Trilok Gurtu

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Trilok Gurtu (Warsaw, 2007)

Trilok Gurtu (born October 30, 1951 in Bombay ) is an Indian percussionist and singer who has become famous above all as a mediator between Indian and Western musical traditions. While he was seen as belonging to the world of jazz in the mid-1980s , he has been a representative of world music since the mid-1990s . In the 21st century he is more interested in working with musicians from his home country than before, but remains true to his adopted home of Hamburg .

Live and act

Trilok Gurtu, Oslo Jazz Festival 2016

Childhood and youth

Gurtu was born into a musical family in Bombay. Gurtu describes his grandfather as a very good sitar player, but says that this grandfather refrained from performing because there was no financial need for it. His mother, Shobha Gurtu, on the other hand, appeared in public with her art, the light classical, north Indian singing. She is considered the most famous singer in the semi-classical Thumri style.

Gurtu reported in several interviews that in childhood he was constantly surrounded by music and that his surroundings urged him to do musical exercises. He started playing the tabla at the age of five . Important suggestions came from his older brother, Ravi, who had already switched to percussion before him. The brother also brought Latin music into the house from time to time, and even as a child Gurtu tried to re-drum the conga parts from the Latin pieces he had heard.

At the age of ten, he and his brother had a percussion group and there were engagements for concerts at universities. At that time, in addition to playing tabla, he had also learned to use bongos and drums . When he was sixteen, around 1967, he started working in cinemas and hotels. Working in western-oriented hotels gave him more opportunities than before to become familiar with western music. When it comes to the musicians who influenced him back then, he mainly names John Coltrane , Jimi Hendrix , James Brown and The Supremes .

At the father's request, he began studying, but was not enthusiastic about the content of the course. More important to him was that in 1969 he was able to join a group called the Waterfront . Waterfront played in discos and sometimes at pop concerts. Since you couldn't make good money as a musician in India, the gigs were given up in 1973. For Gurtu, those were times when he couldn't afford his own drums and therefore had to borrow his instruments from friends.

Contacting musicians from the western world

In 1973, at the age of 21, he left India and toured Europe, first with the band Waterfront and later as part of the pop music troupe of Rahul Dev Burman and the film music singer Asha Bhosle . He lived in Italy for some time and then returned to India. About this time he says: “ I knew how to play pieces by Hendrix on the tablas, but nobody cared about it. "

When he got back to Bombay, he played at the Jazz Yatra Festival with Charlie Mariano . Mariano was the first western musician he could perform with. Gurtu applied to Berklee College of Music in the United States with a recommendation from Mariano , but was rejected. Years later, when international attention and many honorary awards had set in, he was offered honorary membership by the same college, and it was he who declined.

In 1977 he traveled to New York with Asha Bhosle. He then went to Germany and played with the German rock band Embryo . Since he couldn't earn enough money with these engagements, he went to Sweden to work with jazz trumpeter Don Cherry .

Jazz and Classical

Since 1977 he has played in the Family of Percussion of the Swiss percussionist Peter Giger . Through Don Cherry he came into contact with jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp , Jan Garbarek , Philip Catherine , L. Shankar , Gil Evans , Airto Moreira and Paul Bley . He recorded pieces with Catherine and L. Shankar, Mariano, Bley and Barre Phillips . They worked together for two years.

He then went to Karl Berger in Woodstock , New York, to give lessons. There he met the jazz musicians Jack DeJohnette , Pat Metheny , Naná Vasconcelos , and Collin Walcott . In the Oregon group , he succeeded Collin Walcott after he was killed in a traffic accident; from 1984 to 1988 he toured the world with Oregon . Together with Jan Garbarek and Zakir Hussain , he was also part of the L. Shankar quartet. With Garbarek he recorded his album Song for Everyone in 1985 .

In the mid-80s, Gurtu was a fixture in the music world. In addition to his appearances with jazz artists, he is always drawn to collaborate with representatives of classical music, such as the piano-playing Lebèque sisters or the cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma .

In 1988 the guitarist John McLaughlin became aware of Gurtu when he was performing with Mariano at a festival in Germany. He invited him to musically complement the McLaughlin trio. For four years he was an integral part of McLaughlin's band, including several world tours and album recordings. During this time there was also collaboration with Joe Zawinul , Bill Laswell , Maria João , Gilberto Gil , Pharoah Sanders , Annie Lennox and Pat Metheny.

In 1988 he performed with his own band at European festivals. His first LP was Usfret . The music of Usfret is session music, in which only the percussion had been predetermined. Don Cherry, Ralph Towner , L. Shankar, Jonas Hellborg and Gurtu's mother were involved. The album turned out to be unsuccessful. The criticism and the fans were unable to follow his visions of music.

The more structured album Living Magic followed in 1991 . Jan Garbarek as saxophonist and Nana Vasconcelos as percussionist were involved. With this album he got into the world of jazz even more than before. In the summer of 1993, Gurtu was with his own trio to promote their own album The Crazy Saints . At The Crazy Saints were Joe Zawinul and Pat Metheny in the foreground. The music combined subtle Indian rhythms and Indian singing with elements of modern jazz and rock.

The following year the band expanded to a quartet. Among the players on the next albums were Neneh Cherry , Angélique Kidjo , Steve Lukather and Salif Keïta . The fifth of Gurtu's albums was released in 1996 with the title Bad Habits . These are live recordings of two concerts in Cologne's city garden. An unusual recording for him was the 1996 album Tabla Tarang - Melody on Drums , on which he reluctantly accompanied Kamalesh Maitra , the last great Indian master on the Tabla Tarang .

"World Music"

Around 1996 Gurtu turned to the world music circle. On his albums, greats from jazz and rock are not predominantly represented, but more and more artists who are well-known in the popular music scene who do not belong to the Western culture.

His 1999 band included three Indians and two Africans. With this group he recorded the album African Fantasy , the first release with which he clearly turned to African music. There is Indian singing, sitar and sarangi sounds and a large number of percussion instruments from all over the world. The sales of the African Fantasy CD exceeded all previous albums.

At a time when he made many appearances with his group, he also made prestigious solo appearances and guest appearances on albums by John McLaughlin, Pharoah Sanders, Nitin Sawhney , Lalo Schifrin , Gilberto Gil and Bill Laswell.

For the album The Beat of Love , which followed in 2001 , the musical traditions of Africa and India were again decisive. For this album he gathered some of the most respected African singers of our time. These include Salif Keïta (Mali), Angélique Kidjo (Benin), Wasis Diop (Senegal), Jabu Khanyile (South Africa) and Sabine Kabongo . Numerous pieces have been recorded in India. Dance with My Lover is a piece composed in the African Jùjú style; it was recorded exclusively with Indian musicians.

Remembrance from 2002 is the first album that Gurtu recorded exclusively with Indian musicians, including his mother Shobha Gurtu and the tabla player Zakir Hussain . Remembrance's music is Indian music that makes some concessions to the listening habits of the western world.

There were sensational music events in which Gurtu was involved. He made music in London's Hyde Park for the 50th anniversary of the throne of Queen Elizabeth II and at a concert in Bombay for the 70th anniversary of the BBC World Service with Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal . In the port of Copenhagen he drummed with the Korean percussion ensemble Samulnori on a floating stage.

For his eleventh solo album Broken Rhythms from 2004, he engaged the Irish blues guitarist Gary Moore, the Italian Arké String Quartet, the Tuvinian overtone choir Huun-Huur-Tu , the "devil violinist" Ganesh Kumar, sitar master Ravi Chary, and several Indian vocalists.

A special feature of Gurtu's performances is that he often gathers his percussion instruments around him on the floor. Mostly there are: cymbals , hi-hats , snare drums , tom toms , congas, Indian tablas and dhol drums, gongs and bells, and mostly also a bucket of water in which he holds echoing objects in order to achieve sound effects.


From 1994 to 1996 and 1999 to 2002, Gurtu won the Down Beat magazine's critics' award for best percussionist of the year. In 1999 he was voted the best percussionist of the year by Drum Magazine readers .

Discographic notes

Productions under his own name
  • Usfret ( CMP , 1987)
  • Living Magic (CMP, 1990)
  • Crazy Saints (CMP, 1993)
  • Believe (CMP, 1995)
  • Bad Habits Die Hard (CMP, 1996)
  • The Glimpse (CMP, 1997)
  • Kathak (ESC Records, 1998)
  • African Fantasy (ESC Records, 2000)
  • The Beat of Love (Blue Thumb, 2001)
  • Remembrance (Universal, 2002)
  • Izzat Respect (Times Square, 2003)
  • Broken Rhythms (Exile, 2004)
  • Farakala , with Frikyiwa Family (Frikyiwa, 2006)
  • Arkeology , with Arké String Quartet (Promo Music, 2006)
  • Twenty Years of Talking Tabla (Union Square Music, 2007)
  • Massical (BHM Productions, 2009)
  • Spellbound (Moosicus Records, 2013)
  • God Is a Drummer (Jazzline Records, 2020)


“When I came to the West in 1977, I only played with jazz musicians. It was a very creative phase and jazz musicians were as respected as pop musicians. Meanwhile, jazz has turned into intellectual music for a small audience. But I am not a jazz musician, but an Indian musician who plays modern Indian music for young people. "

Web links

Commons : Trilok Gurtu  - collection of images, videos and audio files