It’s not everyday that Jazz superstars come together on stage for a cause. Rarer still is the venue New Delhi. But the occasion did come – to mark Martin Luther King Jr’s pilgrimage to India, 50 years ago - and legends like pianist, composer and a 12-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, and key board-synthesizer pioneer George Duke performed for ‘The Living Dream’ concert. When Akrita Reyar of Spicezee.com caught up with them after the concert, they talked about the potency of the moment and the universal language of music.
About Gandhi, King and Obama Hancock: The occasion is about Martin Luther King Junior coming to the land of Gandhi in 1959. But Mahatma Gandhi died in 1948. So there was no physical meeting of the two men. And now there is Barack Obama, who was born in 1961. So he has not met even Martin Luther King Jr. But on a deeper level, the meeting has taken place. It is in this sense that I mean this to mark an occasion when the two great leaders met. It is an honour for us to be here to commemorate a journey that was undertaken 50 years ago. Dr King was deeply committed to the philosophies of equality and non-violence that Mahatma Gandhi stood for. The efforts he took in that direction see their fruition today in the election in the US, with Barack Obama coming to power. So it is an even more joyful occasion to celebrate, for the second time, the connection that was made between Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi’s work. History was written for the first time then and has been rewritten this year. And I have no doubt that Obama, too, has met with the spirit of Gandhi in that sense. I have met Barack Obama five times. He is warm and human and admits that he makes mistakes. More importantly, he is inclusive. His arms are all embracing. He is Black, but above all he is human. So this occasion is of great significance to me personally as a human being and as a musician. I feel the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr coming to India – and music is so important to carry forward that meaning. Taking the mission forward Duke: This is my second visit to India. And as we have been saying, it’s important to mark the journey of Martin Luther King Jr to India. But I feel it even more important to carry forward that dream and to take things forward from there. Not just think that it is about the past. We need to carry the message of peace through music. Music as an ambassador Hancock: Oh absolutely, music is an ambassador of countries. The spirit of music is firebrand and amazing. More and more artists and musicians are now crossing invisible boundaries of countries and continents and becoming cultural ambassadors. Whether it is Angelina Jolie or its Bono, artists are going beyond the confines of music. We too are here to celebrate peace; and music is all about bringing people together. Whether it is about Martin Luther King’s journey to India or what we are celebrating, the efforts are far from over. But the ripples that Mahatma Gandhi created still resonate among us. It’s about the whole spirit. Universality of music George Duke: You know there is music for everybody. No matter where you are or whatever you listen to, there is some sort of music for everyone. It is a very strong medium and connects without wires. So I would like to say again that we need to take this mission forward. On Pandit Ravi Shankar Hancock: Oh, we had such a wonderful time at Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music school. The first thing we saw was the pillars. On them was written ‘Music for Peace’. And then Panditji came and started showing us Indian instruments, the tabla and the sitar; explained the tones of the tabla and characteristics of the sitar. He told us the general things about Indian music. And then he started playing …. I must admit, after a point we just got lost. Connection between Jazz and Indian music Hancock: I think I have something to tell here. Something different, but that gives the message about the connection. About the journey of man. It has been found that the first man on earth came from Africa. It is the place of origin of mankind. And you know the first place where that man travelled to? India. So there is a very strong connection there. On the Slumdog Millionaire track Hancock: Oh ya, I heard it. I absolutely loved the music of Slumdog. It combines the influence of several cultures. That’s exactly what I meant that more and more music is being done that transcends geographical boundaries and has varied influences.