Gig review: Open Souls at Spitalfields Summer Festival

Originally published on The Upcoming on 9th June 2013

Kicking off the annual Spitalfields Music Summer Festival in unequivocal style, Open Souls delivered a breathtaking performance underscored by haunting melodies and rip-roaring rhythms.

An experimental collaboration between vocalist Ranjana Ghatak, drummer Seb Rochford and beatboxer/sound artist Jason Singh, Open Souls represents an exploration of its members’ diverse musical influences from Indian classical compositions to contemporary music via jazz and hip hop. They draw upon the lines of intersection with a deft mastery of these disparate styles.

Taken as individuals, each of these musicians is a formidable talent, but together as a group in seamless synergy, belying the infancy of their collaboration, they are a veritable force of nature. Despite two of the three instruments being the human voice, because of the way Ghatak and Singh perform, there are at times three percussive elements playing at once. And certainly, it is the complex driving rhythms that push the performance on, switching the tempo at a moment’s notice.

Although it is the rhythms that cement this collaboration, Ghatak’s mesmeric melodies also take centre stage at times. Her milky tones wash over you in waves like a lubricated lullaby, gently lulling you into a state of semi-hypnosis. The pieces often roll along gently before taking a steep crescendo, culminating in a cacophony of rapturous rhythms. Singh’s style is like no other beatboxing you’ve ever heard before, and his impressive vocal range of impossible sounds adds tangible textures to the music.

The improvised pieces are more like soundscapes than songs; taking you on a magic carpet ride of a journey across lush aural vistas. It is fascinating to see the dialogue between Ghatak’s Hindustani classical inspired style and Singh’s beatboxing, which traverses two traditions with nearly a millennium between them. But on reflection this harmony makes a lot of sense, given that the North Indian tradition contains elements of vocal percussion that many regard as the precursor to modern beatboxing, which spawned out of the New York hip hop movement.

Open Souls clearly enthralled the audience, coming back on stage after a raucous and seemingly unexpected encore, before receiving a standing ovation. It was certainly deserved, because this really was something special.

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