introduction to the regional sounds of the Northern Indian city of Varanasi, a holy site on the River Ganges. The tracks are often notional and fragmentary, snippets of chants and tunes, and many performances are recorded informally, with ambient sounds of the city wafting across the music -- people talking, children playing, various urban sounds that give a flavor of the environment and culture this music is from.

 

At first I was a little put off by the relatively rugged production, and then I was utterly charmed by it. Fans of Indian traditional and religious music will want to give this disc a try -- curated by Serbian tabla player Srdjan Beronja, it is an unusual and unique record, very immediate and alluring. Recommended!"

 

- DJ Joe Sixpack

(Slipcue Guide To World Music, HALL OF FAME TOP 1000 REVIEWER)


 

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Strolling the Streets of a Holy City


By:

Dr. Debra Jan Bibel


(TOP 500 REVIEWER) 

(December 17, 2014)

 

 

"This album mixes tracks of brief North Indian music recitals with field recordings of the ambient sound in Varanasi (Benares), the holy city on the Ganges. Together, they impart the flavor of a day-long stroll about the city.

 

The open microphone captures a morning mantra chanted by old men; monkeys arguing over a piece of bread; a temple mantra prayer of "Sita-Ram" accompanied by hand cymbals and dholak barrel drum; wedding drums and children in an alley; a temple chant at dusk; the ritual with bells and drums, bhajan prayers, and the lighting of butter-soaked wicks; and an evening chant in a temple. The instrumentals of classical ragas, bhajan prayers, and folk dhuns feature sitar, violin, bansuri flute, harmonium, and tabla.

 

The producer and musical director is Srdjan Beronja, a Serbian tablist, who dwells in India, the Middle East, and Europe. Package notes provide full details about each raga, prayer, and ambient sound and credits the performing musicians.

 

Though not Varanasi, I did visit India and Nepal, where I heard such sounds during my own rambles. This album may trigger your own travel memories or perhaps stimulate a mindful audio meander of your own town. 59 minutes."

 

- Dr. Debra Jan Bibel

(TOP 500 REVIEWER)

(December 17, 2014)


Srdjan Beronja: Sounds Of The East

Master Musicians, Hissing Cobras and a Dawn Chorus

By:

Angie Lemon


(ARC Music Media Relations)





"There is no doubt that Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja is amongst a rare breed of contemporary ethnomusicologists who make it their personal mission to travel to remote locations and record unusual local sounds from desert townships, coastal villages and the dawn chorus high up in trees. ‘Sounds Of The East’ contains such unique field recordings original and traditional compositions from the geographical triangle between India, the Middle East and the Balkans. In fact, ‘Sounds Of The East’ follows on effortlessly from ‘Sounds of Varansi’, a collection of field recordings produced by Srdjan Beronja from the holy city of India, released through ARC Music in 2015.


The field recordings on ‘Sounds Of The East’ take some surprising twists and turns. From the opening ‘Alapana’ we are transported to Kerala in Southern India met by a dawn chorus of crows, beeping Indian cuckoos (aka koyals) and a plethora of exotic birds waking up along the Varkala coast. 


‘The Cobra’ features a hissing, black Indian cobra and was recorded by Srdjan in the suburbs of the Indian holy town of Pushkar in Rajasthan. Here in the sand and dust, a family of gypsy entertainers live in their simple tents dancing, singing and snake-charming. This track starts with the angry hiss of the black cobra and continues with the loud, hypnotic sound of the ‘pungi’ or double-reeded flute, made from a pumpkin.


Intriguing sounds start ‘Noria of Hama’. On closer inspection one finds these are the creaks and groans of one of the few remaining wooden water wheels turning in the Syrian city of Hama, traditionally used for lifting water into an aqueduct. (‘Noria’ meaning ‘to roar’ or ‘creek’.) Fireworks provide a suitable soundscape in ‘Visphot’, literally translating as Sanskrit for ‘explosion’, with authentic explosions from the holy city of Varanasi (aka Benares) in India, recorded during Diwali, the Festival of Lights. 


Srdjan Beronja is well-travelled and also very well-educated. Author of ‘The Art of the Indian Tabla’, he was awarded a diploma in Classical Indian Tabla. Srdjan Beronja studied classical Indian tabla and music in India’s holy city of Varansi at Shivankan Kala Mahavidyalaya. As part of his studies and travels, Srdjan has had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many masters of traditional instruments, some of whom feature in ‘Sounds Of The East.’


‘Raag Jog Dhun’ is performed by master violinist Pt Sukhdev Prasad Mishra together with Srdjan Beronja on darabuka. Sukhdev Prasad Mishra has ‘pandit’ status as his musical prefix, owing to his outstanding contributions to Indian culture for 25 years plus, as an ambassador of Hindustani (north Indian) classical music of the highest calibre. Pt. Sukhdev Prasad Mishra and Srdjan perform together on three tracks on the album, including #10 ‘Raga Madhuvanti-Charukeshi’ with Srdjan on the large Middle Eastern framed daf drum and #13 ‘Raga Kirvani’ on which Srdjan plays tabla.


Other master musicians include sitarist Pt. Dhruv Nath Mishra who performs on the groovy raga ‘Raga Sitar-Daf Kirvani’; one of India’s finest bansuri flute exponents, Dr. Atul Shankar; Sarajevo-born oud and multi-instrumentalist Marina Tošić who plays the warm Middle-Eastern ‘Maqam Bayati Oud Taqsim’, often performed as part of Islamic, Jewish and Christian ceremonies.


One of Serbia’s virtuoso oud and qanun performers, Stefan Sablić, also features on ‘Maqam Ajam Qanun Taqsim’ on qanun, the stringed instrument played solo or as part of an ensemble with its roots from the Middle East to southeastern regions of Europe. There is no doubt that Srdjan Beronja’s keeps excellent company on ‘Sounds Of The East’. Stefan Sablić is leader, composer and arranger of the ensemble “Shira U’tfila”, who preserve and promote the Sephardic musical heritage of the Balkans, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Clarinettist Sinan Aćifović makes a guest performance on the traditional piece ‘SSS Arabesque’.


‘Shepherd’s Love Song’ was recorded live in concert with Srdjan on tabla and Marina Tošić on pan flute. It blends two diverse folk traditions of the Balkans and North India, both historically linked and influenced by the large ruling empires of the Mughals, Ghengis Khan, Persians, Romans and the Ottoman Empire. Fortunately, they are now also linked through the music and work of Srdjan Beronja.


The music on ‘Sounds Of The East’ is full of vitality and authentic musical grit. Expect to be surprised and delighted and you will not be disappointed, for this album is as much an historical record as a cultural pageant through diverse and contrasting countries. Released worldwide on February 24th through ARC Music."


- Angie Lemon

(ARC Music Media Relations)



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Sounds of the East

Srdjan Beronja, ARC


By:

Mirjana Raić


(Serbian World Music Magazine ETNOUMLJE)

(ETHNOMIND)


 

"First and general impression after listening of the album was - raw and truthful. Also, I don’t remember when it was the last time I was listening some particular album which so insists on the atmosphere and impression of the ambient and musical context. Nothing seems polished or arranged in particular, at least it doesn’t seem like that, just pure music.


‘Sounds of the East’ is the second album coming from Srdjan Beronja (the first one was ‘The Sounds of Varanasi’, published in 2014). The album has a goal, at least it is my impression, to assemble the puzzle of Beronja’s musical experience, a valuable one indeed. In 2001, Srđan Beronja leaves his hometown, the city of Novi Sad, and moves to India where he studies and earns formal knowledge in classical Indian tabla. Traveling through India and the Middle East, with the Balkans being the starting point, leads him far away from (particularly in Serbia) the known cultures and musical norms. In this way, actually, the album which we are talking about here is created. During the fifteen years period (from 2001 until 2016), Beronja was documenting various sounds, performing with various musicians, and from this palette he created one intimate “eastern” story made from 18 tracks-movements, which will drag you to even furthermore eastern side of the globe.


Field recordings, as the one where the birds announce the morning (‘Alapana’), or the one where you can hear angry hissing sound of the cobra (‘The Cobra’), and all the other featured tracks and recordings are field recordings (as the author insists: “All tracks are field recordings.” This really touched me personally, because despite the fact that chirping of birds is not some particular phenomenon just because we hear it every day, it is an excellent intermission for anything, particularly for the musical content given by Srdjan Beronja.


If we add the exceptional selection of the featured musicians with whom the author shares audio-space on the disk (violinist Pt. Sukhdev Prasad Mishra or sitarist Pt. Dhruv Nath Mishra, as well as the fellow country musicians as Stefan Sablić and Marina Tošić), you get almost the perfect formula for the music edition which is not only musical, but also ethno-musicological or maybe rather “explorative”, what just adds more to the already-existing value of the album. With all the previous being said, we have to add as well the fact that Srđan Beronja is excellent player of the Indian tabla, darabuka, and also other percussion instruments which have foundation in traditional musical backgrounds. His selection of music and music collaborators on the presented album will bring true excitement to everyone who likes the music with a certain background, to the one who is cosmopolitan, who appreciates the historical value of this album, where the borders are just mere changeable lines, easily erased with eraser. Be prepared for one unexpected cocktail of musical fragrances and colours."


- Mirjana Raić

(Serbian World Music Magazine ETNOUMLJE)

(ETHNOMIND)











INTERVIEW: Srdjan Beronja - The author of the book about the Indian tabla


"People are formed out of rhythm"

By:

Igor Mihaljević


(Serbian Daily DNEVNIK, ZTZ Media)

(June 21, 2009)

 




DN: So, how did your relationship with music began? Tell us something about the very beginnings.

 

- In the childhood, I liked to pay attention on various sounds and to sing by inventing on-the-spot lyrics, according to that age. Later on, I sang in the school's choir and played briefly a bass guitar, but very soon after a drum kit and other percussions, as I felt the rhythm in its absolute. However, I used to listen Gipsy musicians from my neighborhood, as well as various traditional world music from the Middle East, India and the Balkans. So, I started to experiment with various percussion instruments in various music genres, in a way that the focus of my interest remained on tarabuk (darabuka) and the Indian Tabla.

 

DN: Perhaps your unusual choice caused unusual methods of studying?

 

- I have developed the technique of playing tarabuk (darabuka) by myself. Later on, I expanded that knowledge during my explorations in the Middle East, where this instrument is widely present. My wish was to play the Indian tabla. They, as well as darabuka, have a unique sound, while the technique of playing both instruments implies the use of fingers, what was for me the most adequate way of expressing. So when I was 24, I have moved to India where I have started serious study of the Indian tabla.

 

DN: Describe to us, how is it to study in India?

 

- Music education in India is achieved by a traditional, thousands of years old method 'guru-shishya-parampara', what in Sanskrit literally means 'teacher-student-succession'. My teachers were Vikas Tripathi along with Kailash Nath Mishra, son of the legendary tabla maestro Pt. Samta Prasad. From them I have gained the knowledge, which I have developed later on by traveling and researching thousands of kilometers through India and during my stay in Pakistan.

 

DN: How did your clash with the music of the East look like?

 

- Music of the East, where Serbia belongs with its large part, has its own uniqueness reflected in the intuition and in the honesty of emotions. The music of the Middle East bears within a great passion and it is based on quarter-tones, dynamic rhythm, while emphasis is on the melody. Indian music system is probably the most complex and its roots are driven from the Vedic knowledge. It is based on 'shruti' microtonal intervals and highly complex rhythmic structures. Facing with that kind of system forces you to develop your hearing sense due to which, music from some other parts of the world, as well as the one from the medieval Europe, sounds somewhat empty.

 

DN: From where did you get the idea of writing the book?

 

- When I got interested in tabla, there wasn't a person in Serbia who played them, neither literature of any kind could be found. Having the instrument itself was practically impossible as well. During my first visit to India, I haven't found an adequate literature in English language either. So, after six months of gathering notes, I came to the idea to write a comprehensive book that will be opened to everyone.

 

DN: Speaking from a proffesional standpoint, how the life of percussionists looks like? Which kind of problems are you facing in your world for example?

 

- Percussionists mostly have their role in some particular orchestra, ensemble or they are following some particular group or singer, while they are not leaving behind any of their own work. On the other hand, large number of them performs tiring rhythmic solos which are loosing conception. Music IS called 'sangeet' in Sanskrit, the term which is consolidated from two words: 'sam' meaning 'together' and 'geet' meaning 'song'. Therefore, meaning singing, playing together. Another problem comes from the general minimization of the role of percussion instruments in music, although the rhythm is even greater than the music itself. Everything around us is formed out of rhythm; the vibrations of molecules and atoms. Therefore, we are as well. This is the reason why we are swinging to the rhythm and playing music, as in this way we are unifying, merging with that universal vibration.


- Igor Mihaljević

(Serbian Daily DNEVNIK, ZTZ Media)