There is no Rhythm Language like Konnakol in the World: Magnus Dauner

Magnus Dauner, jazz drummer from Germany, started to learn the drums at a very early age of six years. His parents enjoyed music and supported his music education. They let him connect with other young musicians at the age of ten. That is when he began to realise the joy of collaborating and making music with other people. This finally led to the situation where he even thought of being something more than a musician.

The world of jazz appealed to Magnus. His father listened to jazz a lot and hence he was surrounded by all kinds of jazz music all the time. Also, Magnus was part of many youth jazz bands and his school jazz band. Furthermore, drums were part of the advent of jazz music. The drum set developed out of the musical needs of this genre of music. This means, if you need to learn about jazz, it can not happen without learning the drums. 

Quite recently, Magnus discovered Konnakol, a South-Indian percussion rhythm and was drawn towards it. CSP spoke to Magnus about his music journey with respect to jazz and konnakol. 

  •  How did you discover Indian percussion music? What made you want to stay and learn?

In the drumming scene, many people know that there is something in India which is a very complex rhythm system, and it has something to do with chanting the rhythms. But that is pretty much it. Almost nobody really knows about Konnakol or the South Indian percussion particularly. Konnakol crossed my way several times during my studies at the University in Munich, and several times in recordings. One of these recordings was of my Guru’s, Shri T.A.S. Mani, his wife R.A. Ramamani, and the Karnataka College of Percussion with Charlie Mariano. This CD fascinated me in so many ways that I wanted to know what is behind this rhythm language, this music, and this percussion instrument.

It was not what made me stay and learn, but who. Meeting T.A.S. Mani for the first time in 2015, I fortunately and luckily realised that I have met the man who will have probably the biggest influence on my life as a musician. And It was clear that I have to stay and learn, and learn, and learn. 

  • Can you tell us about your konnakol learning experience? How different was it from what you learnt in Germany?

It is a very different approach to learning in general. In many ways the depth of the learning experience is something I have never experienced before. The structure, the concept, the connection of rhythm and sound, the flow of rhythmic melodies, the mathematical aspect and so on. There are tons of examples of how Konnakol opens a new world of rhythm and music. 

  • Indian Music has very complex grammar. What were the challenges you faced while learning?

In my opinion, there are only two challenges. First is not trying to explain anything with the western knowledge of rhythm. You will fail if you try to translate. While learning, you have to think in the Indian way, and never the western thought process. So, the challenge was to forget everything I thought I knew about rhythm. The second challenge is maybe difficult for westerners because it is very unusual. Do not ask too many questions at the beginning or do not ask at all. Trust your Guru, and just do as he says. Not more, not less. Just one step after the other. The complex grammar and everything else will not be a challenge when you follow these rules. It will just be a question of time and practice.

There is no rhythm language like Konnakol in the world. It is not just a language. It is a system, it is a learning method, it is inspiration, and it is music all in one!
- Magnus Dauner

  • When you learn something new in music, what is it that you look for? 

I always look for joy! For instance, that moment of happiness when I understand something, or when something happens that I do not understand, but enjoy it. I cannot say why actually. It is something inside me, and I started to look for the reason why music or musical instruments or anything like this developed the way they did. I think music developed all over the world because of the same human needs. To express where words cannot express anymore, to build connection between humans and also to God. And to find joy or even to process bad feelings. 

Why did music develop in so many different styles when it basically is all the same? I like looking for this connection. The one which lies beyond the theoretical aspects of music.  

  • Can you tell us about the projects you have worked on while incorporating Indian music? How was it received?

Every time I incorporate Indian rhythm or ragas into my music, the people are very touched. It is this new sound, the new feeling that they like. You have to do it in a pleasant way but I never had the situation where the audience is not open to new things.

  • Have you collaborated with Indian musicians? Can you tell us about an interesting collaboration?

I formed a band with my dear friend and fantastic percussionist Karthik Mani from Bangalore. The Band is called Portrait in Rhythm, and it features Kai Eckhardt on bass and Thorsten deWinkel on guitar. We played two tours in Germany in 2017 and 2018. The feedback was amazing from the German audience. We incorporated Indian music and rhythm to western compositions, and the grooves and colours are still very new and interesting to a lot of people in germany.

In 2017, I also organized a tour in Germany for an extraordinary band. My Guru T.A.S. Mani, R.A. Ramamani, and flautist Amith Nadig came to Germany. We formed a band with German trumpet player Matthias Schriefl and bassist Reza Askari. We played many original compositions of Ramamani Madam, and most people knew these compositions from back in the days, when the Karnataka College of Percussion (KCP) toured with Charlie Mariano. Many people attended the concerts who were aware of KCP from twenty or thirty years ago. That is when I realized what an amazing impact the KCP had on many music listeners in Germany. All the collaborations up until today are very special experiences, and I am fortunate to be a part of it. 

  • When you conduct workshops or while teaching your students, what is it you mainly focus on?

My main focus is on the beauty of Konnakol! My Guru always told me, “You have to find beauty.”. And that is what I try to pass on to anybody in the workshop. It does not matter if it is an eight year-old child or a fifty year-old professional musician. Konnakol gives us the possibility to find the beauty in rhythm phrases, to play with them, and to express them. This is possible on any intellectual level. It is also independent from the knowledge or the ability of the students. You can find the beauty in a very simple phrase like Tha Laan – gu as well as in Tha – Di – Ki Ta Ta Ka Tha – Dim – Tha Dim – Tha Di Gi Na Thom

  • Have you thought about designing a course with Indian musicians in Indian institutions?

I had the privilege of hosting a few workshops in India as well. The JAM Music Conservatory in Kochi invited me for a drum workshop, and with my dear friend Karthik Mani, we were guests in several schools and institutions. It is something what I would love to continue doing. In my opinion, exchanging cultural knowledge is the key to understanding the world, different countries, religions, and societies. It is the best way to a peaceful world. We can learn anything from anyone, especially in the field of art and culture. So, I hope that there will be more opportunities for me to give some back because I already received so much from India. 

  • Is there a new project you are working on? Can you tell us about it? 

I am constantly working on several projects. One is my own band where I write music with Indian rhythmic influences. Another project which is coming up is a collaboration with a dancer. We want to work on a communication system between musicians and dancers, and we will work on a performance for drums and dance.

  • Having dabbled in both western and Indian music, what are some of the key differences you see? 

Focusing on differences of music styles in such a global setting like Indian and western music is quite difficult. For sure there are many such as the structure of the song, building of melodies and rhythms or the way of performing. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is way more interesting to look at the similarities. But if I have to name one or two, it is how harmony is used in western music, and the use of rhythm in Indian music.

  • What would you incorporate from Indian music pedagogy into western? What can be done to make the hearing experience better for the audience?

With respect to pedagogy, it is slightly different. What the western way of learning can learn from the Indian way is to learn more by ear and less by notes. Notation is great, but we have to train the ears of the students and the musical imagination. It is like constructing a huge building with lots of little parts. I also was impressed at the way my Guru teaches his students. How much time and effort he puts in every single lesson for every single person.

As musicians, we have to take the audience and slowly open up the world of music to them. We cannot ask for everyone to be an expert, and so it is always a balance of artistic expression and playing for the audience. Playing nice, playing for the music itself. Not playing for our own ego to impress other musicians or the organizer or the audience. Letting the music speak for itself and doing everything to lift up the performance of anyone on stage. That is the job of a successful musician.