09/11/2009. A lofty, eastern call to prayer soars out over the harmonic resonance of a Latin choral mass. The voice swells into the vast inner space, without score or amplification. Our spirits rise with the mantra.
Friday night’s performance of Mantra brought together eastern and western religious song, in one melody, in a church in the heart of Brighton. The blend was at times mesmerising, at times inspirational. The pure sound of the human voice can transcend our human reality. How fitting to marry the sacred music from east and west, in this time of conflict.
Mostly, this experiment in musical fusion was enchanting, as in songs like Tabla Tallum. At times, the marriage seemed a little forced, as in Bhangara Limo, where Latin chant is set to Bhangara beat.
Mantra is a collaboration between the Orlando Consort singers, and three British Asian musicians: Kuljit Bhamra, a pioneer of the Bhangara phenomenon, Jonathon Mayer on sitar, and Shahid Khan, a singer of the Patiala Gharana (a Gharana is a musical tradition under a guru). The BREMF singers provided massed choral support.
The performance took place in the large, austere, brick-vaulted St Bartholomew’s Church. The church, the audience in their winter fleeces, the eastern musicians in dark robes, with sitar and tabla drums, and the ranks of choral singers, were a visual spectacle.
At one point, fireworks lit up the stained glass rose above a giant painting of a crucified Christ, which hangs between towering organ pipes from the southern facade of the cavernous church.
Many of the hundred or so audience took advantage of the £5 floor seating. Those were probably the best seats, anyway, being right in front of the performers.
The event was friendly and accessible, with performers and audience mingling after the encore. The church was warm enough, and there was a temporary bar, serving red and white wine by the glass.
During breaks in the performance, Kuljit Bhamara talked about the tabla drum and the gharana system of musical training, while Angus Smith talked about the inspiration for Mantra.
The PA system in the church echoed. This echoing didn’t affect the music, which wasn’t amplified, but it did make it hard to follow the talking parts. Some of the lights were too bright from where I sat. The fireworks were part of bonfire night, and might have interfered with the BBC’s recording of the event, but none of this seriously damaged my enjoyment.
Mantra was performed on Friday November 6, one of a series of concerts in the Brighton Festival of Early Music (BREMF) concerts. BREMF’s next event will be the Christmas Vespers, Saturday 5th December, 7:30 pm, in Saint Barts. Church.
More info www.bremf.org.uk