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Niklas's vision of fusion brought about the Ethno Techno Project. The group performed live when a bridge between Sweden and Denmark was thrown open
For Niklas, Indian music is so complete that it is "a manual of life"
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Niklas Holmberg's Ethno Techno Project

Blue Trane: Memories of jazz saxophonist John Contrane

Classic Lena: Delightful jazz from the '40s star


Swede dreams under an Indian sky

Niklas Holmberg comes from Abba and Ace of Base country, composes techno beats, plays the sitar, and gazes at the stars in Bangalore

Niklas Holmberg reaches out fast and easily with his calm eyes. A sitar player from Sweden was the way a friend introduced us to him. Sitar and Sweden? Ah, therein lies the story of this 36-year-old believer in karma.

Niklas plays the guitar too. And as a contra bass player, he has jammed with jazz artistes like Red Mitchell (who played with greats like Billy Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald). In India he has played live with Antaragni (the Bangalore band that recently won the Radiocity Live contest).

Sweden is the home of pop. Abba and Ace of Base are Swedish. Music is that country's third largest export. Britney Spears records in Stockholm. "It just happened in the '80s... Once we got these big hits out, everyone wanted to work with Swedish producers and studios," he says.

Niklas works with a program called Reason and composes techno beats, but his music collection is almost entirely Indian classical. To reconcile the two loves, he calls his group The Ethno Techno Project.

In the course of his wanderings in India, Niklas met musicians like Deepu Nair (singer and violinist trained in Kalakshetra, Chennai) and Rajendra Nakhod (the popular tabla player on the Hindustani music circuit). Niklas's soft-spoken charm also drew in dancers like Hari, Arti and Mrinalini Dasa into the fold. ETP uses techno beats and Indian melodies, and when it performs live, presents dance and live sitar, violin and vocal music.

ETP's first CD, For the Brotherhood of Mankind, was released under Shiva Records, Niklas's own label. It sold about 700 copies in Sweden.

The music on that CD brought Niklas some attention on Swedish radio and in the Indian press.

Niklas is now recording a couple of projects. One of them involves Derek, a black American singer he discovered quite by chance. Niklas was playing with a blues band at a small pub when Derek walked in. They got talking, and Niklas discovered that Derek's mother was a famous gospel singer in the US. On an impulse, he invited Derek on stage, and found that he had a powerful, expressive voice. Derek then went on to sing a number that rose to No 4 on the European and American charts.

Niklas was born in August 1965 in Vetlanda, 350 kms south of Stockholm, Sweden. He says smilingly that it is just like any narrow-minded town anywhere in the world. His father is a dentist, and used to play jazz contra bass. His mother is a nurse. His brother and sister are into bio-chemistry and nursing. Niklas was doing economics at college when he gave it up and turned fulltime musician.

He grew up listening to lots of jazz which his father played at home. The sitar came into his life when he was 10 or 11. "One day I saw a sitar player on TV, and was fascinated by its sounds," he recalls. That opened up Indian music springs in him and he went out and bought a Ravi Shankar LP. When he was 15 he got his sitar through his teacher.

But how did he find a teacher? Niklas went to the Indian Embassy in Stockholm and found out about Jyoti Shirodkar, who taught physics at a university in Stockholm and who played the sitar. He met him and was accepted as a music student. Niklas has been travelling four and a half hours from his hometown into Stockholm, once or twice a month, for the last 15 years to take lessons. He hasn't yet done a classical concert, but plays lots of sitar phrases on his recordings.

While the Indian connection was working within him, Niklas started playing for an English reggae band as their roadie and sound engineer. As a musician particular about the way his music sounds, he was motivated enough to learn about sound engineering. At 18 he was making music for a Swedish theatre company run by well-known Swedish author Henning Mankell, a man who fought for social, racial and cultural justice. Niklas also played back-up guitar for visiting American artistes.

His first visit to India was in 1998, a sort of homecoming for an artiste who had vibed instinctively with Indian music. His ETP band was formed in Chennai. ETP also performed at prestigious events like the opening of the bridge between Sweden and Denmark in June 2000.

"Indian music is so complete and so evolved that it is my manual of life," he says gently.

TMM Desk

Published on 10 April 2002

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