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Peter Fand – Shares His Musical Journey to Cirque, Bass Gear and the Kora

Peter FandIt never ceases to amaze me… the journey that musicians take to get where they are.

  • Is the road straight? Not usually.
  • Is it long? Most likely.
  • Is it interesting? Most definitely!

In this issue of Bass Musician Magazine, Peter Fand has shared his journey and musical-world (see Bass Musician Magazine Interviews Peter Fand from Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil and Behind the Scenes at Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil with Peter Fand)… here Peter shares more with us about his life, Cirque, bass gear and just how he learned the Kora.

Name: Peter Fand

Cirque Show: Zarkana

Type of show: Resident Show and Theater Tour

Grew up in: Maplewood, New Jersey

Main basses: Sadowsky UV-70 5-String, 1968 Fender Jazz

Strings: I use DR Strings on all of my instruments, including my basses, guitars, and even my mandolins!!! I have had a long relationship with DR, and absolutely love their strings.

Effects: Boss Super Octave, Electroharmonix Q-Tron, Zvex Wooly Mammouth, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, Reddi DI

Career Prior to Cirque:

Most of my career was spent as a working musician in and around New York. I’ve performed in many of the great theaters there, including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, The Apollo Theater, Symphony Space, on Broadway and more, as well as in countless smaller venues, clubs and bars.  Although I’ve worked in a wide range of styles, my primary focus in recent years has been on West African music, both traditional and contemporary, as well as a variety of other international music styles. I have worked with some of West Africa’s most notable artists, including Mory Kante, Petit Conde, Famoro Dioubate, Missia Saran Dioubate, Keba Cissoko, and a long list of artists from the National Ballet’s, including Les Ballets Africains, Les Ballets Merveilles de Guinea, and more. I have performed on more than 40 CDs, have composed music for films and television, and own a recording studio, which has been the center of my artistic world for more than 20 years.

Experience with Cirque:

In many ways, it feels as if my whole career was working towards this gig. As a multi-instrumentalist, it is unusual to find a professional environment where I can utilize all of my skills as effectively as I can in Zarkana. I’m the bass player in the show, which is of course my primary instrument, but I am also featured on Kora (a 21-string West African Harp), percussion, mandolin, and sing background vocals as well. Our show started out as a touring show, which brought us to several cities for extended stays, New York, Madrid and Moscow. With each chapter, new doors have opened in my musical journey. For example, while in Moscow, I found a master balalaika builder who I bought an instrument from, and then connected with a teacher who began studying with.

Because I play a variety of instruments, I was a unique fit for this show, whose composer was looking to add as many sounds as possible to the musical landscape. Additionally, it was helpful that I had worked in such a wide range of musical idioms in my career. There were no charts written for this music, so the creation process happened in a fairly organic way.  We workshopped the songs for several months, and were all encouraged to bring our own unique voices to the music. Since all of the musicians are at such a high skill level, that process worked very well, and the end product is a distinct reflection of the people in the band.

Audition Process for Cirque:

My audition process took about 2 years! I first auditioned for the Company, and was informed that I had been accepted to the roster of available artists. I was then asked to audition for a touring show, and was tentatively placed in a chair in that show, but as it happened, as another show closed at the same time, and my position was given to the musician from the closing show. Cirque is good about taking care of their people in that way. Nearly a year then elapsed before I was asked to audition for the show that ultimately became Zarkana, and after a few rounds of eliminations, I was offered the job. I have never waited so long for a gig, but have never been more excited to receive a phone call as I was that day I was told that the chair was mine!

Gig Anecdote:

Over the years, our show has been seen by many celebrities, many of whom have come back stage to meet the cast. It’s always a privilege performing for people who you admire and respect, and having the chance to chat with them is also fun. We’ve also performed for some significant world leaders, including the whole Clinton Family, President (at the time) Medvedev of Russia when we were in the Kremlin, and more. Perhaps the most memorable of those experiences was performing for the Royal Family of Spain when we were in Madrid. It was a bit surreal chatting with the Queen backstage after the show, and asking her grandchildren (the princesses) if they’d like to grow up to be acrobats. That would have been a good time to practice using the formal “Usted” form…. but we stuck with English.

The Kora

One of the instruments that I play in the show is the Kora, a 21-string West African harp-lute. The Kora is a traditional instrument of the Mandeng people of West Africa, from the countries of Guinea, Mali, Gambia and Senegal. In the early 1990’s I was working in and around New York in the African music scene, playing bass in some African bands, and percussion as an accompanist for dance classes. During that time I often hear the sound of the Kora in recordings, and was drawn to it. Some time around 1994 I had the good fortune to meet master Kora player Keba Cissoko, who came from the most prominent lineage of Kora players, from Guinea. After studying with him for some time, I went to Guinea to live and study with his family, where I began to absorb the vastly rich tradition of the instrument. That was the first of many trips there, and the beginning of a life-long relationship with this instrument.  In Zarkana, I am featured playing the Kora during the Russian Bar act, and I am centrally set in the staging of that piece. I’m proud to be able to bring this traditional instrument into such a new and unique context.

Visit Peter online at peterfand.com

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