Experimental jazz meets Hindustani classical in Helen Gillet’s music

  • Manali Shah, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 26, 2016 14:41 IST

At the age of nine, Helen Gillet started attending cello lessons in Singapore. But it would be a while before she actually got to play a note. Her teacher had her hug the cello for weeks, just to get comfortable with it. “It’s a big instrument for a child,” says Gillet, adding, “My teacher wanted me to feel relaxed and not injure myself.” And thus was born a life-long bond with the bowed string instrument.

Gillet, who was born to a French-speaking Belgian father and an American mother, lived in several places as a child (Belgium, Chicago, Wisconsin).

Today, the 37-year-old jazz-based cellist and singer lives in New Orleans, USA. The different cultures reflect in her music, which is a mix of French, contemporary jazz and blues. While performing solo, she uses looped recordings (process of recording audio continuously) that she layers and improvises to.

Interestingly, Gillet has also learnt under musician Nancy Lesh-Kulkarni, who has been playing dhrupad music on her modified cello for the last 30 years. “She definitely influenced my musical journey. I was a disciplined music reader until then. Hindustani classical music requires deep listening. And Nancy taught me how to really listen; she opened my ears,” she says. Her training as an improv musician also came in handy.

Though Gillet doesn’t play ragas on the cello, she incorporates them in her music once in a while. For instance, her cover of Quand Je Marche by French singer Camille begins with raga Bihag’s alap. This will be one of the songs that Gillet will perform in Mumbai this weekend.

“It’ll be my first performance in India, though I’ve visited the country thrice as a child. I remember going to the Himalayas; it was so beautiful,” says Gillet, who spent a few days in Lonavala visiting Nancy. “It’s been 10 years or maybe more since we last met,” she says.

Apart from her upcoming gig, Gillet is looking forward to collaborate with Mumbai-based musician Sanaya Ardeshir who’s known for her electronic project — Sandunes.

Different cultures reflect in Gillet’s music, which is a mix of French, contemporary jazz and blues (Photo: Kohjiro Kinno)

Be there

Catch Helen Gillet perform on March 25, 8.30pm

Where: The Hive, Chuim Village Road, off Union Park, Khar (W)

Call: 96199 62969

Tickets: Rs 150 onward on bookmyshow.com

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