Music; Bananas Purcell Room, SBC, London

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The Independent Culture
It was, you might say, a Fyffes-and-drum evening. Shiva Nova, the percussion-heavy, cross-cultural ensemble that mixes improvisation and composition, put together a show on the theme of bananas. It even included pre-concert cookery, which I missed, but the performance itself blended enough ingredients for a banquet. At its centre was an ornate banana tree. At the rear of the stage, bananaesque images filled two screens: on one, stills of exotic locations; on the other, movie footage, in black and white by John Grierson, father of British documentaries, and in colour by Tony Hill. An invitation to contemplate the role of the banana in the history of imperialism, or touristic travelogue?

Shiva Nova's line-up changes according to requirements, but the flutes of Nancy Ruffer, the cello of Neil Heyde and the sitar of Dharambir Singh remain more or less constant. Here they were joined by artistic director Priti Paintal at the keyboards, Jesse Banister on sax and Aubrey Bryan, Anusman Biswas and Alex Pascall on percussion. The music grew from a small melodic and rhythmic cell, planted at the outset and allowed to develop in response to ideas it generated, and to the evening's non-musical activities.

At certain moments, Pascall stood up to deliver a sequence of Anansi (spider) tales, stories linking African and Caribbean cultures. He has a capacious personality and his voice moves easily between speech and song so that music and narration fused organically, one particularly exuberant inflection spinning a thread which the sitar wove into the musical fabric. Elsewhere cello or flute expanded this or that phrase, in the manner of the American Beats' jazz-and-poetry collaborations. Sadly, while Pascall's voice was innately musical, his storytelling was off-hand.

The Gandini Juggling Project provided more effective counterpoints, objects flying in and out of Sean Gandini and Kati Yla-Hokkola's hands like so many notes in the air while arms and bodies intertwined with sensuous wit. One dance with giant bananas alluded to the fruit's sexual qualities and, as the concert neared its climax, the music became more fiercely propulsive, more extravagantly sinuous, inducing a kind of synaesthesia where it was impossible to separate what we saw the jugglers doing from what we heard the musicians playing. Perhaps this was the narcotic effect bananas were once said to possess. At any rate, Shiva Nova's unlikely culino-musical collaboration paid off. On my way home, I almost slipped on a banana skin: a remnant of the cookery demonstration, or hasard objectif?

Further performances 1.30pm / 8pm, 16 May (0171-960 4242)

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