Interviewed by Claire Coughlan
Source: http://www.siglamag.com/arts/0506/Ross-Daly.php

Ross Daly

Claire Coughlan talks to Ross Daly about his eclectic use of instruments and how his nomadic upbringing has influenced his world music
Ross Daly is that rare breed of musician who is a virtuoso on an array of instruments; however, none of them are immediately recognisable to the undiscerning Western ear. He includes the Cretan lyra and the Afghan rabab as his favourites, but they are only a small fraction out of the vast spectrum on which he is proficient. His evocative compositions, which feature other instrumentalists and are fusions of Iranian, Cretan, Greek and North Indian folk music, conjure up, for the novice, images of stoic acceptance of life's heartache, something that Daly is quick to disagree with, however.

"That's a mistake often made by people who are unfamiliar with Eastern music," he says, in a lilting, hard-to-pin-down voice, ripe with rolling Greek Rs. "Iranian music is given to micro tonal scales which can sound flat to a Western ear, but it's happy music."

Having made Crete his home for the last thirty years, Daly's cultural identity is as much of a hybrid as his music. Born in England in 1952 to Irish parents, he moved to Canada just before his second birthday, where he first took an interest in music, albeit classical, by learning the cello. His father, an engineer, moved the family to Japan when he was 11, and he has since lived in San Francisco, London, Afghanistan, Istanbul, and now Crete, to name but a few.

He is visiting Ireland, the home of his forebears, in June for a one-off concert, at the behest of radio personality Marcus Connaughton, a good friend of his. Daly has only played here once before, on an invitation from the arts council which was extended to him as a Greek musician. "I was told that I spoke very good English," he chuckles.

The city that first introduced Daly to Eastern music was San Francisco, at the height of its counter-cultural reign. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a renewed interest in folk music, and a feverish hippy immersion in all aspects of eastern culture.

"That kind of music was popular at the time in San Francisco," he says. "A guy at the university used to organise Iranian music nights, and I went along and was knocked over by what I heard. Then when I moved to London I came into contact with a lot of people of Indian and Kurdish descent, so I decided to learn sitar."

His pursuit of sitar led him to India, where under the tutelage of a master, he eventually honed his skill enough to be invited to play with Ravi Shankar, the sitar master beloved both in his native India and in the West, most notably for his collaborations with the Beatles.

Of his time spent with Shankar, Daly says: "People like him are just living pockets of history; he's been everywhere, he's seen everything, he's done everything. He's one of those people you can't wait to sit down and have a conversation with."

Aside from talking about Indian music with Shankar, Daly also felt intrigued enough by his varied experimentation to ask him about how he felt in being branded a failure by his critics, when certain musical experiments didn't work out favourably.

"It takes a person with great courage not to rest on your laurels, to take some risks and not be afraid to fail," he says.

Daly's own musical experiments are purely sub-conscious. He says that when he blends disparate elements of eastern music together it is far from deliberate; it just happens.

"People who created great relics of the past were thinking about whatever was available to them, they didn't have radio and television. I've never agreed with fusion for fusion's sake. Indian, Iranian, Cretan and Greek classical music are very important parts of my life, combining them in my music is below the level of my waking conscious."

Given his nomadic upbringing and early adult life, it's unsurprising that multi-ethnicity is something that Daly feels strongly and compassionately about.

"Governments should have policies in place to help immigrants to integrate. My own experience of people who emigrate, mainly Kurds, Turks and Iranis, is that they usually come from poorer sectors of society, and the vast majority are very straight, conservative and sometimes quite religious. They are usually obsessed with the idea that 'in our new environment we don't stick out,' they want to go unnoticed. However when people realise that they won't be accepted no matter what they do, when they're backed into a corner, they will tend behave in a certain way."

Coming from someone who has seen so much of the world and of humanity, these sound like wise words indeed.

Ross Daly runs a musical centre in the Cretan town of Houdepsi, which is a museum of musical folk instruments from all over the world. Experts on each instrument visit the centre regularly to teach seminars. For further information, check out www.labyrinthmusic.gr

Claire Coughlan
June 2005
Ross Daly will perform a master class at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre on Tuesday June 14th at 12.45 pm (all welcome) and in concert at the National Concert Hall on Wednesday June 15th at 8pm. For ticket information check out The National Concert Hall

 

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