Avoiding the 'East meets West' music trap

A recent post about the highly recommended recording of John Mayer's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Jonathan Mayer's Sitar Concerto No. 2 leads me to sitarist Jonathan Mayer's out of genre activities. On the 2011 CD seen above he plays sitar, pygmy sitar, electric sitar, tanpura, guitar-zither, piano, Fender Rhodes and keyboards, and is joined by the much-missed Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bernard Wystraete on flute and bass flute, Mitel Purohit on tabla, and Andy Bratt  providing drum samples. As well as compositions by Jonathan and other members of the band there are three Bach transcriptions; possibly the first recordings of Bach played on the sitar. 

In the booklet notes Jonathan Mayer sums up this CD perfectly ''Out of Genre' relieves the sitar of its comfort zone'. Composer, producer and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra contributes another thoughtful booklet note. This provides an valuable perspective on the prejudices that continue to dog multi-cultural music, as this extract explains:

'In my mind, [Jonathan Mayer] is a perfect example of a British born musician playing the Indian sitar – a living example of someone who has transcended the ‘East meets West trap’ as I call it. In my on-going mission to de-mystify the world of Indian music and further the development of British Asian music, it frustrates me to observe that East continues to meet West – almost as if the two had never met before! This fascination with bringing these two worlds together (and therefore inadvertently keeping them apart!) has created a glass ceiling that few musicians have managed to penetrate.

The underlying conspiracy that ‘Indian instruments can only be played properly by Indian musicians’ has resulted in the current situation, where it is widely considered by Western music students that learning to play Indian instruments and music is ‘too difficult and complicated’. This is partly due to the absence of standardised and accessible methods of teaching.'

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