Aavaaz / Joska & Anthony

St. Denys Church, York

1 June 2017

Indian bhajans and chants. That's what Aavaaz say they play. And I'll be honest, I don't really know anything about Indian music, so I don't even have a clue what a bhajan is. But if you don't try something new sometimes, you'll never know. Plus concerts in churches are awesome (and St. Denys is beautiful, though the proportions bothered me). Plus I've never been disappointed by any of Heather Findlay's diverse musical personalities. So it was worth going and finding out what a bhajan is.

And I still don't really know what a bhajan is, but it turns out that they are beautiful, whatever they are.

Aavazz is a trio of tabla, voice & guitar, and voice & sitar & wooden flute, accompanied by a drone played on an iPad (yes, really), and the voices really do chant, short phrases repeated over and over and over, and blend perfectly with the instruments in a repetitive, hypnotic pattern.

It's fairly obvious that none of the musicians are actually Indian, so how "authentic" was the music? I have no idea, because I have no idea what bhajans and chants are supposed to sound like. It didn't sound like what I think of as stereotypical Indian music (but that probably comes from Bollywood, so how authentic is that?) and it didn't sound like the Tibetan Buddhist chants I know (which is actually what I was half expecting). So I don't know. And it doesn't even matter, because just taken on its own merits and not compared with any pre-conceptions, the music was just beautiful. What more can you ask for?

Best concert of Indian chant music I have ever heard.

My only quibble is that though the instruments and voices filled the church acoustic perfectly, the spoken introductions didn't, so I missed most of the descriptions of what each was about. I'll sit closer next time.

(And Heather did sneak one of her "own" songs in, and it fitted seamlessly, and I realised with some surprise that that's because it's a chant anyway, and the only reason it's different from the rest of the music is that the words are in English and not ... Urdu, or whatever.)

So, fairly obviously it's Aavaaz (or just Heather, really) that got me here, but they are only the opening act for Joska & Anthony, a duo who I knew absolutely nothing about.

They're really good. They play guitar, flute, and electric bass, and Joska sings, but, unusually, the bass is effectively the lead instrument, giving them a really unusual sound.

Their material is a ridiculously eclectic mix of covers from all the best decades of English and American music (i.e. the music I grew up with). Anybody that's going to play The Beatles, The Doors, Nat King Cole, and Rogers & Hammerstein in the same gig is definitely worth listening to. Added to this list of absolutely classic pop, they played some stuff I didn't know — a Sri Lankan love song, and I think a traditional Hewbrew song. And finally, a couple of instrumentals they wrote themselves which were amazing — I mean, if they want to put these on a CD I'll buy it tomorrow. That good.

The concert had a really tiny audience, and that's a shame. Ok, it's mostly unknown bands playing well off the mainstream, but it's always great to discover new things, and I've discovered two in one night. Sometimes you have to take a chance, and nights like this make it worth it.