SOUTH AFRICA MEETS INDIA IN
ATMOSPHERIC WORLD-FOLK CROSSOVER
When South African musician Guy Buttery first sought out Dr. Kanada Narahari in late 2016, it was as his patient.
“It was a dark time.” Buttery recalls, “I had been bedridden for months and had been suffering from debilitating bouts of fatigue which no diagnosis or medication could help me get to the bottom of. When I first met Kanada, I was at the stage where even picking up my guitar to make music had become a joyless and taxing exercise.”
– Video stills and portraits
– Images Guy Buttery
As Buttery searched for a cure, a family member recommended he see Kanada an Ayurvedic doctor who had relocated to South Africa from India and set up a practice in Durban. It was during this consultation, that the musician first experienced how Narahari infused the healing properties of Indian Classical music into his practice. Rather than treating him with a smorgasbord of pharmaceuticals, Narahari played his sitar and set Buttery on a strict daily diet of Raga’s to fast track his recovery.
Buttery was not only struck by his doctor’s musical talents but by the powerful healing properties inherent in his sitar compositions. When he left Narahari’s doctors room that afternoon, he asserts he was feeling decidedly clearer, lighter and stronger.
“Diving into Kanada’s music was definitely one of the reasons I’m still here today.” he admits. “The consistent tonal centre at the heart of Indian Classical Music, literally became my support pillar over this period. A central core of sorts in which to fall back on, strengthen and discover.”
Narahari as it turned out, was not only a prominent music therapist (and one of the only Ayurvedic doctors practicing in South Africa) but like Buttery, a highly accomplished musician with a devoted following back in his homeland. Born in a small village along the Western Ghats in Karnataka, India, Narahari, at the age of nine, had enrolled to study Carnatic classical vocal and developed an interest in Hindustani Classical music with a particular passion for the sitar.
From this consultation, a friendship developed between the two musicians with Buttery soon inviting Narahari to join him in his studio. But it wasn’t all plain sailing in the beginning. While uttery and Narahari’s sensibilities were very much aligned, there were a range of cultural and musical influences, nuances and inflections that first needed to be navigated and understood. “I suppose we had to find a common ground.” Buttery says, before adding, “Which in the end turned out to be pretty uncommon ground for the both of us.”
It was after a few intensive sessions together that something exhilarating began to emerge. What began as a few idle improvisations soon evolved into feverish and lengthier jams. Whenever time permitted, the musicians would meet, descending deeper into the emerging sounds, while reimagining the realms that existed between their African and Indian heritages.
Over the next few months, the duo would rack up over fifteen hours of recordings in studio, and it was up to Buttery to shape the material into an album which they collectively titled Nāḍ ī, which Narahari translates from the Sanskrit as “The Channel” or “An Internal River”.
During this period, Narahari bestowed upon Buttery, the moniker Panditji while Guy would refer to him, in ffectionate return, as Guruji. Each time the musicians would meet, the studio space would be cleared by an mpromptu ritual, with Guruji burning African Imphepho while Panditji would chant a Sanskrit mantra dusting Indian Agarbatti clouds over their instruments.
Once the room had been made hazy with this aromatic alchemy (with the ancestors welcomed in) the musicians would pick up their instruments and plunge into himmering tides of sound. Reflecting on these sessions, Narahari recalls the immense creative freedom he felt throughout: “Guy and I tried to wander as much as possible, without any speculative, preoccupied ideologies or limitations. Love remained at the forefront of our journey together.”
“Those evenings we spent together in the studio” adds Buttery, “felt incredibly rich with purpose and a profound sense of freedom. While improvising, it felt like anything could happen and mostly did.”
On a first listen, the tracks on Nāḍ ī emerge as salty, humid invocations to the inscrutable depths and misty myths of the Indian ocean– that vast body of water that stretches between, and laps the shorelines, of the artists’ respective homelands. The music contained in this album was all created and recorded in Guy’s hometown of Durban in South Africa, home to the largest Indian community living outside of the subcontinent.
When asked to describe the sound him and Narahari refined, Buttery prefers to relay a series of evocative images.
“For me” he explains, “Nāḍ ī is a lighthouse, a beacon that resides at the bottom of the ocean.” As Buttery envisions it, “what once offered light to guide ships to safety, has been submerged and re- purposed by marine life as a coral-reef temple. Similarly, this sunken lighthouse exists as a concealed cenotaph, memorializing the ancient sea-routes and passages that once connected the two distant lands.”
On paper this may sound obscure but listening to the songs, it serves as an apt metaphor.Across each meditative movement, listeners are able to relive the journey, immersing themselves in a series of incantations, replete with high dynamics, delicate African-Indian inflections and virtuoso string playing of an entirely new order. Further complimenting the fusion of musical dialects are a range of guest artists and friends including Shane Cooper on bass, Thandi Ntuli on vocals, Chris Letcher on organ, Ronan Skillen on tabla and percussion and Julian Redpath on guitar, synth and backing vocals.
Now like the submerged lighthouse, the recordings stand as a monument, a marker and snapshot of this fortuitous meeting, a tribute to the healing gifts of Guruji and Panditji in performance. It’s a process that already, both musicians look back on with reverence and nostalgia.
Buttery ruminates in closing, that when he first met Kanada his illness correlated with the biggest drought South Africa had experienced in many years “…for whatever reason, whenever we would connect and make music together, the sky would tend to open. Even if it was just a few drops. This went on for months, until finally the drought dissipated and my health had been restored.”
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By the time the heavens did open across the East Coast of South Africa, a deep friendship had been forged and with it abundant musical offerings poured down. A treasured sample of which we able to share in every time we press play and immerse ourselves in the sacrosanct musical universe that is Nāḍ ī.
BEHIND THE SCENES:
We had a quick chat with the director Tyrone Bradley about the music video and some of the process happening behind the scenes.
This was your first stint and directing. What made you decide to branch out into this medium?
It’s never been an intention to get into directing. I had had an idea for a previous song of Guy’s, but that never happened. Then after he recorded this album, he asked if I’d still be interested. I was curious to try my hand it so here we are.
Coming from an action sports photography background, what was the transition like for you as a photographer?
I properly fell in the deep end, and I definitely relied on the experience of the team we had. I had the concept and just tried to trust the process. It didn’t need to be anything, and nothing was expected, so I was free to let this become what it was going to become. So I’d say the transition was quite therapeutic as in my commercial work there is immense pressure and expectation when this was the complete opposite. I was scared to disappoint everyone else who had come on board and trusted me with this project. It motivated me to push myself.
Can you give us some background on the concept of the video and the chosen track?
I wanted to explore an imagined lucid dream state of flow when losing yourself while playing music – a place where dualities dance and merge to become one and connected to the present. Guy’s music carries a sense of mysticism, and he’s really into birds, so that’s where the characters evolved from.
Where was the video shot and what made you decide on the location?
Newlands forest, Llandudno and in the studio. I wanted to have nature and texture and wanted the trees and the rock for contrast. Also spaces that a non-flying bird could be seen.
Who was responsible for the art direction on the video?
Myself and Gavin mostly as well as Inka on the projections.
The costumes are exquisite. Who was responsible for them and how did you end up working with the designer?
That’s all Gavin Mikey Collins genius. I met Gavin through our friend Shannon a while back and have been following his work since. I had wanted to do some personal fashion photography stuff with him, but then this opportunity arose. He had Crystal Birch help on the headpieces.
What have you gained through this experience and can we expect any more video work from you in the future?
The best part of this for me was spirit and energy in collaborating with other creatives. Usually, I shoot sport/culture stuff, and it’s more documentation. With this, I learned I really would like to explore creative collaborations more. So yeah you might find more video work.
Assistant / B-Cam:
Edit and grade:
Gavin Mikey Collins
Hero Creative Management
sitar & vocals
vocals & vocal harmonies
Ronan Skillen: aludu & assorted percussion
backing vocals, synth & electric guitar
Mastered by Simon Ratcliffe at Sound &Motion Studios, Cape Town, South Africa>
Produced by Guy Buttery at Broken Chair Studios, Durban, South Africa
Mixed by Mark Hako of the Netherworlds, Gaiafonteinspruit