South Africa: Crown The Brown explores the life of musician Lilavan Gangen. Lilavan Gangen grew up surrounded by Indian music within his community and place of worship. He participated in choirs such as Tygerberg Children’s Choir and the South African Youth Choir.
Lilavan‘s endless passion for music led to him becoming part of the music program at Rondebosch Boys’ School and thus studying a 4 year Degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT). A Bachelors of Music in Jazz Performance: Jazz Drum Set. During those years of study, Lilavan became part of the UCT Big Band, UCT Symphonic Wind Ensemble and UCT Percussion Ensemble. He also traveled to India to study Carnatic Music.
Above all, Lilavan‘s passion is truly admirable. He is currently working as a freelance musician, predominately as a drummer and percussionist. He is also currently experimenting with Indian film music with his band South Samam.
Lilavan has quite the record when it comes to music and what it means to fuel your passion. He spends most of his time perfecting his craft and is part of many bands, namely; The Unity Band, Nomadic Orchestra, South Samam, The Steezies, Tracy Norman and Ergonomix Percussion Trio!
This young man surely has his hands full and we wanted to know how he is able to handle the life of a musician amongst balancing everything else encountered in life. Here is what Lilavan shared with us regarding his journey!
Music extraordinaire to many, how would you describe yourself and your work as a musician?
I don’t know about extraordinaire, but I would definitely say I am easy going. As someone who loves working in multiple genres of music, my goal is to simply do what each respective gig requires of me – to the best of my knowledge.
You are quite talented and known in the industry. You grew up in an Indian orientated community and have surely been surrounded by Indian music, classical and mainstream. How did your love for music start? Tell us everything!
My family. I am the youngest of 4 siblings and my parents ensured that each of us had some kind of artistic/musical influence growing up. My late brother, Perushan, was a phenomenal tabla player and drummer. He definitely played a big part in me being a musician today. My sister, Suriyakanthi and other brother Sarveshan have both studied Bharatnatyam from a young age – and continue to perform and explore the art form today.
Besides singing at the Sri Siva Aalayam temple services, we also all attended Carnatic vocal classes growing up. That must have been when I was about 5 years old!
How many instruments can you play and what or who has inspired your love for music over the years?
This question is harder to answer than it seems … I started off singing and playing violin in primary school. I then started learning drums at school, while playing harmonium in temple. In high school, I played guitar for a bit and started expanding on the percussion front (congas, timpani, vibraphone, etc). Somewhere in between all that I started playing keyboard in my dad’s gig band. Even after studying, I still haven’t quite stuck to one instrument. But I do specialize in drums and percussion.
I have been inspired by many of the jazz drumming legends (Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Max Roach) as well as rock/pop drummers (Vinnie Colauita, Steve Gadd). And of course the Indian percussion legends (Zakir Hussain, Vikku Vinayakram, Sivamani) who have opened my brain to a whole different world – which I’m still exploring to this day!
On the Indian film music front, there is of course A.R. Rahman, Harris Jayaraj, Ilayaraja, SPB, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Shweta Mohan Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi … I could really go on for quite a while with this list.
Many people dabble in various genres of music, do you have a specific genre that you are passionate about?
I do indeed dabble in various genres. But I can’t choose just one to be passionate about.
I have explored many streams of jazz during my studies at UCT. I have also spent significant time with Indian music (Carnatic, popular and contemporary) mainly as a vocalist and pianist.
Other styles that I have played throughout my career include rock, funk, bossa nova, Cuban music, soul, Qawwali, Western Classical, Opera, West African, French musette and hopefully many others.
A lot of the music I play now is original music of band’s that I am a part of which requires a fair amount of experimentation. So it’s nice to have a plethora of influences to choose from.
You studied music at UCT and have performed on numerous occasions leading to your amazing musical lifestyle. What are some of the highlights of studying music and performing?
Highlights of studying definitely include meeting, learning from and playing with some of the finest musicians this country has to offer. Just being in a hub with like-minded individuals pushes you so much as a musician.
And as a performer, I have 2 main “thrills”: exchanging musical energy with other artists; and giving the audience an uplifting experience to take home.
What are some of the challenges you have faced within the musical industry?
The lack of a formal structure is definitely a problem. It’s tricky to manage what musicians should be getting paid if there isn’t even a set of guidelines to follow. And now with the lockdown of the country, freelance artists don’t have anyone to go to with their problems and queries.
But it’s a complex thing to manage because the nature of each individual’s journey – and ideal destination – is so different.
As a South African Indian, you mentioned growing up surrounded by Indian music. How do you incorporate classical Indian music or mainstream into your genre of music?
I have introduced some Indian percussion to The Unity Band’s new music (mainly ghatam and tabla).
I also enjoy writing out Indian film music and giving it to my college friends to play with me at Indian shows and weddings. That’s pretty much how I started the band South Samam.
I do have some other projects coming up soon which explore collaborations between Indian Classical music and experimental jazz.
How would you describe the life of a freelance musician and how has this lifestyle impacted on your well-being in general?
Well, my schedule is definitely more irregular than people with 9 to 5 jobs.
Most evenings are busy with rehearsals or gigs. I do get some recording calls in the days – when I’m not teaching. Most of my teaching happens on weekday mornings; with extra classes over the weekends.
And when I have free days, I generally spend more time practicing or watching other musicians gigs.
You currently teach music as well, why do you think it is important for others to celebrate the arts and what do you hope to instill in many of your students regarding music and life in general through your teaching?
Celebrating the arts has pretty much been my entire existence. I love it because every person connects with arts differently. They find or feel something that can’t be easily expressed with words. And this adds to what makes their experience in this world unique to them.
As far as teaching goes, I try to find a balance between getting my students to understand the discipline required to make progress; and allowing them to simply enjoy the music they are making.
Once they play for long enough, some of them find enjoyment in the discipline.
What is your daily Mantra?
“Keep working. But know when to chill.”
What advice do you have for other aspiring musicians?
Listen to music that you love and put your energy into that. Things will happen for you if you truly love what you’re doing.
Lilavan is no stranger to fueling passion and he definitely knows the hard work required within the music industry. It is truly inspirational to see someone who is passionate and directs that love for music forward to others. Lilavan certainly knows how to inspire others with his talent and warm nature.
A young man with a bigger purpose behind his talent. We are here for this! Be sure to follow Lilavan‘s journey online @lilavangangen .