‘Rook & Roll’ time with chess-themed Romanian band Karpov not Kasparov – Mumbai Mirror


Chess-themed Romanian band Karpov not Kasparov, a confluence of Oriental & Occidental, thanks India for inventing the game, wants to master Indian music If thinking, like waiting, is considered a self-erasing non-activity, chess, in which thinking is the only action, or inaction, becomes a game of self-obliteration. Two players, two chairs, a table, a clock, pieces of wood, stillness, protracted hours of stillness, eternal stillness, silence, more silence, deafening silence and occasional yawns.

Award-winning author Julian Barnes summed up the situations of this cerebral game in a voluminous yet illuminating article of 1993: "Sceptics maintain that live chess is as enthralling as watching paint dry. Ultra-sceptics reply: unfair top paint."

Jazzing up this game of ultra-stoicism (or solemn splendour?) has been the biggest challenge for the marketers of chess but there is a group that literally adds jazz to the 64 squares. Not just jazz. The group mixes the Oriental with the Occidental, Arabic melody, acoustic drums, Balkan sounds, Byzantine touch, synth pop and electronic dance. The music band is enormously creative, with chess as its theme. Not so fittingly it is named Karpov not Kasparov and it is making waves in Europe.

Valeriu Borcos (with a long beard) and Eduard Gabia on drums during aperformance

Borcos explains the theme. "When we started this band, we used to create our tracks by alternatively adding one element from the synths and one from the drums at a time, as if we were moving chess pieces. The two instruments became the chess players and the track became the chess table."

Coming from a football-crazy country, it is really strange that they chose chess for inspiration, which is not so popular in the Balkan nation. Obviously, Borcos has answered this question a few times. "We thought of some name versions, if we sang about football the band name would have been Kluivert not Kaka, or if we did music about philosophy -- Kant not Kierkegaard."

By Oriental they mean both Indian and Arab music and they are aware of Indian culture too. "When we were kids in the late 80's Bollywood movies were very popular in Romania. The world should be grateful to India for chess (it was invented in India)! As for ourselves, we need to explore more Indian rhythm and scales. It's on our agenda."

The band revers a certain Ravi Shankar. "We appreciate a lot about Ravi Shankar, unfortunately we don't know much about AR Rahman, but we have watched an absolutely beautiful live concert of him and the orchestra performing at the Berklee College of Music. Romania has the positional advantage of being at the confluence of Eastern and Western worlds, so it's a very interesting cultural synthesis."

They also play chess while performing. "We do a performance called Soundtrack for a Game of Chess. Volunteers from the audience play chess on a transparent board which can be projected on the big screen, so everyone can see it. We play our instruments shaping the sounds and rhythm to expose the narrative or emphasize the tension of the game. We even did this one time with professional players, the members of the Royal Chess Club of Liege, Belgium who played blitz games, it was quite interesting.

"All our songs are about chess games, strategies or personalities. There are many correspondences between chess and music, some are obvious (8 pawns - 8 notes in the octave) and some are more esoteric (Queen and King suite correspond to the two tetra-chords of an octave)."

They were featured in Rolling Stone India and have given over 400 performances all over Europe. They have never performed before the players they have named their band after - Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. "Not yet but we are sure they like our music," Borcos responds with another smiley.

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'Rook & Roll' time with chess-themed Romanian band Karpov not Kasparov - Mumbai Mirror

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