‘The Cosmos Project’ is a collaboration between pianist Shani Diluka, sitarist Sahana Banerjee, and percussionist Prabhu Edouard, where the music of Ludwig van Beethoven is played in conjunction with Indian classical ragas. The project had its world premiere at the Goethe-Institut Dhaka on October 29, and the musicians shared their reasons for working together with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Al Faruque Ratul right after the show
How did you all find each other?
Sahana: We have been connected with each other for the last ten years. We first worked on the Schubert project. Prabhu was our common friend. Back then, I used to live in Europe, and Prabhu and I used to perform together frequently. When Shani came to him with the idea of connecting western classical music with that of the east, I said “let us sit together with our instruments and figure it out.”
Prabhu: That project was similar to this one, but the difference was that the famous composer Franz Schubert was the focus. We tried contributing with our instruments and building around the repertoire that Shani brought.
Shani: When we first met, we knew that we had the same spiritual connection with music. It has been ten years since then. These kinds of connections stay forever. Once you share such an intense connection, it will stay with you forever. You feel confident that you can go really deep with music.
And how did “The Cosmos Project” come to be?
Prabhu: Shani contacted us few months ago and we spoke about doing another project, this time with Beethoven’s music. With Beethoven, it became more challenging. Before the world premiere, we had 48 hours of preparation to wrap the whole thing up. So it was very tense, and we got very few hours of sleep. To see people enjoying our performance was a great reward
Shani: There was also the challenge of distance as, Sahana lives in Pune, India. So we have been coordinating through email and Whatsapp. That’s how we put the project together. We knew that our connection was strong, as we have known each other for ten years. The first experience of connecting Indian classical music with western classical music, in the Schubert project, had a big impact. We were surprised to see that people loved it. Even the purists on each side were really connected with the music. When I found an Indian text among Beethoven’s notes, it provided the base to go further and deeper. We were of that mind because the mixing of classical music from the west and east is a very unique path.
So Shani discovered the connection?
Prabhu: Yes, it is her fault.
Shani: (laughs) Yes, because I play Beethoven a lot. I am a classical pianist, so that is what I play most of the time. My teacher was from a German school of music. Even when Beethoven went deaf, he wrote many books of music, and was showing people his ideas. When I was perusing his correspondence, I found this notebook which had a passage from “The Upanishads.” I was shocked and wondered how this was possible. Later, I found out that the Indian text came to Germany for the first time in 1816. Beethoven examined these texts thoroughly, even underlining words in them. From that discovery, the three of us began building this project.
What is the scope of the “The Cosmos Project?” For how long will it continue and will you three be part of it till the end?
Shani: Actually, this project began tonight. It was our first premiere. We will be travelling all over the world and performing at major venues. The idea is that we are going to record our pieces in January next year. The recording will be unique, as it will have both classic pieces of Beethoven and Indian ragas for the first time. We are aiming to release the album in 2020, when the entire world will be commemorating Beethoven’s 250th death anniversary. As such, we think we will perform for “The Cosmos Project” till 2021.
What do you think about today’s response?
Shani: Everyone who stayed till the end was very happy. It was great to see their faces, and it felt very pleasant. That is what music does. It makes people happy.
I would like to hear each of your thoughts about this project.
Shani: This project is about humanity. Through the mixing of cultures, it promotes peace and tolerance. We see the beauty in every culture. With all these terrible wars, the rise of hatred, and people getting disconnected from each other, these kinds of projects make people happy and bring them together. Cultures may be different, but magic happens when they come together.
Sahana: It is not just about matching notes. It is about something more. It is about having the same philosophy, feel, and temperament. That is the key for any kind of project. I would not call this fusion. I call it joining East and the West. It is a collaborative project with the right temperament.
Prabhu: Reading those sentences from Beethoven’s notes was very important to me. He spoke about “light in the darkness of night.” History is a very strange thing. It is in a cycle of repeating itself. Many of our great masters are warning us that a “dark age” is almost here, and we have to be careful. Everyone has their way of fighting the darkness. Our weapon is music. Hopefully, this project carries the message of looking beyond your own culture.