“That’s just my hair,” is all petite songbird Fiona Bevan has to say about her golden curls, and to what is possibly the most-asked question of her. That one full golden afro makes many a head turn at Darb 17 18, where I first take a double-turn myself. It is only the next night, at Cairo Jazz Club, that I hear her play and this time, her voice provides the same pleasant surprise.
The song that hit home most was the title song of her singles’ album “Us & the Darkness,” where an insomniac finds comfort understanding that others beyond her own window share her sleeplessness.
Indeed, it was one such sleepless night in Brick Lane, London, when Bevan having suffered a broken heart found comfort in the idea that she was not alone: that others beyond her window could not sleep while they longed for love.
Bevan’s vocals and lyrics – sweetly reminiscent of another UK-artist, Katie Melua – find a natural chemistry in her improvisations and live partnership with the sarod player Soumik Datta, no doubt enhanced by their 10-year on-and-off collaborations that began as students at Trinity College, UK.
Datta, or more specifically his instrument – a customised is smaller and more guitar-like version of the sarod, was the reason I had actually walked in to Cairo Jazz Club that night. The instrument, says Datta, allows for more Western sounds being of a more portable size and with more bass parts than the original Indian instrument. He draws musical influences from both his native India, where he was schooled by Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, and London where he was “brought up listening to hip-hop and other rubbish,” he offers in warm banter with the audience.
One particular composition sees Datta fusing these disparate worlds, with lyrics in English nostalgically recalling “rivers and bridges and the Bay of Bengal.” The music in turn is informed by the classical and rooted in the modern.
In the intimacy created at the warm but not over-crowded Jazz Club, the duo made for well-chosen act for the finale night selections of the ArtBeat festival. Datta warmed up willing audiences to clap along as he played the sarod, and the warmth grew to enfold more as Bevan shared a small tambourine with another audience member. In their final song “This Is The Refrain,” Datta and Bevan had audiences hum and sing along, and who does not like the sound of their own voice singing?