Posts Tagged ‘india’

India: discover the music

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


This is the Songlines guide to Indian music today, with in-depth features and revealing interviews with many of the most exciting musicians of our time, including Zakir Hussain, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Jyoti Hegde and more…



The way Zakir Hussain tells it, his musical destiny was settled when he was just two days old. “I was brought home from the hospital and the tradition is that the son is handed to the father, and then the father has to recite a prayer in his son’s ear, putting him on his way,” he says. “My father, instead of reciting prayer, sang rhythms in my ear. And my mother was very upset and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he said: ‘Because this is my prayer.’”

Read the article: Zakir Hussain – a beginner’s guide



Jahnavi Harrison selects Indian vocalists who have all performed at the Darbar Festival over the last decade

Read the article: Essential 10: Indian vocalists



Simon Broughton speaks to Shye Ben Tzur about his qawwali-Hebrew collaboration with The Rajasthan Express and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood

Read the article: Shye Ben Tzur – devoted to India



Khayal singer Kaushiki Chakrabarty speaks to Jameela Siddiqi about her demanding yet expressive North Indian classical vocal style and how she got her remarkable start in this mainly masculine genre

Read the article: Kaushiki Chakrabarty – youthful imagination



Amardeep Dhillon wishes English-language music sites would stop exoticising India’s music scene, boiling it down to Bollywood’s Top 40

Read the article: Soapbox – Indian music, like any other, should be considered on its own merits



Jyoti Hegde, the world’s only female rudra veena player, speaks to Jameela Siddiqi about her love affair with this Indian string instrument

Read the article: Jyoti Hegde – Shiva’s lute



Georgie Pope visits the drumming, dancing and singing monks in a monastery of Assam, north-east India

Read the article: Postcard from Majuli, Assam

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Soapbox: “Indian music, like any other, should be considered on its own merits”

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Amardeep Dhillon wishes English-language music sites would stop exoticising India’s music scene, boiling it down to Bollywood’s Top 40

Last year, Noisey – Vice magazine’s music platform and favoured site of the edgiest millennials – ran a small piece on a dozen Bollywood tracks shared by the producer Ryan Hemsworth in the wake of the Nepal earthquake, where he encountered them last year. As a young British Indian, I read with pride as Noisey praised Hemsworth’s selection as ‘12 tracks of the most exciting, experimental music I’ve heard in ages.’ And then I listened to it.

These 12 tracks are some of the biggest Indian hits of the past two years – they are not particularly experimental, and definitely not deserving of the unqualified praise Noisey greets them with. ‘Shudh Desi Romance’ sounds like the meaningless pop song it is; ‘Pyaar Tera’ is a soporifically bland acoustic piece, and ‘Bawlaa Sa Sapna’ (The Children Come to Sing) is about as compelling as songs sung by five year olds can be. Had these songs been sung in English, I doubt they would have merited any attention at all. While they were shared for a good cause (to encourage donations in the aftermath of the earthquake), the extent to which they were lauded smacks of exoticism.

Bollywood is the bane of purists, the amorphous love child of Hindustani classical and Anglo-American pop, routinely reworking India’s diverse regional musical traditions and incorporating every genre on the subcontinent and beyond to churn out hundreds of soundtracks every year. Much of it may be mediocre or embarrassing, but the genre as a whole is pretty experimental. Of the artists on this selection, Bappi Lahiri has composed music for over 500 films, Sonu Nigam has sung for some of the industry’s biggest blockbusters and Shreya Ghoshal’s list of awards and nominations for playback singing has its own Wikipedia page. I’m not denying their talent, but they and the other artists featured here are representative of mainstream music, and any notion that they are groundbreaking displays a total ignorance of the Indian music scene.

This is not to say that popular artists can’t be groundbreaking. This year, for example, Sachin-Jigar’s immensely popular soundtrack for Badlapur featured the shehnai in a powerful rock number and a haunting sarangi riff in an understated duet, demonstrating the perfect acoustic love song and then remixed it expertly for the dance floor. The songs on Hemsworth’s selection, however, are as a whole less original. They might be different from anything Noisey’s heard before, but (unlike Badlapur’s soundtrack) that doesn’t mean they are a departure from Bollywood norms. Or even its best work.

It shouldn’t be enough for English-language music reviewers to acknowledge the existence of ‘foreign’ music as a curiosity: Indian music, like any other music, should be considered on its own merits, track by track. I’m tired of the fetishising superlatives, and I can’t quite believe that the ‘most exciting, experimental music’ in so long is taken from 2014’s Indian Top 40. The initial excitement felt at realising Indian music was finally receiving some coverage on one of my favourite websites soon disappeared, as I realised that it took a white guy going to Nepal and tweeting about it for a nation of one billion to even get a mention. It got me thinking about other foreign language music featured on online media.

European variants on hip-hop, punk, rock and indie are regularly featured on online English-language platforms: Indian equivalents, even when sung in English, are largely ignored. Even the most ‘alternative’ media’s exclusion of non-European music in its appreciation of youth culture reinforces the image of the cool kid as typically north of the Brandt Line. This is, I suppose, why a few hundred well-intentioned words have annoyed me so much – as a British Indian, media that unwittingly reinforces a cultural divide is personally alienating.

Aside from Bollywood and its folk traditions, there is a wealth of under-exposed, cutting-edge Indian music that would, I’m sure, be well-received abroad: Prateek Kuhad’s acoustic masterpieces, the ambience of trip-hop duo Sulk Station, Papon’s multilingual folk-fusion and the weirdness of Madboy/Mink’s electro-cabaret-disco-funk. Begum, Indigo Children and Peter Cat Recording Co are making the kind of indie rock that hipsters dream of discovering; Midival Punditz, Bandish Projekt and Nucleya are shaping a new Indian electronica; and Viveick Rajagopalan’s immersive percussion and Baiju Dharmajan’s Karnatic rock are the most recent examples of India’s ‘most exciting, experimental music’ I’ve heard in ages.

In the last few years, a surge in corporate sponsorship (with shows like Coke Studio) has brought some of these new artists into the spotlight. The on-going Bacardi-sponsored NH7 Weekender, a multi-city festival with a huge social media presence, proves that there is a mass market for Indian alternative music. But sponsorship shouldn’t be the only route to success for an independent artist. Exposure is essential to gaining a fanbase, and while YouTube and social media are making it easier for these artists to reach audiences across borders, they are still drowned out by the roar of Bollywood.

This is where sites like Noisey should come in – these artists need and deserve to be heard. I’d rather read about them than see the most accessible aspect of my culture Columbused as a niche genre of music. I appreciate the recognition, but Noisey, if we’re going to talk about Indian music at all, let’s do it right.

India: discover the music

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Zakir Hussain: a beginner’s guide

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Nigel Williamson takes a look at the remarkably diverse career of the Indian percussion legend

The way Zakir Hussain tells it, his musical destiny was settled when he was just two days old. “I was brought home from the hospital and the tradition is that the son is handed to the father, and then the father has to recite a prayer in his son’s ear, putting him on his way,” he says. “My father, instead of reciting prayer, sang rhythms in my ear. And my mother was very upset and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he said: ‘Because this is my prayer.’”

The story makes perfect sense when you factor in that his father was Alla Rakha, one of the most celebrated tabla players in the history of Indian classical music and Ravi Shankar’s first-choice accompanist. With his father’s beats ringing in his ear, Hussain went on to follow in his rhythmic footsteps as a classical tabla virtuoso. With a little help and advice from George Harrison and the Grateful Dead’s drummer Mickey Hart, he also became one of the architects of modern world music fusion, as a fearless collaborator, bold improviser and skilled composer and arranger.

Born in 1951 in Mumbai, Hussain began his serious training in Hindustani classical music when he was seven, his father waking him at 3:30am for three hours of nocturnal tuition. He then went off to the local madrasa to study the Qur’an. After two hours of learning Islamic scripture by rote, he would then cross the street to his Roman Catholic day school, where he sang hymns of praise to a Christian god. “Doing all of that in the space of six hours, I grew up a very confused child,” he notes drily.

In his teens he listened to the rock music of the Doors and Jimi Hendrix and considered swapping his tablas for a drum set before an encounter with George Harrison put him back on track. The Beatle – a fan of Indian music and friend of his father via their mutual association with Ravi Shankar – told the teenage tabla protégé that as a rock drummer he would be one of thousands, but that if he stuck with Indian classical music he could make music that was unique by incorporating inspiration from Eastern and Western sources.

Hussain took the advice and built a career both as an Indian classical musician and as an audacious and innovative fusionista after he landed in San Francisco at the height of the hippie era in the late 60s. There he moved in with Mickey Hart, and says that he learned as much from the Dead’s percussionist as from the classical discipline instilled by his father: “He taught me to find the groove and understand the back beat, how to loosen up. I was playing with a 2,000-year-old rhythm repertoire on my tabla and you had to be as complicated as you could. But Mickey told me, ‘Zakir, you’re playing too many notes! Just relax a little.’”

He recalls chemically-fuelled jam sessions with the Dead and their acid-rock acolytes that lasted two or three days. “I remember waking from sleeping on the floor, and looking up and seeing Jerry Garcia and David Crosby playing. And I’d rub my eyes and pick up a drum. It was a never-ending musical conversation.”

He’s been collaborating with Hart ever since, including on 1991’s Planet Drum, which won the inaugural Grammy award for world music, and again in 2007 when Global Drum Project won a Grammy as Best Contemporary World Music Album.

Collaboration has been a way of life for Hussain for more than 40 years and he approaches each project with humility. “You come from India and you say, ‘OK, I’m representing thousands of years of history,’ and you think you’re going to teach the world about rhythms and drums,” he says. “Then you realise that you’re just one little dot in the painting that is the music of the universe.”

In the mid-70s he was a founder member of Shakti, the groundbreaking East-West fusion group formed by the English jazz-rock guitarist John McLaughlin and Indian classical musicians. “It was revolutionary,” Hussain says. “Indian and non-Indian musicians could come together in a free-form way. It was unique at that time, and it opened up this whole can of worms that has become world music.”

Other collaborators over the years have included the Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, banjo maestro Béla Fleck, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, American jazzers Pharoah Saunders and Charles Lloyd, as well as Gaelic musicians. He was also a founder member of Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science.

Although Hussain has lived most of his adult life in the US, he has made a point of spending three or four months every year in India, where he is best known for his achievements as a classical musician rather than his fusion projects. It was during one such trip ‘home’ in the 80s that he assembled the Masters of Percussion ensemble, featuring musicians from different regions of India. He has since toured the world with the group and is keen to remind audiences that, despite his freewheeling adventures in world music, the classical tradition remains at the core of his musical identity. “About 65% of my shows are strictly Indian music,” he says. “It’s important to me. It’s my heritage. These are my roots. It’s what keeps me tuned into who I am.”



Natural Elements

(Columbia, 1977)

The third in a trilogy of groundbreaking Indo-jazz fusion recorded by Shakti. This is the best of the three, with the emphasis on shorter pieces and ensemble playing as well as solo virtuosity.



mickey-hart-planet-drum-coverMickey Hart

Planet Drum

(Rykodisc, 1991)

It’s the global eclecticism that makes this Grammy-winning album a landmark in world music on which Hart is merely the facilitator as percussionists from India, Brazil and Nigeria join forces.



_zakir-hussain-the-rhythm-experience-coverZakir Hussain & The Rhythm Experience

(Moment Records, 1991)

Hussain founded The Rhythm Experience in 1984 and this album combines global beats from India, Cuba, Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia into a surprisingly melodic exchange between anything that can be beaten, shaken or struck.




tabla-beat-science-tala-matrix-coverTabla Beat Science

Tala Matrix

(Palm Pictures, 2000)

Tabla Beat Science’s debut fuses Hussain’s tabla with electronica studio wizardry from Bill Laswell alongside contributions from sarangi player Sultan Khan and fellow percussionists Trilok Gurtu, Karsh Kale and Talvin Singh.



bela-fleck-zakir-hussain-edgar-meyer-the-melody-of-rhythm-coverBéla Fleck, Zakir Hussain & Edgar Meyer

The Melody of Rhythm

(Koch, 2009)

This album is built around the title-track, a 28-minute suite incorporating Indian forms, jazz, Appalachian folk and Western conservatoire tradition.




zakir-hussain-distant-kin-coverDistant Kin

(Moment Records, 2015)

In 2011, Hussain travelled to Glasgow to create a collaborative work with Scottish musicians for Celtic Connections festival. Reviewed in #117.








India: discover the music

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Essential 10: Indian vocalists

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Jahnavi Harrison selects Indian vocalists who have all performed at the Darbar Festival over the last decade

prabhaatrePrabha Atre

A Unique Musical Experience

(NA Classical Audio Cassettes, 2013)

Prabha Atre has been called the ‘least recorded artist of her generation.’ This, like most of her albums, is a collection of vintage recordings from the 70s. Her light, expressive voice moves with ease through the collection of ghazals and bhajans – lighter classical forms that nevertheless showcase her sweetly masterful command of breath, tone, melody and rhythm.


drmbalamuralikrishnacdDr M Balamuralikrishna

Pancharatna Krithis

(Magnasound Media, 1995)

The megalith of 20th-century Karnatic music presents the Pancharatna (Five Jewels) compositions of the revered 18th-century saint-poet Thyagaraja. Balamuralikrishna’s tone is grave yet ebullient, a perfect match for the devotional depth of the lyrics. From the lullaby ‘Sadhinchane’ to the saint’s self-reproaching lament, ‘Dudukugala Nanne’.


udaybhawalkarcdUday Bhawalkar


(Living Media India, 2000)

Romantic ‘Raga Bihag,’ traditionally performed between 9pm and midnight, unfolds over one unhurried hour. Bhawalkar never manifests the aggressive vocal gymnastics that are sometimes heard from dhrupad vocalists, rather he retains the pure classicism of the form while displaying his own effortless style.


ashwinibhidecdAshwini Bhide


(Sense World Music, 2007)

Bhide is an exponent of the Jaipur school of Hindustani music, which places great emphasis on set compositions as vehicles for exploring raga. A standout is the sunny ‘Sakal Brij Dhoom’ – traditionally sung during the Holi festival of colours. Reviewed in #38.


kaushikichakrabartycdKaushiki Chakrabarty


(Sense World Music, 2005)

This was the recording that really shot Chakrabarty to international fame. To her surprise, it won in the Asia-Pacific category at the 2005 BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music – and rightfully so. This live recording of a concert in London is aptly named: pure, unalloyed and astonishingly beautiful.


gundechabrotherscdGundecha Brothers


(Sense World Music, 2003)

The resurgence in popularity of the dhrupad genre can be partly attributed to the vigorous teaching and performing of these brothers, who here present a full-length exploration of ‘Raga Komal Rishabh Asavari’. Their harmonious voices intertwine in languorous curls, accompanied only at the end by the sonorous pakhavaj drum.


panditjasrajcdPandit Jasraj

Ornamental Voice

(Chhanda Dhara, 1989)

This legendary musician is still going strong at 85. And this recording, featuring khayal compositions, is dazzling due to the equally masterful accompaniment of Zakir Hussain’s tabla and Sultan Khan on sarangi. ‘Yeho Jnanarange’ is exceptionally moving, though a listen to any of the tracks would captivate music lovers of any description.


ulhaskashalkarcdUlhas Kashalkar

Tarana: Flights of Melody

(Living Media India, 1994)

Tarana is a medieval invention of Sufi poet Amir Khusrau. The structure consists of a short main melody, interspersed with sung rhythmic syllables and poetry. Kashalkar gives concise, virtuosic interpretations of five major Hindustani ragas. With a soaring voice and free rein for improvisation, Kashalkar presents joyful, free-flying melody at its best.


sudharagunathancdSudha Ragunathan

Shakti: Sacred Song from Southern India

(Accords Croisés, 2005)

Amidst a bewildering array of recordings from this highly acclaimed singer, is this collection recorded and released by a French label. Ragunathan chose the short, varied pieces specifically to appeal to an unfamiliar ear, making this a fantastic introduction to the Karnatic genre. The last two tracks provide a more lengthy, energetic crescendo. 


arunasairamcdAruna Sairam

December Season 2002

(Charsur Digital Workstation, 2004)

Sairam’s gutsy voice is unmistakable, and though one of her specialities is the more sedate exposition of South Indian padams, she really excels in full thigh-slapping, octave soaring form. This two-volume live recording presents traditional Karnatic repertoire, with standouts like the galloping ‘Kanakasabhapati’ and ‘Kalinga Nartana Thillana’.

India: discover the music

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