Resident artist Sarathy Korwar brings rhythm in all its colour to Hekayah

The celebrated percussionist and composer will present a one-off, genre-bending improvised suite drawing from Arabic, jazz, hip-hop and electronic music

A past performance of Hekayah at NYUAD. Courtesy NYUAD
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Conceived to mark UAE National Day on December 5, the Hekayah event is a proud celebration of UAE-based talent – with one very notable exception found in special guest Sarathy Korwar, the celebrated percussionist and composer who will present a one-off, genre-bending improvised suite, drawing from Arabic, jazz, hip-hop and electronic music.

Performed and conceived alongside a broad snapshot of locally based artists – including oud player Shirine Tohamy, spoken word artist Jaysus Zain, Indian bhajan singer Hiralal Sangar and saxophonist Mohamed Morshed – the Hekayah performance marks the culmination of a fertile 25-day artistic residence at NYUAD, during which Sorwar has attended and hosted classes, rehearsals and workshops with musicians and students.

“Basing myself out of the Arts Centre has been incredibly rewarding,” said Korwar of his stay, which was supported by the British Council and PRS Foundation. “It has given me a great perspective on the state of music in the region.

“There is a real spirit for collaboration and an open mindedness to try new ideas out musically – I was very encouraged by my fellow musicians’s enthusiasm to be involved in the project and how eager they all were to bring their voices to the table. “

Equally at home on traditional South Asian tabla and a modern drumkit, Korwar’s own music is defined by its brave, borderless outlook. Released on the hipster Ninja Tune imprint, last year’s debut album Day to Day thrillingly blurred jazz improv and electronics with field recordings of Indian Sidi musicians.

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It is easy to invoke its author’s cosmopolitan musical upbringing. Born in the USA and raised in India, Korwar trained in classical percussion underluminaries such as Shri Rajeev Devasthali and Pandit Sanju Sahai, yet was later mentored by electronic forefathers Gilles Peterson and Four Tet after moving to the United Kingdom, where he graduated from London’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) with a telling specialism: adapting Indian classical rhythmic material to non-Indian percussion instruments.

This multilingual approach to rhythm is reflected in Korwar’s decidedly Technicolor CV, which boasts work alongside Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso – improvised music veterans who co-founded New York’s Creative Music Studio with legend Ornette Coleman – celebrated Indian instrumentalists Ajay Prasanna and Bhajan Sopori and leading London jazz luminaries Arun Ghosh and Shabaka Hutchings.

The summer of 2016 put Korwar, 30, at the heart of the new global embrace of improvised music, touring the UK in support of crossover star Kamasi Washington, the anointed figurehead of a tsunami of new jazz talent.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” remembers Korwar. “Kamasi [is] the closest there is to a big rock band we have in jazz at the minute, in terms of the scale of the project and the audiences he reaches.

“There is definitely a buzz that is defining the current scene… a sense of collective energy and musicians collaborating and learning from one another, which makes for a very exciting scene.”