A demanding set from tabla-tamer Talvin Singh proves ultimately rewarding...
Behind the stage there’s a castle that was built by the French, taken over by the Spanish and used by the Italians. It might all be distant European history, but it seemed strangely appropriate when Talvin Singh starts playing music that sounds like three different cultures hitting each other at the same time.
The set starts with new material and some scarcely-recognisable versions of tracks from ‘OK’ and ‘Ha’, perplexing the polite crowd into timid applause. Singh himself is hidden behind a bizarre scaffold contraption with bits of metal hanging off it at every angle, invisible except for a daft hat. Four other players crouch intensely over banks of complicated machinery, breaking their nodding-head concentration only to get out an electric cello or start grooving with a theremin from time to time.
You think this is more music to listen to than to watch, and the singer – who has a vocal range that could span the Indian ocean – seems to agree by standing there looking embarrassed half the time. The rhythms build up and there’s a little yelp of polite enthusiasm as Singh does a scat duet with the rapper, then removes a tea towel to reveal his tablas, giving them a good dusting with talcum powder before going for some of his trademark pyrotechnic, finger-blurring percussion.
There’s a kind of jazzbo muso intensity to it all that never lets the whole thing loosen up into the Fourth World tablatronic frenzy we might have hoped for, but close your eyes and concentrate and you can hear music that at least has the decency to sound like living in the 21st century, and not some 1973 throwback. They end up with a version of ‘Traveller’ that sounds more like Kid Loco’s chill-out remix than the official recorded version and seems to go on for several years. In a positive way, that is.
Then it’s “arrivederci Napoli” and he’s gone. The crowd find out that they were actually frugging away without having realised it. Not one for the faint-hearted, but the courageous were well rewarded.