Bruce Harding stands out in a crowd, and not just because he’s tall.
The music director for Crossroads United Church in North Delta plays the Indian bansuri bamboo flute and bass for Indian Standard Time, a Surrey-based group of musicians’s musicians that can easily ease you into a trance or get you dancing with their north Indian classical music.
The Instrumental World Fusion band’s members are Amarjeet Singh (tabla), Harding (flute, vocals, guitar, bass, djembe), Coach Sandhu (guitars/production), Sandy Khaira (drums, percussion, bass), and Baljit Singh (sarangi, dilruba, esraj, tar sehnayi). Their Facebook page posits the question: “What would happen if Bob Marley had explored progressive rock in Delhi?”
The band regularly play crowds of up to 1,500 at local banquet halls and has been particularly busy with Vaisakhi-related gigs.
“We’ve had a whole string of functions in the past couple of weeks that are all Vaisakhi related,” says Harding, 51.
It’s not hard to see he’s the only white guy in the band. What’s that like? He chuckles at the question.
“Well, it’s always interesting. I’m certainly used to sitting in a room and having everybody talking away in Punjabi and me not understanding a word that’s going on until somebody translates,” he laughs.
He’s a Christian among Sikh band members.
“The group itself is quite open,” Harding says. “In some ways the fact that they’re all practising Sikhs means they understand the fact that I’m a Christian musician working in that environment too, where if it was just a secular world working with other Western musicians I’d get kind of weird looks, you know, because I’ve worked as a music director at churches for 30 years.”
The band was founded more than a decade ago, he figures.
“It’s a complicated question — the core of us have been together since 2006, my guess would be. Kind of formally, in terms of current membership and so on, would be the last three years I guess, thereabouts.”
Some of their tunes push 20 minutes.
“Most of what we do is rooted in the north Indian classical tradition, so it’s raga based and tala based, that’s the time cycle language of north Indian music. There’s a lot of different influences, a lot of Western pop and funk and jazz influences.”
Harding has been a musician all his life, playing professionally since the early 1980s.
“I fell in love with Indian classical music when I was doing my graduate work at the University of Toronto.”
Indian Standard Time recently performed Canada’s national anthem during South Asian Celebration Night in Vancouver at Rogers Arena, on March 29 at the Vancouver versus Edmonton game (the Canucks beat the Oilers 2-1, by the way).
It was by far their biggest audience, at 15,000-plus.
“As a Canada 150 project we did a video filmed in Bear Creek Park, it’s up on our YouTube channel, our Indian Standard Time YouTube channel, this past June and released it,” Harding tells the Now-Leader, “and so the Hockey Night in Canada guys, the Punjabi broadcast guys, were aware of our recording so they specifically approached us to do the national anthem, which is a matter of adapting what we did there because obviously we do a studio kind of recording where I’m playing four different flute parts plus bass, so we had to go with just a single flute line and adaptation to do it live, but I thought it worked very well. It was quite neat getting in on all of that.
“It was a fun project putting O Canada into a traditional Indian time cycle. That’s a 14-beat cycle we did it in. It certainly involved some adaptation but to me it falls very naturally in that cycle, so it’s quite singable.”
All five band members teach out of the Naad Foundation in Surrey.
The non-profit foundation supports and promotes traditional musical arts “and kind of the fusion-intercultural aspect of things too,” Harding explains. “Part of its mission is to bring cultures together.
“The City of Surrey just approached us about doing a big concert and partnership with them at Surrey Arts Centre in November, so we’ve got a full program.”
That’ll be on Friday, Nov. 2 at Bear Creek Park.
For more on the band, visit indianstandardtime.band.
z Look inside for our special 12-page Vaisakhi section – pages B1-B12.