#Review: Talvin Singh @ The Tung Auditorium 18th Nov 2022


Having been a fan of Talvin Singh’s music since first hearing his groundbreaking 1998 album ‘OK’, in advance of this gig in one of Liverpool’s newest (and finest) venues, The Tung Auditorium, I decided to expand my back catalogue before the gig, but found it surprisingly difficult to do so. 

‘OK’ aside, you can order ‘Ha’ and ‘Vira’ online (I’m eagerly awaiting both), and listen to some of his original work and remixes under his own name and the moniker Calcutta Cyber Cafe; but beyond that, there are surprisingly slim pickings. You have the option of shelling out a small fortune for a second hand copy of ‘Drum & Space’; but the other albums – one listed on Wikipedia, a few more listed on Discogs – may as well not exist.

I guess in part this may be because anyone who’s into Talvin Singh’s music doesn’t part with it, but I’m otherwise at a loss as to why this should be, as the size and eagerness of tonight’s expectant crowd suggests there must surely be a market. Perhaps I’m simply looking in the wrong places. 

Answers on a postcard, please . . .

As for the concert itself – I wondered from his introductory remarks whether Talvin found himself unexpectedly one accompanist down, as he described how he’d more usually play along to the sound of a bowed instrument of some sort. No matter; the complex, varied, eloquent, sometimes unfeasibly fast beats that somehow never lose their clarity seem to come from someone playing both parts of a duet rather than simply playing solo.

As I understand it, tabla rhythms are traditionally passed on vocally, with short spoken syllables (called ‘bol’, I think) mimicking the many sounds that can made by someone playing the two drums. When that someone as adept a musician as Talvin Singh, even pronouncing rhythms using bol is fabulously musical, his voice resembling the drums, which in turn reveals the voice-like character of the tabla themselves.

This back-and-forth exchange characterises much of the music throughout the evening, whether in the eloquent, jazz-like interplay between Talvin and his accompanists, or in the interactions between his percussion and the electronic wizardry he’s equally master of.

As impressive and involving as the solo drumming that opens the evening is, Talvin takes things to another level when adding electronic elements to the mix. The care he takes in how he positions the tabla so that their sound is aimed directly at the microphone is striking (if you’ll pardon the accidental pun), as is his ongoing adjustment of the finer elements of the sounds produced. 

It strikes me that what he’s actually doing isn’t playing the tabla and adjusting the sounds with the electronic circuitry at this point; what he’s actually doing is setting up standing waves, oscillations, feedback and harmonics which he then controls using the tabla. In other words, the instrument he’s playing at this point is neither the drums nor the electronics, but the air itself.

As for the interplay between Talvin’s tabla-playing and Bev Lee Harling’s vocals and violin, and then Tom Rogerson on piano (or at the end of the concert, all three), something perhaps even more magical occurs.

There’s even a point in the evening when I swear Talvin plays something that’s a response to someone sneezing in the audience, which in turn makes the sneeze retrospectively part of the music.

Small wonder, then, that after a while my perception of time begins to stretch and shift. This isn’t just music; it’s music as weather, music as medicine, , music as meditation, music as communion.

Leaving the wonderful Tung Auditorium (does any Liverpool venue have acoustics to match?), people are smiling and nodding at each other in acknowledgement that we’ve witnessed something unique and never to be repeated. It seems, like me, everyone is leaving feeling lighter, their inner horizons expanded by a remarkable evening of music.

Perhaps that’s why some of Talvin Singh’s music is a little hard to track down: this stuff can’t be captured, and simply has to be experienced live.

And what an amazing experience it was.

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