Shakti Sutra is the new album by the Indian-American multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sheela Bringi. While her previous album, Incantations, attracted the attention of the world music community with its charming combination of Indian mantras and kirtan with jazz and global music elements, Shakti Sutra features arrangements that make it attractive to the yoga and kirtan market.
What’s unique about Sheela Bringi’s usic is the use of the 36-string harp, a western instrument rarely used in Indian classical music. Bringi adds Indian bansuri (bamboo flute) and harmonium, along with electronic beats and soundscapes, creating a mesmerizing mix.
Rakkatak is a Canadian duo led by tabla master Anita Katakkar and bassist Oriana Barbato. Their album Small Pieces came out this week. It’s a remarkable mix of percussive Indian classical music and western musical forms, including rock and jazz-rock fusion.
Small Pieces contains original pieces by Rakkatak along with some surprising versions of well-known songs. The most famous is “Norwegian Wood,” the Beatles’ song composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The other unexpected song is Rush’s “YYZ.” Rush is one of Canada’s most famous rock bands and Anita Katakkar found connections in its rhythmic structure and odd time signatures.
In addition to the familiar tabla, Anita Katakkar adds other percussion instruments to her arsenal such as the western glockenspiel, creating an unpredictable partnership between the tabla and the bell sound of the glockenspiel.
On Small pieces Rakkatak is joined by sitar player Rex Van der Spuy as well as several other guests on Indian-style vocals and other instruments.
The last track on the album, “Riffing On 9,” takes Rakkatak in yet another direction, This timer it’s an example of the work Anita Katakkar did in the past, mixing Indian percussion with electronics, inspired by the Asian Underground movement.
The lineup on Small Pieces includes Anita Katakkar on tabla, cajón, glockenspiel and harmonium; Oriana Barbato on bass, shaker and cabasa; Rex Van der Spuy on sitar; Sina Bathaie on santur; Randolf Jiménez on drums; Samidha Joglekar on vocals; Joanna De Souza on manjira; Jessica Deutsche on violin; Steve Oda on sarod; Philippe Tasci on guitar; Reza Moghaddas on keyboard; and Joanna Mack on sitar.
Born in London in 1964, producer, keyboardist, guitarist and DJ Nitin Sawhney is one of England’s most creative producer/musicians. Sawhney has become a latter-day Renaissance man in the worlds of music, film, videogames, dance and theater.
He has remixed for Paul McCartney and Sting, written for Sinead O’Connor, and produced part of an album from Algerian rai star Cheb Mami. His own recordings are remarkable Anglo-Indian fusion creations.
Sawhney’s success has been unusual. After studying law at Liverpool University he joined his flatmate Sanjeev Bhaskar in creating a comedy double act, The Secret Asians, that spoofed British racial attitudes and undermined Indian stereotypes. It led to a BBC radio contract, and ultimately to the hit BBC TV comedy series, Goodness, Gracious Me.
Linking up with an old school friend, English acid-jazz keyboardist James Taylor, Sawhney joined his band, then quickly created his own group, The Jazztones. A collaboration with fellow Indian tabla/producer Talvin Singh, as The Tihai Trio, inevitably saw Sawhney linked with England’s emerging “Asian Underground” movement, a term Sawhney himself rejects.
On his album Prophesy, Sawhney utilizes the guest talents of world music icons Natacha Atlas, Trilok Gurtu, Cheb Mami and Mandawuy Yunupingu, amongst others, as well as a voice snippets from a Chicago cab driver, bluesman Terry Callier and Nelson Mandela. Carefully crafting the mix, Sawhney creates a smoothly seductive combination of pop, jazz, R&B, flamenco and sound collage.
Mr. L.S. Ramesh, a Post Graduate from the reputed Indian Institute of Technology-I.I.T. Madras has designed an innovative Carnatic Music chakra (Sri Saraswathi 72 Melakarta chakra) after more than six years of effort, to help anyone, children to elderly, without any music knowledge to very easily see, learn and play the Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic music, Western as well as Hindustani by using this unique chakra.
Most people feel Carnatic music and music in general, is beyond their grasp. I wanted to simplify the entire concept and show all the main ragas as a visual tool seeing which it becomes easy to identify with the entire genre of music. Carnatic music is the mother of all world music
Design of the Music Chakra
The 72 Melakarta (Main Ragas) have been neatly depicted in the form of a chakra (Wheel) wherein the ragas are clearly shown as ‘dots on an Octave of the keyboard’. Playing the dots on your keyboard will bring out the melody of the raga. Each dot represents a swara stana (Position of a note).
For Example, Mayamalavagaula-Melakarta Number 15 is depicted below:
Side one contains 36 Suddha Madhyama Ragas which are categorized under respective Chakra heads. For example Indu Chakra has 6 Melakarta Ragas Namely Kanakangi, Ratnangi ,Ganamurthi, Vanaspathi, Manavathi and Danarupi. Similarly other Chakras Netra, Agni ,Veda, Bana and Ruthu chakras with their respective Melakarta ragas are depicted with swara stanas as Dots.
This pattern of dots can be seen and played even by a novice to reveal the particular raga.
Side 2 has the remaining 36 Prathimadhyama Ragas depicted with chakra names Rishi, Vasu Brahma, Disi, Rudhra and Adithya with each chakra comprising 6 Melakarta Ragas each. For example Rishi chakra has the Melakartas from 37 to 42.
It is interesting to observe the following in the Music chakra:
1) As an example if we take Melakarta 29 (Dheerashankarabharanam) and add 36 to this, we get the corresponding Prathimadyama Melakarta raga (29+36=65) Mechakalyani which is very similar to Dheerashankarabharanam except for the MA note.
This helps students to quickly grasp the swara stanas and visualize the raga patterns.
2) The below table shows a comparative list of Carnatic, Hindustani and western scales
Use Of The Music Chakra To Help Children With Special Needs –Autism , Down’s Syndrome
Children with autism or Downs’s Syndrome are very good at identifying patterns and Music is a language they understand best.
Parents and teachers of special children can learn from this chakra and teach.
Research has shown how playing an instrument helps in brain development .When a person plays an instrument the left and right hemispheres of the brain get activated and the motor neurons become more active to help send or receive signals.
Mr. Ramesh conducts Lecture-demo and workshops for Schools, Colleges and corporates on “Music – What, How and Why To Play Music.”
Completely self taught, Johnny Kalsi has been playing the dhol drum for many years. His determination and persistence in learning to play came about when he could not find anyone who would give him any training. A little later, Johnny was lucky enough to get a small break in a local band and gained some basic experience. After three years, he was fortunate to join the most popular Bhangra band of that time called Alaap. With the correct guidance from the strong rhythm section in the band, Johnny incorporated modern dance steps to enhance his performance. Powerful big beats and dynamic rhythms became the focal point in his performance, a sound that soon began to dominate the Bhangra scene.
Up to this point, Johnny had never thought about training others, but as he profile grew, he began to receive inquiries as to whether or not he was teaching. Ultimately, this led to Johnny creating The Dhol Foundation (TDF), the largest dhol institute in Great Britain. The first Dhol Foundation class took place in 1991 in a community hall in Slough and within five weeks through word of mouth it had become a forty-strong student class. As demand grew, Johnny started another class in East and West London. The Dhol Foundation now runs a total of twelve classes throughout the UK and with nearly two hundred students already on the register the numbers are still growing. Going strong for nearly ten years, The Dhol Foundation is still the only institute in the country that teaches the dhol to a professional level.
After performing on the Bhangra circuit for nine years, Johnny ventured off to explore the European festival scene, which he had a taste with The Dhol Foundation. This resulted in Johnny exposing the dhol sound to a new album by Fun^Da^Mental. After touring with them for a little a year, he was quickly asked to join a session with pioneering world music fusion band TransGlobal Underground (TGU).
TransGlobal Underground was the next band to expose Johnny to the European club circuit. During an 18-month period, he concentrated on completing The Dhol Foundation’s first album. Gigs with TransGlobal Underground became more frequent, giving Johnny even more European exposure. In 1998, TransGlobal Underground released their hit album Rejoice Rejoice. A tour in the United States of America was scheduled for September and Johnny was on the priority list to cover the dates. Traveling around the east coast of the United States of America, finally ending up in Los Angeles. Two weeks later, they were back on the road with their biggest support tour to date with the legendary duo Page & Plant, formerly of Led Zeppelin. This tour was another six weeks of pure fun and getting on with a big band, big rig and big crew. After this tour, Johnny took time out to let the Asian media know about the support gig and the fact that The Dhol Foundation was involved in such a big outfit.
Another world music act, Afro Celt Sound System (ACSS) was Johnny’s dream band and he had a lot to offer them besides live dhol performances. While touring New York in 1997 with TransGlobal Underground and Afro Celt Sound System, he went on stage for a few numbers. This was his first taste of an interacting band vibing off each other. Next to come was Johnny’s participation in Afro Celt Sound System’s album Volume 2 Release. Together with Moussa Sissokho on talking drum and jembe, and James McNally on bodhran and whistle, Johnny contributed ideas and inspiration for tunes and heavy drum breaks.
Meanwhile, the Afro Celt Sound System album was due out in April 1999 and the rehearsals began thereafter. The master cut of the album was sent and Johnny began to go through the drum sections. Tour dates came flooding in and suddenly Johnny found himself torn between TransGlobal Underground and Afro Celt Sound System. This felt quite natural to the ‘Dholaholik.’ After sixteen years of touring and performing, his experience had reached an untouchable level within the international dhol community. Johnny found himself in the position of being a major front man for his art, with feature parts for dhol solos and broke into his live performances with Afro Celt Sound System.
In 2001, Johnny Kalsi released his first solo album, titled Big Drum Small World. He continues to collaborate with various artists and fusing his explosive mix of Punjabi music with other global cultures through The Dhol Foundation.
“Awesome” is an awesomely overused word these days, and applied to music with a repugnant frequency that waters down the word’s meaning. It is intended to be easily accessible in the toolboxes of writers and speakers as, more or less, “’superlative,’ but without the cravat.” It is frustrating to a reviewer to have “awesome” watered down when it comes to mind so readily and naturally regarding Baluji Shrivastav. His actual name is Dhanonday Shrivastav (Officer of the Order of the British Empire, OBE).
Multi-instrumentalists who are truly competent with instruments of different general families (string, percussion, vocals, etc.) are rare and awesome enough, multi-instrumentalists who are blind from babyhood are at the tip of the awesomeness iceberg and blind instrumentalists working and recording with a 14-piece jazz ensemble made up entirely of visually impaired musicians from all around the globe are … “awesunique” comes to mind, a sniglet invented to combine “awesome” and “unique” for the specific purpose of lauding Baluji Shrivastav with a term unlikely to be watered down through overuse.
This 14-song anthology spans over three decades of recordings and reflects the artist’s explorations of several genres and bandstand partnerships. Three of the 14, “Discovering London & Friendship,” “Walking Through The Streets” and “Mixing with the Crowd and Spirit of Joy,” comprise a fascinating description of the man’s move to London, taking in the city’s ambiance without the sense of sight. Each of these three cuts is overdue for use in a film soundtrack, as is another piece written by the artist’s daughter, “The Way I Feel.” Of the CD cuts, these four particularly disprove Rudyard Kipling’s truism, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” for East and West intermesh seamlessly here.
From start to finish, from folk-rooted Indian ragas to rich orchestral pieces, this anthology delights and rewards a general listenership. It is, in short, “awesunique.”
When music listeners and explorers gather formally to further their fascination, there are always two or three performers too intense for most ears. One hears whispers in the listening space as those who recognize the act about to begin caution those around them that this may be a time to visit the lobby or concession stand, to go outside to smoke or check messages. “Oh God, this guy will put you to sleep,” or “They’re saying something, but I don’t know what,” one hears from the row ahead or behind. These are the acts that are overwhelming for many.
The truly musically curious, however, remain in the concert space and pay all the more attention, both to the stage and to the other attendees who have remained in their seats. The acts that elicit this preliminary response in the audience are those who separate the fans from the ethnomusicologists. Meet Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja. His label’s press release explains that he “travel[s] to remote locations and records unusual local sounds from desert townships, coastal villages and the dawn chorus high up in trees.” On this CD, these field recordings “from the geographical triangle between India, the Middle East and the Balkans” are used to introduce and provide audio beds for some of the cuts, thus merging the artist’s fascination with natural sounds and his musicianship.
He works with a number of renowned players of instruments typifying tour stops along the way from the Balkans through the Middle East to India and back, with expressive results. This is not a consistent album to be played as background music at a cocktail party or curry house, but more akin to a visit to a good art gallery where a broad spectrum of visual artists is on display.
“Sounds of the East Music from The Balkans, India & The Middle East” is a beautiful collection for collectors.
The annual Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), held every January in Rajasthan, is widely regarded as one of India’s best literary events, and indeed one of the world’s largest free events of its kind (see my compilation of 75 Inspiring Quotes from the 2017 edition). It’s not just the established and emerging authors that are a popular draw, but also the celebration of art and music that have become major attractions at the five-day event.
The music lineup at the 10th edition of the festival featured a range of artistes at three locations: the festival venue Diggi Palace in the mornings, an evening heritage showcase at Amber Fort, and night-time performances in the lawns of Hotel Clarks Amer.
The first musical performance was by the Shillong Chamber Choir from Northeast India. The choir covers everything from Indian cinema to opera. “It’s not music that is the difficult part. It is sticking together that takes effort,” explained lead singer William Richmond Basaiawmoit in an interview.
The evening performances kicked off with a high-energy set by Rajasthan Josh, a folk band performing a wide range of traditions of the north-western region of India. Featured instruments included the morchang, bhapang, khartaal, double flute, and nagada, performed in traditional bhajans as well as mystic Sufi Rajasthani compositions. The colorful folk dances on the superbly-designed stage also drew loud applause.
The second band to take the outdoor stage on the chilly night was Kabir Café, who play a genre called Kabir Rock, derived from the teachings and music of the 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir. The lineup includes Neeraj Arya (vocals, guitar), Mukund Ramaswamy (violin), Viren Solanki (percussion) and Raman Iyer (mandolin). The messages of devotion, tolerance and inner faith, set to contemporary rhythms, resonated well with the audience at the literature festival.
The morning of Day Two kicked off with a performance at the lit-fest venue by Swanand Kirkire (Hindi singer and lyricist) and Ankur Tewari (Bollywood lyricist and composer). The evening highlight at the scenic Amber Fort was sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The sarod has been derived by modifying the ancient folk instrument of Iran, rabab. Khan also has a wide range of collaborations with Western classical musicians, and his legacy carries on with his two sons, Amaan and Ayaan, themselves accomplished sarod artistes.
The night-time performances kicked off with Bombay Bassment, with the sounds of hip-hop, reggae, funk, and drum & bass. The members include drummer Levin Mendes and bassist Ruell Barretto, along with Kenyan rapper Robert Omulo (aka Bobkat) and Chandrashekhar Kunder aka Major C, a DJ. Their first album was released in 2014, and the band has performed across India as well as at the Glastonbury Festival and the Reunion Kaloobang Festival.
The final act on Friday night was Inna Modja, a singer-songwriter from Mali. Her hit songs include ‘Mister H’, ‘French Cancan’ and ‘La Fille du Lido.’ The performance blended Motown soul, Sahel desert blues, Mandinka guitars, a Fula flute, and kora.
The Saturday morning vocal performance featured Padmini Rao, exponent of the Kirana Gharana form of North Indian classical music. Rao is a senior disciple of renowned singer Dr. Prabha Atre, and also studied under the guidance of the late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Khan Dagar.
The evening show kicked off with the melodic combination of Beth Orton and Sam Amidon.
Beth Orton is a singer-songwriter from the UK who has released six acclaimed albums, including Kidsticks. Sam Amidon is a singer/banjoist/guitarist from Vermont, with five albums to his credit (the latest is Lily-O). To the audience’s delight, folk band Rajasthan Josh also joined them for a memorable collaboration at the end, and Western folk harmonics smoothly blended with Rajasthani folk and dance to a rousing crescendo.
Top Indian blues band Soulmate wrapped up the Saturday night showcase, with a sizzling set of vocals and guitar. The quartet was formed in Shillong in 2003 by guitarist Rudy Wallang and vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar, along with Leon Wallang (bass) and Vincent Tariang (drums). Tipriti drew rousing applause for her songs ‘Voodoo Woman’ and especially ‘Keep your hands off me,’ in protest against incidents of women being assaulted by men.
Sunday morning kicked off with vocalist Devashish Dey, a classical singer who specializes in thumri, dadra, tappa, chaiti and kazri styles. He has performed widely across India and the UK and released many albums.
The final night-time showcase began with Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, whose award-winning albums include At Swim, Sea Sew and Passenger. The audience cheered along for her outstanding and haunting harmonies. She also showed her sense of humor and compassion by dedicating a song to the safety of drivers in India’s notorious traffic-choked streets (‘don’t be in a hurry, don’t be crushed by a lorry’).
A mesmerizing band then took the stage: Aga Khan All Stars, with a range of talented instrumentalists from Afghanistan, China, Italy and Syria. The collective is a project of the Aga Khan Music Initiative, an inter-regional music and arts education program. The music evoked the culture along the historic Silk Route from Asia to Europe. Salar Nader, Homayoun Sakhi. Wu Man, Feras Charestan, Basel Rajoub, and Andrea Piccioni drew loud applause for their outstanding solos and duets on pipa, tabla, saxophone, kanun and tamburello.
The perfect finale was the colorful and energetic Raghu Dixit Project, one of the most popular contemporary folk-fusion bands in India. Their infectious and happy tunes were sung in Kannada and Hindi, with Raghu Dixit on vocals, Gaurav Vaz on bass, Sanjay Kumar on guitar, H.N. Bhaskar on violin, and Wilfred D’moz on drums. They performed hits from their albums including ‘Jag Changa,’ and ended with the superb ‘Har Saans Mein.’
Raghu engaged with the audience throughout, urging them to get up and dance rather than ‘sit down and look at the bums of the people dancing in front of you!’ The band has performed extensively at festivals across Asia, Europe and Australia, and their youthfulness and creativity will ensure that they continue to headline a range of cultural events.
The final musical performance at the Jaipur LitFest was on Monday morning, titled ‘East Meets Middle East.’ It featured a superb blend of music from the Middle East and South Asia, with Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) and Abhisek Lahiri (sarod) from Kolkata collaborating with Ronnie Malley (oud) and George Lawler (percussion). Palestinian Ronnie Malley anchored the set, and the group truly transcended boundaries as they paired off in a range of scintillating duets.
I look forward to interviewing the artistes in more detail and reviewing their albums, and will be sure to check out the 11th edition of the Jaipur LitFest next year, with its unbeatable combination of literature and music!
The Baul are mystic minstrels, traditional poets, singers, and storytellers, from Bengal (eastern India and Bangladesh). With their flowing saffron robes, long jet black hair, rolling eyes and swaying hips, they sing in their high keening voices to the frenzied accompaniment of their traditional instruments.
The Baul movement, at its peak in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has now regained popularity among the rural population of Bangladesh. Their music and way of life have influenced a large segment of Bengali culture, and particularly the compositions of Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Bauls live either near a village or travel from place to place and earn their living from singing to the accompaniment of the ektara, the lute dotara, a simple one-stringed instrument, and a drum called dubki. Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vasinavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them.
Bauls neither identify with any organized religion nor with the caste system, special deities, temples or sacred places. Their emphasis lies on the importance of a person’s physical body as the place where God resides. Bauls are admired for this freedom from convention as well as their music and poetry. Baul poetry, music, song and dance are devoted to finding humankind’s relationship to God, and to achieving spiritual liberation. Their devotional songs can be traced back to the fifteenth century when they first appeared in Bengali literature.
Baul music represents a particular type of folk song, carrying influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song. Songs are also used by the spiritual leader to instruct disciples in Baul philosophy, and are transmitted orally. The language of the songs is continuously modernized thus endowing it with contemporary relevance.
The preservation of the Baul songs and the general context in which they are performed depend mainly on the social and economic situation of their practitioners, the Bauls, who have always been a relatively marginalized group. Moreover, their situation has worsened in recent decades due to the general impoverishment of rural Bangladesh.
Part of the East Meets West Music label’s Utsav! series celebrating the life and music of sitar master Ravi Shankar through the works of students, collaborators and fellow musicians, composer and percussionist Bickram Ghosh conjures up a lush collection of tracks entitled Maya.
After having played with the revered master Mr. Shankar for more than ten years, appearing on the Grammy winning Full Circle, collaborating with Sonu Nigam on The Music Room, collaborating with Anoushka Shankar and Rahul Sharma on the Decade of Great Fusion 2000-2009 and releasing his own recordings Drum Invasion, Electro Classical, Beyond Rhythmscape and Gumshuda, Mr. Ghosh is ever the revering devotee and disciple of Mr. Shankar.
One needs to look no further than Mr. Ghosh’s own words on Maya’s cover, “I am constantly inspired by the evocativeness of Raviji’s compositions – the subtle rhythmic interplays, the presentation of both East and West, his mind-bending melodic inventions and improvisations. He is a true star of world music and his body of work is a never-ending gift.”
While imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, Maya is anything but imitation or mere flattery. Chocked full of sitar, cello, oboe, santoor, violin and keyboard programming, as well as Mr. Ghosh’s own mastery of the tabla, udu and cajón.
Maya is a sleek listen into a hypnotic blend where the music of the East rises up to embrace the music of the West. Threaded throughout with vocals and plummy rhythms, tracks like opening track “Maya Sutra” thrum with the goodness of an easy grace.
Equally rich are tracks like the cello laced “Devotee” with vocalist Uljaini Mukherjee, the percussively rich “Mohana,” the darkly lush “The Journey to the Light” and “We Were Children” replete with mandolin, oboe, English horn, keyboard programming and Mr. Ghosh on udu, kahon, kanjeera and tabla.
Closing track “Maya’s Allure” with saxophone, mridangam, flute, viola, electric violin, xylophone, udu, tabla, handsonic, shakers and cajon is just as delightful in this jazzy collaboration.
Mr. Ghosh has cast a delightful spell with Maya. Sophisticated and fresh, Maya conjures lush spell after lush spell and so is a wonderful tribute to the maestro and ultimate musical conjurer Ravi Shankar.