21 Oct 2017 17:10 IST

Reason to be Matteo

Italian drummer and composer Matteo Fraboni on his music, maestros, and call of the muezzin

In traditional Japanese philosophy, ikigai means ‘the reason to be’, and “for me that is music”, says Matteo Fraboni. However, the Italian drummer and composer, whose ‘Europe meets India’ project — an itinerary of at least 25 concerts across Goa, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Jaipur and so on — kicked off on October 13, needs little or no reason to make music. Accolades came early to Fraboni, shortly after the launch of This is My Music, his first album of compositions in 2012. The Matteo Fraboni Quartet, the group that will perform in the concerts aforementioned, has French guitarist Loic Sanlaville, violinist Sharat Chandra Srivastava of the Senia gharana, bass player Abhinav Khokhar, and jazz pianist Anurag Naidu. Fraboni, however, is on the lookout for collaborations with musicans from different genres, as well as appearances in jam sessions, workshops and “experimental shows” with the hang drum and any Indian instrument he picks up.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

How did it all begin — this love for music? And how did you come to choose jazz?

I was always attracted to music. I played on the few toy instruments I had, listened to the radio and recorded favourite songs. Then at 13, I began playing drums and I discovered jazz. The following years were spent studying the incredible technique of jazz musicians like B Rich, listening to The Cab Calloway Orchestra, Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I studied at Berklee College of Music (Boston, Massachusetts) and went on to practice with Italian and American jazz masters — Ramberto Ciammarughi, Fabrizio Sferra and Massimo Manzi. I was playing all kinds of percussion instruments before flying to Cuba.

Your latest album Latino has a composition called Lost Memories of Cuba. Does that look back at your apprentice years?

I went to Cuba when I was about 19. I wanted to better my skills with Afro-Cuban percussion instruments. I had a friend living there so I went. To me, Cuba is one of the most beautiful places in the world, because you can see their strong musical tradition all around you, even on the streets. It is common to find musicians and dancers performing rumba everywhere.

Add to that the joy of meeting Jose Luis Quintana Fuerte, known as ‘Changuito’ or ‘little god of the drums’. I spent all my days at the house of this 20th-century giant of percussion. I played congas, bongos and timbales. It was an incredible experience. I was completely in awe of his personality, the beauty of the lessons and the long discussions we had at sunset about John Coltrane or Tito Puente who were friends of the Changuito. Goa is a lot like Cuba and I try to stay there as much as I can. This year we perform there at the Serendipity Arts Festival.

Then one doesn’t really need formal institutional training in music?

A conservatory can impart method and a technical approach to music, which is useful. But what makes the difference are the hours a musician spends on the instrument and the maestros he meets.

You first came to India to play for the Italian Cultural Embassy and went on to teach at AR Rahman’s conservatory in Chennai. What is your impression of AR Rahman and India?

Concerts for the embassy got me invitations to perform all around. And life in India gave me continuous inputs, in particular for the melodies. I met AR Rahman over dinner. I discovered a quiet and polite man. We started talking about the traditional instruments of Madras and he asked me how life was as a jazz musician. I love the way he mixes classical styles with electronic.

International critics have said your music has “vibrancy”, “restlessness” and “a constructive discontent”. Is jazz especially equipped to handle the chaos and complexities of the modern age?

Composers of all times have wanted to describe society or nature through music, and jazz can do that strongly because it draws from the music of many others, from different cultures.

Muslim Call and Sail Brasil of your Latino album are particularly evocative.

Muslim Call was composed after spending a day at the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, many years ago. I loved listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer and later I created a composition of the melody at home. My quintet used drums, piano, fender rods, double bass and two saxophones (alto and tenor).

Sail Brasil is dedicated to my dream to reach Brazil on a sailboat. What I like about being on sea is the deep sensation of peace and the strong bond with nature. It is like a return to the primitive but high way of life. It makes me feel more a man.

(Sebanti Sarkar is a freelancer writer based in Kolkata. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine's BLInk.)