Amongst locals, Jodhpur in central India is known as Sun City. With bright, sunny weather all year, it’s a popular destination for tourists. This included musician Anita Katakkar, who founded Rakkatak in Toronto, Canada in 2009. By the time she journeyed to Jodhpur, Rakkatak had already released two albums. Soon, two would become three. That was all in future.
Meanwhile, Anita wandered through the market in Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, enjoying the sights and sounds of Sun City. Especially, the local textiles that were for sale. This was something that the Jodhpur had been famous for, for centuries. Textiles from Jodhpur were still exported around the world. Still, though, they were displayed as they had always been, with small pieces of the fabric on display, allowing potential buyers to see and examine their bright colours and designs. When Anita saw the pieces of fabric, she stood and studied them, and it was then that she realised how similar they were to the music she had been making with Rakkatak.
Anita explains: “like the fabrics, nothing is ever quite perfect when you make an album, and everything is stitched together with different threads.” “It felt like it summed up everything we’d been doing so well.” So much so, that when Rakkatak were looking for a title to their third album, Anita remembering her visits to the market in Mehrangarh Fort, decided to call the album Small Pieces. It’s a new chapter in a story that began eight years ago.
When Anita Katakkar founded Rakkatak in Toronto, Canada, in 2009, this was the next step in her career. This was a as a solo project for Anita, who had started to fuse Indian classical music and electronica using just her tabla and a sequencer. This was the next step in Anita’s musical journey.
Music is omnipresent in Anita’s life. Ut always has been. Especially traditional Indian music, which had always played an important part in Anita’s life from an early age. “My ancestry is Indian and Scottish,..and I heard plenty of Indian music growing up from my grandmother; that’s what started me. I began studying tabla here in Canada, then spent time in India learning more. Then I spent ten years as a member of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble. But once musicians like Talvin Singh and Tabla Beat Science started changing the way people heard Indian music, I began to explore the possibilities they opened up. I saw where I wanted to take the music. We had stories to tell.”
That was certainly the case with Anita, when she started to record what would eventually become her eponymous debut album. Rakkatak was released on October ’13th’ 2010, and was captivating marriage of classical tabla compositions, shimmering instrumental melodies and subtle electronic soundscapes. This won the approval of critics, and in the process, helped launch Rakkatak’s career.
Nearly four year later, and Rakkatak returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album Open on April ‘1st’ 2014. By then, Rakkatak’s lineup now numbered three. Anita had been joined by bassist Oriana Barbato and sitar player Rex Van der Spuy. This resulted in Rakkatak’s music starting to evolve. However, Anita made sure that the band never lost sight of its Indian roots. They were still to the fore on Open, which was a fascinating fusion of different genres, instruments and influences. They played their part in the sound and success of Open.
Three years passed before Rakkatak returned with their third album Small Pieces. By then, Rakkatak was a duo, featuring Anita and Oriana Barbato. They had produced Small Pieces, which features six new songs and two cover versions.
This includes a reworking of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood. The other cover version is Rush’s YYZ, which strikes a chord with Anita. “Rush is iconic in Canada…You wouldn’t think their style would merge with Indian classical music, but because of the rhythmic component and the odd time signatures, it works quite naturally. Since it’s a very drum-oriented piece, full of little explosions, it jibes perfectly with what we do. And as YYZ is the abbreviation for the Toronto airport, it also has a local connection to us.” More importantly, YYZ has a groove.
For Anita and the other members of Rakkatak, the groove is of the utmost importance. It’s at the heart of everything they write and play. Anita explains: “When I compose, I start with the taal, or time cycle. I’ll think about the mood and the melodic aspects, then figure out the mode and make a rough recording using a keyboard.” That was just the start.
The next part of the process finds Rakkatak working on the arrangement to a song. Gradually, each part of the song started to take shape. It was only when arrangement on Small Pieces was complete, that Rakkatak headed into the studio.
Despite having completed the arrangements before entering the studio, recording of Small Pieces took time. It was a much more complex albums, with a wider selection of instruments and guest artists playing their part in the recording of Small Pieces. Founder and bandleader Anita Katakkar played tabla, cajón, glockenspiel and harmonium, while bassist Oriana Barbato who also adds shakers and cabasa. They were joined by a cast of ten guest artists.
This includes Rex Van der Spuy, who played sitar on five tracks. The other guest artists included vocalist Samidha Joglekar; drummer Randolf Jiminez; violinist Jessica Deutsche; guitarist Philippe Tasci; keyboardist Reza Moghadass; sarode player Steve Ode and Joanna De Souza who plays manjira. Joanna Mack played sitar on Eesha’s Song and Sina Bathaie added santoor on Dreaming. Anita remembers the sessions: “the solos–the features –were all recorded live, so I never knew quite what to expect. But that’s the beauty of music.” The addition of so many guest artists meant that it took over a year to record the eight tracks that would become Small Pieces.
With Small Pieces now complete, Rakkatak were ready to release their first album in three years. Many of the songs on Small Pieces tell a story. Anita reflects that: “what we see, what we experience, this is what’s reflected in the music. It’s an outlet for feelings.” That is certainly the case, with Small Pieces, which is Rakkatak’s much-anticipated third album.
A Medley that features Norwegian Wood opens Small Pieces. This is fitting, given The Beatles love of Indian music during the mid to late sixties. Especially the late George Harrison, who immersed himself in Indian music and culture. He would’ve appreciated this captivating Medley, that eventually gives way to a cover of Norwegian Wood. Before that, the sitar, and tabla take centre-stage, while the sinuous bass winds its way across the arrangement. In the background, the glockenspiel plays a supporting role. Then at 2.14 it’s all change, as Rakkatak become the latest group to cover Norwegian Wood. It’s totally transformed , thanks to Rakkatak’s judicious choice of instrumentation. This is at the heart of the reinvention of a familiar song that takes on new life and meaning.
Dreaming is the first track to feature vocalist Samidha Joglekar. Her vocal soars above the understated arrangement, where a plucked sitar combines with hissing hi-hats. They add an element of drama, and set the scene for Samidha’s ethereal vocal. Soon, the arrangement builds, and the vocal drops out.It’s replaced by a dark, probing bass, sitar, tabla, santoor and manjira. They play their part in a meandering and atmospheric arrangement. The return of Samidha’s vocal adds to what’s a ruminative and dreamy soundscape. Later, the vocal drops out and the tabla adds an element of drama to this dreamy, ruminative and mesmeric soundscape
As the sitar sets the scene on Heliosphere, a rocky influence can be heard. Especially when the rhythm section join the fray. Meanwhile, a fleet-fingered sitar solo plays a starring role, and is joined by a violin. Soon, the bass takes centre-stage, as the sitar drones and the tabla provides the pulsating heartbeat. Flourishes of scratchy strings add the finishing touch before the tempo drops, and Rakkatak start to rebuild. The sitar joins with the tabla and wistful violin before the rhythm section power the arrangement along. Later, there’s another change in tempo, which allows the sitar it’s moments in the sun, before this progressive and compelling magical musical mystery tour reaches a crescendo.
Rakkatak pay homage to Canada’s most famous musical exports, Rush on YYZ. This is the perfect track to showcase what Rakkatak’s music all about. It’s essentially a fusion of Indian classical music and Western influences. That soon becomes apparent as the track unfolds. Before that, a glockenspiel signals the entrance of the rhythm section, who quickly lock into the groove on this progressive rock classic. The song is perfect for Rakkatak, who enjoy, embrace and cope with the various changes in tempo, and reinvent this classic song. Soon, though, east and west combine as the tabla and manjira combine with the bass and chirping guitar. Suddenly, YYZ is transformed. Especially as the drums returns and join shimmering dreamy washes of eastern sounds. They play their in a part of what’s a captivating and mesmeric, genre-melting cover of a Rush classic.
Anita explains the tragic story behind: “Eesha’s Song was written as an elegy to a friend’s daughter who passed away before she was two years old.” Tabla solos play an important part in the track. They, Anita explains; “were inspired by running up a big hill and barely being able to keep up, sort of like Eesha’s heart.” This explanation makes adds to the poignancy of Eesha’s Song, which is a beautiful tribute to a young girl, whose life was cut tragically short.
The inspiration for Rain After The Fire, came after Anita watched the coverage of the fires that devastated parts of Western Canada during the summer of 2015. It’s a slow, atmospheric and melancholy soundscape, before the tempo soon starts to rise. As the sitar plays, there’s an urgency to the Anita’s tablas. It’s as if she’s trying to replicate the devastation caused by fire as it destroys everything in its path. Then as the tempo drops, the rain has arrived and is dampening the spirits of the fire. By then, there’s a wistful sound as if those affected by the fire and the devastation its caused are trying to come to terms with what they’ve lost, and how their lives will never be the same again. Quite simply, it’s another moving and cinematic soundscape from Rakkatak.
Thoughts Of You was written by Anita and vocalist Samidha Joglekar. Anita says: “it’s a love song to Lord Krishna. We envisioned Krishna with ebony skin and a comforting presence that weaves in and out of one’s dream and awakened state.” A slow, spacious bass ushers in Samidha’s beautiful, heartfelt vocal. Meanwhile, a sitar, tabla and bass frame Samidha’s ethereal vocal on this spiritual sounding song.
Riffing On 9 closes Small Pieces finds Anita revisiting her musical past. It’s a solo piece, where Anita returns to the days when she recorded with just her tabla and laptop. The result is a contemporary sounding jam, that’s a compelling fusion of eastern and western influences. There’s also a nod to the Asian Underground movement that inspired and influenced Anita as she embarked upon her career as Rakkatak.
That was eight years ago, and since then, Rakkatak have released three albums, including their third album Small Pieces. It’s the best album of Rakkatak’s career, and marks a musical coming of age for the Toronto based duo. Their unique and inimitable fusion of disparate genres, instruments and influences is a captivating and compelling sonic adventure that’s new and innovative.
While other musicians have combined eastern and western music, often the western influences outweigh the eastern. Not on Small Pieces, where Anita Katakkar ensures that Rakkatak don’t forget their musical roots.
Anita is proud of her Indian roots, and they’ve always played an important part in Rakkatak’s sound. That was the case of on their two previous albums, Rakkatak and Open. It’s also the case on Small Pieces, which features music that’s beautiful, elegiac, ethereal, mesmeric, poignant, ruminative and spiritual. There’s a reason for this, as many the songs have a story to tell. They range from moving and poignant, to tragic to spiritual. Other songs gave a cinematic sound, and set the listener’s imagination racing. Always though, the songs are of the highest quality as Rakkatak reach new heights on their career defining third album, Small Pieces.