Learn more about the Bollywood Strings approach towards building successful cross-cultural bridges.
One man’s dream
For Violin Chandru, coming to England opened up a whole new world of potential for Chandru as he set his sight on working with Western orchestras and introducing Indian music to the players through a mutually comprehensible language. While still a violin teacher at the Bhavan School of Music, he launched the violin symphony there where he staged all his students in one concert, composing appropriately for each grade and these performances went on for several years and enjoyed tremendous success.
Conducting without a score
Having left this teaching position in 1996, Chandru’s first performance of Indian music through western musicians was at the “100 Violins” concert as part of Laurie Anderson’s Meltdown at the South Bank Centre in 1997. Not terribly familiar with the wonders of Sibelius, we had to hand write all the scores on manuscript paper. Once again, the performance was a smashing success but the special element that caught the eyes of most professional musicians was the fact that Chandru, dressed in his Indian traditional ‘white’, conducted the entire orchestra without a score.
The birth of Bollywood Strings
Following on from this success, Chandru embarked into the world of string arrangements and scoring music for films as well as adding his touch through solo renditions all over the UK and Europe. Due to the demands for “Bollywood” style strings, we started our company in 1999, and one purpose was to get western string players well integrated in the “Bollywood” style of playing. As a result, we were able to supplement our India based strings recordings with “Bollywood String” sessions in the UK.
The East – West Fusion
In 2000, we set out on our biggest journey thus far… a concert called “East West Fusion” which staged 30 string players and 15 instrumentalists and percussionists from across the UK, Belgium, Spain and India. Having committed ourselves to this concert with no sponsors or funding, it was an uphill struggle from the start. We were fortunate to gain the commitment of our string players to play without a fee in exchange for lessons on the “Bollywood” style of playing. By this time, we were well acquainted with the wonders of “Sibelius” and scored the entire 3 hour performance on Sibelius.
The Bollywood Strings approach
In doing this, we made “communication” with musicians so much easier. This was the beginning of the “Bollywood Strings approach”. We were able to channel our efforts on the playing techniques and not on the score and the players were very comfortable and ready to try new styles. We were also able to gain the respect and interest of the Trinity College of Music, resulting in several of their string players performing with us and a full day workshop at the Trinity for strings, flute and percussion, culminating in an evening performance.
Having trained and rehearsed for over 3 months, we finally presented “East West Fusion” in February 2000 at the Barbican in London.
Violin Chandru’s vision
The video entitled “Chandru’s vision”, which was made during the East West Fusion rehearsals and the Trinity College concert aptly describes Chandru’s feelings and ability to make Western musicians feel at ease with Indian music.
Pepe Habichuela and the Bollywood Strings
Since then, we have done numerous string arrangements, film work and live performances throughout UK and Europe. One special collaboration coming out of our February concert was the Bollywood Strings – Flamenco alliance with Pepe Habichuela of Madrid. In 2001, Pepe released an album called “Yerbaguena” which contained two flamenco tracks with Bollywood string arrangements and several other tracks with Indian percussion and instruments.
We also did a one-day workshop for over 30 violins at the Wigmore Hall, once again culminating with an evening performance. Through such workshops, we were able to gain comfort that our method of providing scores in western notation and concentrating on the playing techniques is definitely the right way to bridge the differences between our musical cultures in order to achieve the best results.
We were especially pleased at being able to use the string players who have been with us on this journey to record Bollywood String arrangements in London instead of whisking our work to India once again. Through this, we felt our efforts really paid off.
To date, we have continued our efforts to raise interest and awareness about Bollywood Strings through live performances and workshops as well as string arrangements and solo renditions in order to contribute as much as we possibly can to cross cultural musical endeavors.