Harry Manx has been bridging the musical gap between East and West for over a decade.
“As complex as their music is, and as devoted as their music is, the blues is still a mystery for them. When I would play a little blues in the middle of some Indian music and they’d roll around and thought that was the funniest,” said Manx over the phone from Ontario, gearing up for a show that night.
Manx will stop at the Playhouse tonight with Yeshe Reiners and Kiran Ahluwalia on his World Affairs tour. Reiners will bring the African and Latin sounds, and Ahluwalia sings Persian and Punjabi folk songs.
The World Affairs tour was born when the Montreal Jazz Festival asked Manx to organize a show which represented different musical cultures. The festival’s request to Manx is fitting, since he himself blends Eastern Indian ragas with Western blues.
“I wasn’t really sure people would really enjoy my kind of hybrid music of Indian meets blues. I wasn’t sure if people would be able to relate to it, but they’ve embraced it pretty much,” said Manx. “Maybe they enjoy something that’s new but not too far out you can’t relate to you.”
Manx just released his album Om Sweet Ohm this month, his 12th studio album.
Born on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, Manx immigrated as a child to Ontario with his parents. He left home when he was 16 and said he didn’t have much else, so he became involved with music.
“I didn’t really have any other talents in mind. I think that’s a blessing because I didn’t have any options, and when I didn’t have anything else, I went to the street with my guitar.”
He said he fell in love with blues when he began working at a blues club in Toronto as a teenager. He played the blues until he went to India in the ‘80s. He stayed there for 12 years, studying under Grammy-winner and Indian slide guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
“I fell in love with Indian music. I felt so inspired by it. It was a great mystery, but I wanted to learn it. So, I really had a passion for the two styles and eventually they started to know each other inside my head.”
Bhatt was the inventor of the 20-stringed Mohan Veena. This instrument became a signature in Manx’s repertoire.
Manx had concerns his passion wouldn’t translate past the Indian Ocean.
“When I began to play on the Mohan Veena, people generally kind of relaxed a little bit. They sort of stopped inward and it had an effect on them. It’s a very deep sound. A very old sound, but that’s not really where a lot of entertainment happened,” said Manx. “So, I reel them in with that Indian sound but I play a lot blues.”