Monday, July 12, 2010

Anthar Kharana and Khantara

Five months after DLA Rhythms’ Fiesta Fusion, Head of Press Mark Selby caught up with Anthar Kharana, front-man of the event’s headlining act Khantara. A formidable advocate of enlightenment through culture, Anthar discusses his mission through music, and dreams to help South America’s disenfranchised indigenous people.

“In London you can experience any culture imaginable… suddenly you are in a train or a bus, and it’s full of Indian; African; Chinese people – it’s a thing that will never happen in Colombia. So the dreaming picture I had in my mind became a daily thing that I lived. That was the end of the cycle – that straight away made me go back to my roots; it was like ‘Ah right, okay, so this is it’.”

Anthar Kharana is remembering his first experiences of London’s melting pot of culture, and the new light they shed on his Colombian upbringing. Reared on Latin American and indigenous traditions since early childhood, Kharana hails from a family of musicians, with an upbringing based in the music of rural Colombia. His band, Khantara, is a mesmerising roots act, fusing Arabic and Gypsy influences with different vocal techniques – from mellow female voice to harmonic Mongolian throat singing.

Having spent the last five years travelling back and forth between his native Colombia and the UK, he is now a resident of Bristol - the cultural and artistic Mecca of the UK’s West Country. He considers his mission nothing less than to effect change in his homeland through the universal voice of music.

Colombia is a perfect place to do many things. It’s like raw clay ready to be shaped – just ready to mould,” Anthar says.

“The big difference is that the money situation is very bad. We are in a government that doesn’t really support social development – unfortunately they are mostly focused on the paramilitaries and guerrillas, which means our indigenous people and farmers are the most directly affected people. So if you really want to do something, one of the best things is to be in a country really interested in culture, and really supportive in that way.”

Kharana’s musical traditions are a direct lineage to the indigenous people of Colombia, and fuel for the philanthropic zeal that underlies his music. He speaks of his father, the former member of a Bolero guitar trio, who played a form of traditional music called ‘Papayera’ in front of the cathedral in the town square.

“My father was really keen on preserving the traditions from our town, Ocaña, in north-west Santander. He had a sort of restaurant which he converted into a kind of museum with very old pictures related to the traditions,” he recalls.

“The name of the place was Yamori, which was one of the caciques (tribe leaders) from the Hacaritamas tribe. They disappeared from the map; they were conquered. But I have learned some very interesting things about our traditions over the years. For example, papayera is actually the leftover from a German military band. They left their instruments there somehow, and people got these instruments and then made up something completely different. You can see that the trumpets have the thing to rest the sheet music on, so the traditional brass has that military style.”

Like many rural Colombians, Anthar and his family were forced to move to Bogota due to the violence wreaked by Colombia’s guerrilla groups. There he maintained his links to the indigenous community, working with people with plans to communicate their message and gather all the tribes in Colombia. Simultaneously he continued his process of developing as a musician, remembering the bootleg cassettes he picked up at the Sunday market in Ocaña as the beginning of his fascination for world music.

His ambitions brought him to the UK capital after years of dreaming about the world outside South America – a world where, in his words, “You can make a workshop or attend a performance, and the ideas that you get out of those different cultures are very deep and close... to the point that you actually forget about your own culture.”

“I started Khantara about four to five years ago with a different concept. It was more spiritual, more about finding spiritual connections. But then I started to bring up more traditional elements music-wise, and it became what it is now,” Kharana says.

“What I’m trying to do is to trigger some consciousness. I have come to a point where working for myself has no meaning. I am not working for money, or playing music to give myself publicity. Basically the idea is that I have to say thank you to life for bringing me the opportunity to have met so many interesting people, because that makes the message I’m trying to transfer a little more fluent.”

Anthar Kharana considers Discovering Latin America to be “one of the good branches of focused help” for Latin America’s needy, adding that any possible aid that involves supporting culture – and potentially triggering help for a third party – to be an invaluable support.

“In Colombia, saying that we are working for indigenous people is actually putting up a political position. I personally think that’s the way, because you have to assume the consequences of the position that you are planting. You have to face it as it is, fully,” he says.

“My main project at the moment is creating a foundation to work for the indigenous children and rescue and rebuild the ancient traditions based in art and music in Colombia. The project has different phases, but the dream is to cover the north of Colombia to the south and the Amazon. It will start in the north in the Sierra Nevada.”

For Anthar, response is everything. With Khantara as his vehicle, Kharana’s stage persona is shaman, Hari Krishna and indigenous cacique all rolled into one.

“Normally in the concerts I speak a little about supporting indigenous people and where the music comes from. I’m just encouraging the people to go out and fight, to go and find organisations to help – just find your mission and find the way that you can help, because at the moment the world just needs help,” he says.

“At the last few concerts the response has been amazing. What I’m really happy about is that when people come to me or send me emails it’s about how much they felt when I was talking about the problems. Then, they say, the music comes into context; they finally understand the context of what they are hearing.

“It’s very touching to see how people respond to that. So then for me the music really becomes meaningful – because that’s my meaning you know, that’s what I want. I’m really glad that people are getting in deep. The last two concerts we had in Bristol, people were coming to me and saying you know what, I was just feeling so emotional, I was just feeling like I wanted to cry by the end of it all. I knew it wasn’t sadness but it was just like inspiration – it’s really amazing feedback.

Kharana’s mission, both personal and musical, continues to spiral into ever more complex permutations. But with Anthar now engaged in the formation of a philanthropic organisation to support Colombia’s indigenous population, the importance of London as a link in his journey is clear:

“I really needed to see, to explore, to play, to learn, to develop – until I reached the point where I could go back and see how people really value our culture.”


Anonymous said...

Great article Mark! It's really well written, you should try and get it published somewhere else.
Lauren xx

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