Utpal Borpujari

December 1, 2008

A Swiss Miss and Her Alphorn

Filed under: Media,Music,Sakaal Times,World Music — Utpal Borpujari @ 1:16 am
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A glamorous Swiss musician has taken the Alphorn to new territories, and collaborating with Indian musicians is what she is planning, finds Utpal Borpujari 

She’s got the looks and glamour of a movie star, and the courage to lift and play an instrument that in length is more than double her height. But then, Eliana Burki is someone who believes in breaking the traditional image. For one, when she decided to play the Alphorn – or Alpine Horn in its full form – she decided not to do it in the traditional way. First, she decided to forego the traditional dress, instead wearing modern outfits like short skirts and torn jeans. And then, she decided to create her own original pieces of music, bringing in elements of rock, Jazz and the Blues, leaving aside the mostly-melancholic mountain music that Alphorn is usually used for. 

Alphorn is no ordinary instrument. Traditionally made out of a single, specifically-shpaed piece of Pine wood growing on the slopes of the Swiss Alps, it is anywhere between 3.2 to 3.9 metres long, making it extremely unwieldy for anyone who wants to play it. And then, there are no reeds and one has to play it simply with lung power, blowing into the instrument and manipulating its limited tonal range with the help of stomach and lip muscles. But Burki, in her mid-20s, makes it look simple – she even accomplishes the difficult task of lifting the heavy instrument off the ground once in a while as she performs her originally-composed pieces.  

Burki, written about in the global media as a cultural ambassador of Switzerland, now could be eyeing India for creative inspiration. Indications of it came when she was on a recent multi-city tour of India, the finale of which came at the India International Centre (IIC) Experience festival in New Delhi. One of the pieces she played was called Delhi Blues, an ode to India’s capital city, and she had an exhilarating jugalbandi with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Shehnai legend Ustad Bismillah Khan’s son. 

“I have played with Fateh for the second time this time, and the experience has been great. I love Indian instruments. Maybe for my next album, I will look for collaborating with Indian artistes. I have met a lot of great Indian musicians, and maybe I can give an oriental Indian touch to the Alphorn now,” she says.  

And quite interestingly, during her India tour, she chose to give her audiences in Delhi, Kolkata and Chandigarh a “surprise” – by playing on her Alphorn the title song of Shimit Amin’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De, India! Could that be an indication about her inclination to experiment with Bollywood too? “I hear a lot of Indian film songs, and when I heard Chak De I said this was it – a great piece of music. It is very difficult to play pop on alphorn. I know that Yash Chopra, whose company has produced the film, has shot a many films in Switzerland. I would love to work in Indian film music one day,” she says. “I hope to work with more Indian artistes. And I hope to perform in Bengaluru and Goa next time I visit India – and I hope my India visits increase.” 

Burki is already planning her next album, after the success of her recent album Heartbeat – Funky Swiss Alphorn produced by David Richards, who was earlier associated with the legendary rock band Queen. “In the next album, I hope to do something different, by taking inspiration from all over the world and create some inspiring music,” she says, her ears attuned towards modern sounds rather than the traditional Swiss music. “I play my own compositions, and have no plans to do traditional songs. It’s not me. I will play jazz and different music – that’s me – though I always start my performances with a traditional piece so that I can give a flavour of the actual Alphorn sound to my audiences worldwide,” she explains.  

For the petite young lady, it must be a lot of energy spent every time she performs, considering the unique nature of the instrument? “I have been practicing every day since I was six, and it has been 20 years for doing that – practising my breathing, use of stomach muscles…in the beginning it is difficult, and practice is really important,” says Burki. Usually, when she travels, Burki uses a 2.70-metre-long detachable Alphorn made of carbon fibre. “It is easy to carry this three-piece instrument as it is light. But even than it is much taller than my 1.7-metre height,” she says. 

(Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, http://epaper.sakaaltimes.com, 23-11-2008)


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