Ramesh Shotham was born in Madras, South India. After graduating from Loyola College, University of Madras with a degree in zoology, he began his musical career as a self-taught drummer, co-leading a Rock band called Human Bondage. In 1970 the band established itself in Bombay (Mumbai) and Bangalore, after which it hit the road, performing all over the Subcontinent.
This was in the aftermath of Woodstock: planeloads of hippies, freaks, peace-corps workers and ‘disillusioned’ youth came from North America and Europe to India in search of peace, love and that nebulous Nirvana! They were pleasantly surprised to discover not only Gurus, Swamis, elephants and snakecharmers, but also genuine Rock music played by Human Bondage and other such bands gigging in clubs in Bombay, Delhi and Goa! Musical influences at this stage were of course, to a great extent, the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, et al.
It took a live Ravi Shankar concert in Delhi, and a chance meeting with a tourist, who was heading back West and wanted to hock his albums, amongst them ‘Birds of Fire’ by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, for Shotham to begin discovering his own musical roots: the vast ocean of Indian music!
During the mid-seventies, after having spent several months in Bombay with the late great Pakhawaj master Arjun Shejwal, Ramesh returned to Madras (Chennai), to take up study of the Tavil (a traditional temple music drum), under Vidwan K.P.Ramu. This lead him to extending his repertoire to other classical percussion instruments, like Ghatam, Mridangam, Kanjira and Morsing at the Karnataka College of Percussion, founded by Professor T.A.S. Mani.
In 1980 Shotham came with the Indo-Jazz-Fusion group Jazz Yatra Septet to perform at various European festivals. This three month tour started in Prague and ended in Munich, where the group recorded a ground-breaking album titled ‘Sangam’, which made the Deutsche Schallplattenkritik’s List in 1981.
Since then, Shotham has lived and worked in Europe, and is recognized as one of the most successful percussionists around. He has performed not only with leading European and American Jazz and Rock musicians, but also with artistes from Africa, Australia, China, Korea and several Arabic countries. During the last 20-odd years, Shotham has recorded over 120 LPs and CDs and has worked for almost all the leading TV and Radio stations in Germany and Europe.
In 1984 he was invited as artist-in-residence at the Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth. In 1986 he was guest teacher at the Conservatorium in Rotterdam. He has also conducted workshops and seminars in various cities and continues to do so whenever his busy touring schedule permits.
Ramesh Shotham has performed at various international festivals. To mention a few: Berlin Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Festival of Perth, Buk Festival in South Korea, Montreal Jazz Festival, Jazz Yatra Festival in India and Festival of India in Australia and China, and at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia.
Shotham also went on three tours at the invitation of the Goethe-Institut: 1990 to the former Yugoslavia, Hungary and Bulgaria; 1992 to France, Spain and Portugal; 1993 to India.
Shotham’s work with musicians such as Carla Bley, Steve Coleman, Steve Swallow, Jonas Hellborg, Charlie Mariano, Sigi Schwab, Ronan Guilfoyle and a host of others is well documented. Over the years he also founded his own formations like Bhavani and Madras Special.
He was invited during the 1997 Music Triennale in Cologne to perform with the Carla Bley Big Band. Early 1998 involved work with Steve Coleman in India. Shotham recently appeared as protoganist in ‘Heartbeat of the Continents’, a film by Manfred Waffender, featuring different styles of drumming, produced by arte and ZDF. Along with Rabih Abou-Kahlil and Zoltan Lantos, he recorded a part of the documentary film ‘Visions of Music’ for Euroarts, to demonstrate the influences of ‘World music on Jazz’.
Activities around this period included a trip to Cuba to play at the Jazz Festival in Havana with Steve Coleman, followed by a summer tour with Carla Bley’s Escalator over the Hill Project, and an invitation to a World-Music Festival in Tunesia with the well known Oud player Mohammed Zinelabidin.
In early 1999 Ramesh Shotham was commissioned by Dr. Ulrich Kurth and WDR to travel to India with his group Madras Special, to perform and record new music. During this trip the group also appeared live in Chennai for the Max Mueller Bhavan, played for the Taj Hotels at their holiday resort Fisherman’s Cove, and had a sellout concert at the Chowdiah Memorial Auditorium in Bangalore.
Mid-2000, he and his wife Alexandra established an independent record company called Permission Music Productions. The pmp label has released seven critically acclaimed CDs, amongst them is Ramesh’s own album titled ‘Madras Special’ featuring his quartet, plus some very special guests. Another highlight is ‘Sketches of Bangalore’, a production involving members of the Karnataka College of Percussion and the WDR Big Band. This ground-breaking fusion of Indian music and big band jazz features original material written by the singer Ramamani, subtly arranged by Mike Herting.
During the years 2001 through 2004 Shotham has toured extensively with his quartet Madras Special, playing not only in Germany, but also in Holland, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and the UK. A highlight for Shotham and the members of Madras Special during the 2004 trip to London was the interaction with Renga, an ensemble of 10 musicians from the LPO (London Philharmonic Orchestra).
During this period, Ramesh went once again on a tour to India, sponsored by the Irish Arts Council and the Indian Institute for Cultural Relations. He was part of a group called Khanda, led by well-known Irish bassist and composer Ronan Guilfoyle. The trip resulted in a documentary film called ‘Five Cities’ and a live recording of the performances.
Ramesh Shotham has also recorded and toured with the highly acclaimed guitar trio
Tri Continental from Canada. In spite of busy schedules, Ramesh has, along with Sigi Schwab, found time to develope and establish an exciting duo called Mandala. His most recent work has been as guest percussionist with the WDR Big Band and Wolfgang Niedecken of BAP fame.
‘Seit vielen Jahren ist der aus Südindien stammende und in Köln lebende Percussionist und Schlagzeuger Ramesh Shotham ein Brückenbauer zwischen Ost und West. Mit seinen unverwechselbaren, komplexen südindischen Rhythmen garniert er das Menü aus Jazz, Funk, Rock und Ethnomusik, voll packender Melodien und Improvisationen. Eine Fusion verschiedener Kulturen, bei der es keine musikalischen Grenzen gibt.’
‘Geboren und aufgewachsen in Südindien war er mal Rocker, Jazzer und klassisch-indischer Musiker. Heute ist er alles gleichseitig.’
Ramesh Shotham ist einer der vielseitigsten und außergewöhnlichsten Musiker der Kölner Szene. Er stammt aus Madras, heute Chennai, und ist im Rock, Jazz, Fusion, in der improvisierten und vielen anderen Musiken zu Hause. Unvergessen sind seine Konzerte mit Charlie Mariano, dem Karnataka College of Percussion oder der WDR Big Band. Seine eigene Band Madras Special setzt Maßstäbe in Sachen Musik von Weltformat.
Im südindischen Madras (heute Chennai) geboren, ist Ramesh Shotham als Perkussionist Wanderer zwischen den Welten. Mit knapp 20 spielte er Schlagzeug in einer indischen Rockband, die sich für die Beatles, die Stones und Jimi Hendrix begeisterte, kaum aber für traditionelle südindische Karnataka-Klänge, die Ramesh allenfalls von seiner singenden Mutter und bei hinduistischen Tempelzeremonien hörte. Ein Ravi Shankar-Konzert in Delhi und John McLaughlins Mahavishnu-Orchestra stießen ihn auf seine eigenen Wurzeln, und er begann, südindische Trommelkunst auf Pakhawaj, Tavil, Ghatam, Mridangam und Kanjira zu studieren. 1980 kam er mit dem indischen Jazz Yatra Sextett nach Europa und entschied sich, hier zu bleiben, genauer gesagt: in Köln. Seit dieser Zeit erarbeitete er sich seinen Ruf als einer der gefragtesten Perkussionisten in der World Music-Szene ebenso wie im Jazz.