I have compiled in this article several of the most interesting Indian or Indian-inspired CDs we have received at World Music Central. One of my favorites is the Rough Guide compilation Indian Lounge (World Music Network, 2007). Don’t let the title fool you. It’s not retro jazzy music, but rather a collection of excellent tracks by contemporary Indian artists and musicians from other countries, primarily the UK, who use music from South Asia for stimulation. The selection is wide ranging, including global chill out, mantras, bhangra, dub and Indian classical music treated in many creative ways.
Singer Shweta Jhaveri is based in the United States and has recorded Indian classical and fusion recordings as well, collaborating with jazz musicians in the past. She runs her own label and her latest CD is titled Huge (21st Century Cosmos, 2007). One of Jhaveri’s specialties is the North Indian vocal classical form Khayal, which is founded in aalaap (improvisation). On Huge, Jhaveri sings several pieces in English that feature gorgeous overdubbed vocals with ambient synthesizer accompaniment providing the drone. On other pieces she uses electric bass and drums, which provide a powerful rhythmic contrast. You can buy her CDs at www.shwetajhaveri.com/avishkar.html.
Another North-America based Indian artist is innovator Kiran Ahluwalia .She specializes in the beautiful style known as ghazal. Her latest CD is Wanderlust (Four Quarters, 2007), which includes ghazals, Sufi music and Punjabi folk songs. But don’t expect the traditional approach. Ahluwalia uses delightful unconventional arrangements, such as virtuoso fado guitar, accordion, blues guitar, and African drums combined with Indian instruments such as the harmonium, sarangi and tabla.
The compilation Sufi Music from India provides a glimpse of the Indian Sufi music scene. The artists featured range from musicians who follow an orthodox approach (traditional folk, Qawwali, etc.) to younger artists who add pop, funk, electronica and other modern elements. The selection is excellent and full of wonderful discoveries.
Veena master and award-winner Nirmala Rajasekar has been performing Carnatic music since the age of 13. Her latest CD is the enchanting Song of the Veena, where she explores the venerable Indian stringed instrument, playing 8 ragas, accompanied by violin and percussion.
The Rang Puhar Carnatic Group has released an album of music from southern India. The ensemble plays a selection of ragas and folk songs, using primarily vocals, violin and mridangam (a South Indian barrel drum). On Music of Southern India (ARC Music, 2007), the group treats the listener with fiery violin and mridangam solos.
Another Rough Guide compilation, Bollywood Gold , explores the music of Bollywood (Indian cinema). For those who are not familiar with the colorful and sometime spectacular song and dance fanfares featured in Bollywood movies, this is a great introduction. The liner notes by DJ Ritu provide details about the history of Bollywood melodramas and its biggest musical stars.
If you are seeking Indian music to meditate or relax, listen to the meditation series released by Kosmic Music, which specializes in contemporary meditation music from India. Dhyana Mantra only has two tracks, Morning Praise and Moola Mantra, two extensive pieces featuring the vocals of Ananda Giri. Another CD in the series is Chakra Dhyana, which is chanted by Sri Krishnaraj Bhagavaddasa, one of the male guides (dasas) at the Oneness University, with music scored and programmed by G Sathyaprasad. It’s a 50-minute guided meditation features traditional Mantras for activating the seven Chakras (energy centers). Kosmic Music will release Chakra Dhyana on July 10. The Moolamantra CD features different versions and remixes of Moolamantra.