The Cimbalom, revisited

When I last met Lucy, she insisted that I attend the July concert, because it was supposed to be The Big One. I assured her I would, but even then I had no idea just how big it would be. This would be the third concert that I had listened to Lucy Voronov’s music. I wrote about the first time I heard, -indeed heard of,- the cimbalom in this post, and I was looking forward to this concert.

When I was but a wee child growing up in Bangalore, I used to sneak out of the house and go to the National College’s Auditorium. The auditorium was just in front of our house, and it was often the venue of all manner of concerts. Back then, when India and Russia was still pretty good friends, the auditorium played host to one of the concerts of the Russian Festival. The following is one of my earliest memories, so bear with me as I try to recall what must be the first Russian music that I’d ever heard. I couldn’t enter the actual auditorium, and I watched the whole concert from the window. I don’t remember the concert in any great detail, but what I do remember is that the singer did this crazy babbling number, fitting Russian words or even gibberish, to the tune of a Mozart piece – The Turkish March. That the tune had stayed in my head for all these years was suddenly and dramatically brought home to me by Lucy’s recreation of the same song accompanied the guitar and the cello. Though Lucy claimed no responsibility for the particular piece, it was breathtaking, and she brought back memories that I did not even know that I still retained.

There were two parts in the concert organized by the Café Carnivale people. The first half consisted of a series of pieces that Lucy played accompanied by a diverse set of performers with an eclectic mix of instruments. I’ll talk about this in more detail later, but for now, I’ll just mention that there were pieces performed in collaboration with Larissa Burak (she plays the Ukranian Bandura, and sings as well); Stephen Lalor on classical Guitar; Anatoli Torjinski on Cello and a student of Lucy’s (whose name I can’t remember) on the piano. The second half of the concert was with the Sydney Balalaika Ensemble, featuring a whole slew of instruments including the domra, the double bass balalaika, the accordion-like-thing which had a different name, the guitar and of course the cimbalom as centrepiece.

The balalaika ensemble was awesome. Again, some of the music triggered memories. These were songs that I had heard long back, and they’d remained in my head somehow. A great deal is made of the power of smells to trigger memories, but I reckon a song can have pretty much the same effect. D. told me that the folk songs reminded her of her childhood, of a time when her father, who was a bit of a russo-phile, used to play these songs to entertain her. The highlight of the ensemble was clearly the singer Sophia Cece, who came up to the stage dressed like some exotic bird of paradise, with a voice to match. She enthralled the crowd every time she sang. It was a masterful performance, and the entire ensemble played with passion and life, each one clearly enjoying themselves. Their most recent CD is called Mail Troika, and can be purchased at their website.
I am a relative newcomer to world music, and as such, my opinions are more driven by gut feeling rather than years of study. With this disclaimer, I’d like to reiterate my stand that the most exciting part of listening to world music is the cross cultural fertilizations that seems to be happening all over the place. For example, I was intrigued to learn that Cuban music, which was heavily influenced by the music brought over across the sea by Africans, is now influencing music in Mali. This sort of transglobal collaborations is always exciting and when done well produces the greatest listening treats. A very good example is Ry Cooder, who has been devoting considerable energy in collaborating with musicians from all over the world. His album with Ali Farka Toure, Talking Timbuktu, is amazing.

Back to Lucy Voronov. The highlight of the evening, for me, was her inventiveness and her energy. She played a traditional Irish jig on the cimbalom, accompanied by Larissa Burak on the Ukranian Bandura. There were a series of songs designed to explore the cimbalom in different settings from jazz to piano. The pieces accompanied by the guitar and the cello were downright amazing. She kept going from strength to strength before ending with that highly entertaining version of Mozart’s Turkish March. Lucy’s star is on the rise and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.


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