Sangam Gives Traditional Music a New Direction The Sangam Trio melds the musical traditions of American jazz with East Indian influence. The group made its New York debut this past week. Two members of the trio — jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, join host Debbie Elliott for a performance.
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Sangam Gives Traditional Music a New Direction

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Sangam Gives Traditional Music a New Direction

Sangam Gives Traditional Music a New Direction

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From the banks of the Tiber to the confluence of two musical currents. We end our show tonight with music from the Sangam Trio. Sangam is a Hindi word that can describe a confluence, the place were rivers merge. The group melds musical traditions.

Jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd, Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, and the dynamic young drummer Eric Harland form the tributaries of this new sound. The Sangam trio made its New York debut this past week. Here to discuss their music are two members of the group, Charles Lloyd and Zakir Hussain. They join us from member station WNYC in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. ZAKIR HUSSAIN (Sangam Trio): It's a pleasure Debbie.

Mr. CHARLES LLOYD (Sangam Trio): Thank you.

ELLIOTT: So now you are both known for transcending musical genres, but to understand the new sound of Sangam Trio, let's start by looking at the history that each of you bring to this relationship. Charles Lloyd, you grew up playing blues and jazz in the segregated south. I'm wondering if you could play a few strains of the kind of music you cut your teeth on for us.

Mr. LLOYD: Oh boy. Well, that would be very difficult. I play with people who - like Howlin' Wolf and Junior Park and Johnny Ace. They were primarily singers. Bobby Blue Bland, even B.B. King down there, and of course you've heard of him.


Mr. LLOYD: But the thing about - I'm still haunted by Howlin' Wolf and I couldn't at all begin to - to make that sound that he made, you know. Smoke like lightning, shine like gold. I can't go in there, you know, I don't that. Plus he was a great big man, you know. And - but I'll play you a little blues maybe. Would that help?


Mr. LLOYD: But it won't sound like what I came up hearing. I've been gone for 50 years. And - okay.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: And Zakir Hussain, you tell the story of how as a child your father would whisper traditional Indian drum rhythms into your ear.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Well, I kind of grew up also playing the blues and soul and all that stuff, because I guess the music is the same wherever you go. It is all speaking from the heart. And in India when we play traditional music it's more directed towards the divinity, gods and goddesses, and so you're basically whaling out to them. It's all a cry, just like the blues. So listening to those rhythms from my father, he would wake me up at about 2:30 in the morning, when everybody was sleeping and talk rhythms with me, like...

(Soundbite of spoken drum rhythms)

Mr. HUSSAIN: the language of the words and the language of the rhythms was one. And that was the idea behind learning with my dad.

Mr. LLOYD: Something very powerful just came out when Zakir was speaking. We've never had a conversation about this, because I guess we do it in the music. But that thing of the confluence of music, you know, when I heard him play the tablas the first time, I heard the blues. And he just spoke about the blues in his way. And I'm humbled and very moved by that.

ELLIOTT: Can you play a selection for us?

Mr. LLOYD: Surely.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Absolutely.

Mr. LLOYD: We'll play Tales of Rumi from Sangam, which is our recording on UCM and sorry to say that...

ELLIOTT: And Rumi was a poet?

Mr. LLOYD: Rumi was - yes he was. Rumi had that love of the universal and that's what we have a love of, you know?

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: That was Charles Lloyd and Zakir Hussain playing Tales of Rumi. Charles Lloyd, you seem to truly believe in the transformative power of music.

Mr. LLOYD: Oh, please. It - you know, I could still be in Memphis driving an elevator or something if I didn't, you know. I heard something in the music that to this day has me drunk. And I - I don't in no ways feel tired or think that he brought me this far to leave me behind. You know, that's the old spiritual from there. So I don't know what to say. In this lifetime I just break out into song. I don't have a - you know, a home here. I'm just - you can't build a house on a bridge. You know, we're passing through here.

Mr. HUSSAIN: When I met Master Lloyd it was like meeting another incarnation of a great Indian master like Ali Burkon(ph) or a Budik Alamale Khan(ph), the great singer of India of yesteryears and so on. And it did not matter that I was playing tabla and he was playing saxophone. For all - you know, in our - in my mind I could have been playing tabla and he was playing sitar or he could be playing saxophone and I was playing drums. It was the same, and it has always been that way. What we are doing is something very important. And when we do it and people come to listen to us in a concert hall, what they see is, there is little moment of delight, a little moment of happiness, a little moment of peace where you forget what exists outside the doors of the concert hall. And that's all there is. So it is very important to us and maybe that little shade falls onto the people as well.

ELLIOTT: Drummer Eric Harland couldn't be here today because he's on another gig, but I've read both of you quoted as saying he's the heartbeat of your trio. Let's listen a little bit to the end of the title track, Sangam.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Zakir Hussain, you guys are really flying here.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Well, he was flying, I was hanging on.

Mr. LLOYD: That's not true. They hooked up in - they're hooked up in there together. That is the most amazing thing. And it's not two drummers, it's two souls that are all up in there. And our little orchestra may be a small orchestra of three, but we serve a lot of missions, and Zakir sings, Eric plays the piano and we do a lot of things because we love service.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Yeah. It's a great thing. You have - what's amazing about Eric is that he's one of those rare drummers who listens when he's playing. And - and that's a quality that's - that you're born with and geniuses are made of. To be able to listen and then to add a little comma here, an exclamation mark there, or a question there, he must have been a tabla player in his past life.

Mr. LLOYD: You know, he's - he's an ordained minister also, Eric is.


Mr. LLOYD: Is that deep or what?

ELLIOTT: That is deep.

Mr. LLOYD: He does his - he does his ministry work up here on the stage with us. It's very deep. We don't about this stuff. We talk to you more than we ever talked about this stuff on - on the rides to the gigs.

Mr. HUSSAIN: That's true.

Mr. LLOYD: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Tabla play Zakir HUSSAIN and saxophonist Charles Lloyd, two-thirds of the Sangam Trio. Gentleman, thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. HUSSAIN: Thank you Debbie. It's been a pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: You're listening to Charles Lloyd and Zakir Hussain of the Sangam Trio. To hear more of their music visit our website

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News I'm Debbie Elliott.

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