Jaffna (here on Facebook) is a self-described “Middle Eastern/Indian fusion band” that has existed in Philadelphia for over 20 years with members Branavan Ganesan (tabla and other Indian percussion), Raji Malik (guitar), Roger Mgrdichian (ud) and Joseph Tayoun (dumbek and other percussion). The ensemble plays mostly original compositions taking specific modes, rhythmic cycles and compositional forms from traditional Indian and Middle Eastern music as a starting point. The concert at the Germantown Jewish Center in Philadelphia on March 12 was a family-friendly event with a strong community turn-out. We were surprised to learn of the long history of the ensemble, which performs mostly locally, and intrigued to hear their exploration of world music fusion.
The concert had the feel of a Middle Eastern/Indian jam session with all the expected energy, drive and enthusiasm. But the make-up of the group also created some cognitive tensions at least for this listener. Generally, the redundancy of having two plucked string instruments and two percussionists made it difficult to distinguish individual parts or to establish equal roles for all players once the core of each composition began. It seemed that Mgrdichian took the lead role of soloist from the beginning with Malik playing a supportive, accompanimental part on guitar. However, Malik’s soulful, sitar-like solos for some selections left me wondering if he couldn’t play a stronger role throughout the performance. Tayoun and Ganesan had several dynamic duos as they traded patterns and solos at specific points in a piece. Overall there seemed to be a better musical rapport between these two than between Malik and Mgrdichian, with more evidence of a partnership and collaboration. I suppose these issues are at the core of any fusion experiment – how to credit the traditions that are represented by each player while exploring and mapping uncharted waters. We look forward to hearing Jaffna’s next experiment on April 2 at Crossroads Music in Philadelphia (crossroadsconcerts.org)