‘I’m from an Indian family, but I was born in Dubai and I’ve spent most of my life in the UK. I started playing the guitar at eight when I was at boarding school in England and it was there that I got heavily into jazz. Through that I discovered classical Indian music. And I got heavily into Spanish music after I was asked to write music for a school play. It blew my mind and still does. And so all of these influences fed into my fusion music.’
‘A lot of the music I’ll be playing in Dubai is heavily influenced by flamenco, but it doesn’t follow the rules of flamenco, as such. There are certain traditions and time structures around which that genre is built, but while I’ve enjoyed listening to such music I’ve never studied it. It does have the right harmony and intonations. But someone who is into it would say, “This isn’t flamenco, it’s someone playing flamenco guitar!”’
‘I’m honestly not sure who my audiences are or what my “demographic” is. I don’t listen to any one genre of music and hopefully my audience is similarly varied. I like to think I’m writing beautiful music, so I hope that anyone who enjoys beautiful music will enjoy my performance in Dubai. A lot of traditionalists from all over the world are constantly telling me that I can’t play if I can’t read music, but I’ve always worked on the principle that if something is beautiful, it just is. It doesn’t matter if I learned it or what the story of its creation is. If it’s beautiful, it doesn’t matter what happens around it.’
‘I generally write pieces through improvisation. If you sit with an instrument and toy around with it, your consciousness switches off and eventually you’ll find a melody coming up. You think: That was nice – now to develop that. And that’s when your brain kicks back in and you start to define melody and measure the rhythm. Improvisation, for me, is about developing something from nothing. I know people who just sit down with a pen and write something fantastic, but that’s not how it works with me.’
‘[The First Group Theatre] is a great venue for delicate instruments like the flamenco guitar and the sarod – that’s like an Indian classical lute – because the sound is so gentle that you need to be able to control the environment carefully. It doesn’t matter if the music is good if you can’t hear a thing. And, of course, it’s a beautiful-looking place.’
Performing in Dubai.
‘Oddly enough, I’ve never performed in Dubai. I never had the time to perform here, or the want. There is a scene now – there are definitely a lot of people who want to hear live music – but to do a show here you need a lot of licensing rights and it’s hard to do that without building up a fan base, which I’ve never had here. I see all these great musicians out here and they’re all just performing in bars. I couldn’t do that, playing the same set in the same place for months. I’d rather spend the time composing and have something at the end of it.’
Niki Mukhi plays The First Group Theatre, May 2.