20 May 2024

Third Culture Collective: Indian and western classical music with no strings attached!

By Lark Music

Noisenights are a vision for the future of classical music, with crowdfunded gigs taking world-leading musicians to iconic independent venues, bridging the gap between frequent classical music concert-goers and those who have never experienced a classical concert.

Here, Third Culture Collective’s music director Kavi Paul tells Lark Music how noisenights’ audiences can join a musical journey from nineteenth-century Germany to modern India, featuring everything from Indian and western classical music to raga-inspired jazz and new compositions.

Over the years, western classical music has acquired a lot of baggage – whether that’s outdated dress codes or ‘correct’ moments to clap or cough. For someone wanting to experience western classical music for the first time, the barriers to entry are high.

Even the connotations of the term ‘classical music’ are so linked with a certain western aesthetic – a quick search on Google Images brings up well-dressed European musicians in often grand settings.

Few people are aware of the classical traditions of other cultures and there’s no reason why a single culture of music should be placed on a pedestal.

Noisenights are all about putting classical music in non-classical settings. In honesty, it’s probably closer to how some of this music used to be listened to when Beethoven and Mozart were writing – concert halls were rowdy places!

Third Culture Collective is a music production house I founded in 2020 aimed at fostering collaboration between Indian and western musicians. Creating a ‘third culture’ of music is my response to constantly being torn between the Indian and western sides of my identity. As well as releasing our own music, we collaborate with western classical ensembles and run workshops on Indian instruments.

It’s a fresh approach to Indian and western classical music that goes beyond ‘fusion’. We recompose music from one culture onto the instruments of another. Picture Beethoven arranged for a group of sitars, or a live orchestra playing an instrumental ghazal (an ancient form of poetic expression originating in Arabic poetry).

We are at the beginning of a huge journey of discovery and experimentation – the learnings of bringing these styles of music together are immense. For example, we were recently experimenting with a piece by Bach, replacing the oboe part with a bansuri (Indian flute). Aside from the interesting musical intricacies that arose, the process brought together instrumentalists from different cultures who wouldn’t normally interact with each other, which I find really exciting.

Noisenights, organised by Through the Noise, have given us a platform to share our music with a wider audience. By removing the ‘baggage’ from classical music, we feel empowered to present our heady concoction of third culture styles with absolutely no strings attached! The idea is to separate the music itself from the traditional ways of listening to the music. You can love classical music and appreciate its beauty wherever you are and that’s exactly what happens with musicians playing in pub gardens, wine bars, clubs and former industrial sites (some of Through the Noise’s venues).

Music has been in my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I learned western piano alongside training as a Gujarati bhajan singer – I’ve been combining the two styles ever since. My heritage is from Gujarat in India, and my family was part of the diaspora that migrated from there to East Africa. My ancestors moved to Kenya for trade sometime in the 1940s. Both my parents were born in Kenya and sometime in the 1960s moved to London. They met during their university years in England.

My initial training was in Indian semi-classical music. My mornings started with the melodious bhajans and we would often go to the temple. I used to have semi-classical Gujarati bhajan lessons, where I would be singing and playing the harmonium and alongside this, I developed an active interest in western classical music, taking lessons in the piano, clarinet and voice.

After studying western classical music at Cambridge University, I wanted to craft a space and art that allowed Indian and western classical music to shine together, reflecting my own identity as a second-generation immigrant. A third culture kid (from which our group’s name is derived) is a child brought up in a culture different to that of their parents, developing a sense of relationship to multiple cultures while not necessarily having full ownership in any. Are you a citizen of everywhere, or are you a citizen of nowhere? That’s the typical kind of third culture kid dilemma. The Third Culture Collective is a place to bring these kinds of musicians together. For me, the first culture is my western side, the second culture is my Indian side, and the third culture is my resulting true identity.

I love finding new audiences for my music and noisenights have enabled me to do that. Seeing one of my music professors from Cambridge and my grandmother in the same audience but getting different things out of the same piece of music really excites me. I can arrange a classical piece by Robert Schumann for my cross-cultural quintet and perform it in front of a standing audience with drinks in their hands who are really willing you on. There are so many more third culture kids in the world right now who are resonating with our music.

I’ve got a great set of musicians supporting me at our noisenights this summer. I will be singing and on keyboards, joined by Ashnaa, a Carnatic-cum-RnB singer; Denis Kucherov on tabla and handpan; Ramanan Nathan on violin, and Anish Franklin on double bass.

It will be a mix of music that people will never have heard before, moving from raga-inspired jazz to western classical mixed with Indian classical, Indian folk and a bit of soul. It’s a big experiment really, and that’s the most fun thing about it. No one’s done this before and it’s so exciting to go on this journey with such an engaging audience.

Third Culture Collective x Ashnaa

Tuesday, 18 June  – The Jazz Cafe, London

Wednesday 19 June  – Band on the Wall, Manchester

Thursday 20 June  – The Wardrobe, Leeds

Friday 21 June  – Mama Roux’s, Birmingham

Saturday 22 June  – The Globe, Cardiff

Sunday 23 June  – Metronome, Nottingham

Visit throughthenoise.co.uk

About Kavi Pau

Kavi Pau, 27, is a British Indian music director, composer, singer and keyboardist based in London.

After studying composition and conducting at the Purcell School of Music, Kavi won a choral scholarship to Cambridge University, where he studied music and graduated with a prize-winning double-first class degree.

As a singer and keyboardist, he has performed at the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, Dewan Filarmonik Petronas (Malaysia) and Victoria Concert Hall (Singapore).

Since founding Third Culture Collective in 2020, he manages a broad cross-cultural musical ecosystem, producing new music, facilitating workshops with young musicians and running collaboration days bringing together musicians from different cultures.

Outside of this, Kavi maintains a freelance career involving the western and Indian sides of his musical identity. From 2018-2022, he was Director of Music at St Barnabas Church, Ealing, conducting the professional and parish choirs. He has also been a guest faculty member at AR Rahman’s KM Conservatoire in Chennai and Christ University, Bangalore, and teaches regularly at the Sound and Music Summer School for Young Composers.

Kavi has also previously supervised undergraduate music students at the University of Cambridge and he is a trustee for the professional choir, Tenebrae.