INTERVIEW:

 

'SRDJAN BERONJA - The author of the book about the Indian tabla'

 

'People are formed out of rhythm'


(excerpts from Serbian daily by Igor Mihaljević)


 

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.


 







"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)



"Given the stealthy return of concept albums in rock, we welcome this entry from world music, where the subtitle is more telling: A Unique Sound Journey Through the Holy City."


(Graham Reid - The New Zealand Herald, Elsewhere Web)



"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."


(Angie Lemon - ARC Music)


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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

(Media Relations at ARC Music)


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.



_______________________________




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)


"The Sounds of Varanasi: A Unique Sound Journey Through The Holy City"


(ARC Music, 2014)


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!



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Srdjan Beronja and Various Artists:


The Sounds of Varanasi (ARC Music)


by:

Graham Reid


(The New Zealand Herald & Elsewhere Web)

(Posted Mar 2, 2015 on Elsewhere Web) (Graham Reid - The New Zealand Herald& Elsewhere Web)

(Graham Reid - The New Zealand Herald & Elsewhere Web)

 

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.

 


_______________________________




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.