Foundation arts residency inspires
Shades of Shakti

In 2013, musician Tristan Carter spent two months at 1Shanthi Rd Artist Residence in Bangalore exploring Indian musical traditions, making field recordings and working with local folk musicians. The experience greatly influenced his latest project Shades of Shakti – a collaborative group of New Zealand and Indian musicians that exists in the space between traditional Indian music and jazz. The group are performing at the New Zealand Festival this March.
A man carrying a sack on his sholder watches Tristan play the violin on a street in Bangalore

Tristan performing on a street in Bangalore (Photo: Hannah Mackintosh )

Being among the cacophony of sounds and spontaneity of human existence that carpet a big Indian city gives an energy that I find especially inspiring.

During my residency, I immersed myself in the local soundscape, chasing any interesting sound or music I could with my field recorder, giving special attention to the local religious festivities and their resulting concoction of musical mayhem.

I was specifically interested in seeking out musicians and instruments that were unfamiliar to me and that were from a folk tradition, which led me to meet some local nadhaswaram players who I worked with on a weekly basis, exploring free improvisation within composed structures.

The musicians I worked with (Santosh, Srinivas and Sanjeev of Bangarpet village) were open to experimenting with various nuances of their traditional playing and working with these as musical building blocks removed from their usual context. This eventuated in a composition performed in a concert at the end of the residency.

Sanjeev, Srinivas, Santosh and Tristan sitting with their instruments at 1Shanthi Rd Artist Residency

Sanjeev, Srinivas, Santosh and Tristan at 1Shanthi Rd Artist Residency (Photo: Hannah Mackintosh )

The nadhaswaram is a traditional South Indian reed instrument almost exclusively played by a certain caste who are also barbers. Their music is played at weddings and Hindu temple festivities and therefore not commonly found outside of India, so being there was essential to being able to collaborate with these musicians.

Such festivities occurred on a regular basis in the neighbourhood of Shantinagar, where the residency was, and I was able to seek out musicians playing at them and arrange to meet up and collaborate.

I think I purposely chose to seek out a certain type of musician who would be of a folk-music background, and therefore not only have an inter-cultural exchange but also reach across socially enforced caste-systems that still exist in India.

Even though I was primarily coming from a starting point of musical curiosity, I was aware that there was a subversion of still-prevailing caste norms implied by bringing such a caste into the arena of the ‘modern art world’, or even by collaborating with them full-stop. So, this added another element to our interaction and probably an extra layer of curiosity to our presentation.

The Wellington contingent of Shades of Shakti - Thomas Friggens, Chetan Ramlu Tristan Carter and Justin 'Firefly Clark sitting on the ground with their instruments

The Wellington contingent of Shades of Shakti - Thomas Friggens, Chetan Ramlu Tristan Carter and Justin 'Firefly Clarke (Photo: Hannah Mackintosh )

Getting an insight into the cultural context of Indian musical traditions, and first-hand experience of a wide range of Indian musical expression, from folk music to street singers to classical music lessons and concerts, really cemented my conviction to explore and collaborate in a more involved and longer-term way. So, when I returned to Wellington I kept playing and listening and seeking out ways to keep developing my understanding of Indian music.

I have collaborated on many different musical projects with Thomas Friggens and Justin 'Firefly' Clarke and the three of us became drawn to the challenge of playing some of the music of the band Shakti, who are famous for their amalgamation of Hindustani and Carnatic (North and South Indian) classical music traditions and jazz.

We were able to connect with local tabla player Chetan Ramlu for a Wellington Jazz Festival gig who then introduced us to sarangi maestro Sangeet Mishra from Varanasi by way of Mumbai.

With Shades of Shakti, we explore the space between traditional Indian music and jazz, using some past examples of 'East meets West' collaborations from the likes of Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin, and John McLaughlin’s group Shakti, as well as our own original compositions.

Our music combines virtuosic rhythms from Chetan on tabla and Thomas on percussion, intricate melodies from Justin on guitar and myself on violin, and the hypnotic tones of the Sangeet’s sarangi, a highly resonant, ancient bowed instrument of India.

The New Zealand Festival concert will also feature an extraordinary vocalist from Auckland, Chelsea Prastiti. We are looking forward to developing new material through further collaboration and touring. 

Shades of Shakti will be performing as part of the New Zealand Festival on Friday March 13th at Shed 6. Book tickets through the Festival NZ website.

 This will be followed by a tour of the top of the South Island on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 17 March: The Mussel Inn, Takaka
  • Thursday 19 March: Chanel Arts Centre, Motueka
  • Friday 20 March: Fairfield House, Nelson
  • Saturday 21 March: Fairfield House, Nelson (Workshop on Indian Music and Sarangi)
  • Saturday 21 March: Tim's Place, Maharau

Under the Radar website - book tickets for Shades of Shakti

 Find out more about Tristan’s work at