There is an old fable of a group of blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. Each person’s perspective differs according to how they describe the elephant’s body parts. Hence, inspired by the crux of the story, Dutch drummer Robbert van Hulzen — who is a staunch believer of the fact that everyone experiences music in a different way — decided to name his band ‘Elephant Songs’.
Hulzen is a popular name in the Dutch music scene and besides playing for the moth-punk band Lola Montez, he also writes and produces music for the film and theatre in the Netherlands. Currently, the drummer is on a journey of creating music in an unconventional way — his latest venture requires him to travel to different counties and work with different musicians to eventually record an album. “I believe, open-minded musicians, who are willing to accept that there are other backgrounds, can still create that figurative elephant. By adding our individual takes, I am curious to see if musicians from different backgrounds or cultures can make something beautiful.”
How it all started
The Dutch drummer, who visited India for the first time in 1998 to learn the South Indian instrument mridangam, developed a strong fascination with the subcontinental culture. And it’s that fascination that drove him to set out on a trip that would allow him to experience India in its fullness and also the other countries on the way to the Netherlands.
Thus, the concept of Elephant Songs revolves around the idea of having an ever-evolving line-up, where new musicians will perform live and possibly record in different cities. Hulzen, by the end of his trip, plans to have recorded an album.
His method is simple; he carries with him a small drum kit all the time which allows him to jam or play in any environment. “The great thing about having a bike is that you can stop wherever you find something interesting,” he adds.
Hulzen’s journey looks to cover anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 kilometres. The trip, which started out in Madras, has so far taken him through the west-coast up to Amritsar and then Lahore.
The moment he stepped in Lahore, Hulzen quickly got involved in the local music scene, hanging out with several musicians such as Mekaal Hassan Band while also jamming with the likes of qawwali singers Mithu and Gunga Sain. Just a few days ago, he visited a shrine in Kalakahar and before that he performed in a private function at Peeru’s cafe with the qawwali band.
“What really struck me was the dhol played here; the good players have a lot of knowledge of classical music. They also have this trance side and they play continuously for hours,” says Hulzen, adding that he hopes to record with several artists in the city.
After wrapping up his tour of Lahore by the end of this week, Hulzen intends to ride on to Quetta and then Iran from where he plans to go to Armenia. He also plans to visit Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany.
Hulzen’s trip is being documented on his blog nocount.org which gives fans and supporters a daily glimpse into the wide array of musical activities he is experiencing.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.