20 Years Ago – Tom Bailey/The Holiwater Project

August 22, 2023

Back in 2003, GARY STEEL chatted to “former pop star” Tom Bailey about his Indo-fusion group The Holiwater Project.

Tom Bailey is on a natural high. In a matter of days, two masters of the East will arrive, and rehearsals will begin for a series of performances the former pop star has been waiting for all his life.

“From a young age my two great loves were dub music and Indian music,” says the former Thompson Twins hitman. “But I always felt as if I wasn’t allowed to do those styles – one because I wasn’t black and, two, because I hadn’t started with Indian music at a young age.”

 

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It was seeing other people doing it badly that convinced Bailey to follow his passions. First came the acclaimed New Zealand-based electronic dub project International Observer. Now there’s Holiwater, an East-meets-West, organic-meets-synthetic, age-old tradition-meets-cutting-edge-technology fusion being played out around Auckland and at New Plymouth’s WOMAD festival this month.

The Holiwater musical grouping came out of Andrei Jewel’s Holiwater film project, which is fast assuming much greater ambitions than a mere celluloid entertainment, with the formation of a Holiwater Foundation. The film involves a pilgrimage to the river Ganges by a New Zealand drummer known as “Gizmo”, mystic singers known as Bauls and the massive Maha Kumbh Mela festival, attended by over 60 million pilgrims, Bailey among them.

The music project “came together because of the film, and it’s still serving the film”, says Bailey. “I was employed as a kind of musical consultant to the film, and during the course of filming, the idea of them doing a performance and bringing something back to New Zealand was almost facetiously tabled. And everyone found themselves agreeing and saying, ‘Why not?’

The upshot is a group featuring Tom Bailey and James Pinker on electronic percussion, Indian masters Vikash Maharaj (sarod) and his son Prabash (tabla), and a fully interactive audio-visual set-up which allows filmmaker Jewel and visuals expert Rakai Karaitiana to become participating members.

Whether or not the culture clash gels perfectly, for Bailey the opportunity for people to interact makes a clear statement in this dangerously myopic political climate; an opportunity to make a subtle stand against corporate and cultural hegemony. “The clash of cultures can be such a fecund thing, a cultural chemistry that you get at no other time. But it can also ironically be a recipe for artistic disaster, where you seem to undermine the qualities of both, and neither gets a chance to speak out.

“But being sufficient unto yourself culturally is actually a recipe for boredom and stasis. We have to infect each other to keep each other alive. Oddly enough the commercial world doesn’t admit that. The metaphors are all there: fast food is essentially a dead ideal, dead produce, production and consumption of a dead activity. And one wants and needs for music to be as far from that as possible. To be alive like live culture on yoghurt.”

 

+ The Holiwater Project played gigs around Auckland, New Zealand in March 2003, and returned to perform in NZ several more times in the early 2000s. It was thrilling to see them perform in my record store, Beautiful Music, and to meet Vikash and Prabash. The above story originally appeared in Metro.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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