All posts by Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.

The Diverse Background of Jai Uttal


Jai Uttal – Spirit Room: A Retrospective

Jai Uttal – Spirit Room: A Retrospective (Free Spirit/Triloka, 2000)

Jai Uttal is a veteran musician and singer-songwriter from New York, and this album reflects his diverse background in blues, R&B, and later on Baul and Indian classical (studying sarod under Ustad Ali Akbar Khan).

The instrumentation is superb, and well showcased on the 12 tracks of this 10-year retrospective. Our picks include the dreamy piece Corner, the finger-snapping Footprints, reggae-influenced Hara Shiva Shankara, rock-driven Malkouns, jazzy devotional piece Govinda, and Petition to Ram. Check out this prolific artist’s other albums like Dial M for Mantra, Shiva Station, Pranayama, Music for Yoga, Yoga Chant and Mondo Rama.

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The New Pulse of World Fusion

ShapeShifters – The New Pulse of World Fusion

ShapeShifters – The New Pulse of World Fusion (WorldWide Records/Soundings of the Planet, 2000)

This is a largely instrumental album of world fusion music, featuring multi-instrumentalist Alain Eskinasi (of Brainscapes) on bass and guitar, Richard Hardy on wind instruments, and husband-wife team Aziz Paige on sitar and guitar and Khabira Paige on tanpura.

The album is smooth and well-textured, and the 11 tracks are a jazzy but mellow listen. We would recommend the tracks Equinox (upbeat, with fine sitar texture) and the joyful Pipers of Beltane. In sum, the album delivers what it promises: healing and ecstatic music in an East-West blend.

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Secrets of Seduction

Enigmatic Obsession – Secrets of Seduction

Enigmatic Obsession – Secrets of Seduction (FreeSpirit, 2008)

Listeners familiar with Enigma’s fusion of Gregorian chants and electronica will also appreciate this album by Enigmatic Obsession. The band features Jens Gad from Enigma (which also included Michael Cretu).

The 13 tracks of this album will appeal to fans of chillout and ambient music. The bonus track ‘Lifesign’ is superb, and we also recommend The Delta of The Red River, and Northern Horizon. Organs, guitar, flute, piano and basslines create a smooth foundation, blended with trademark soft whisperings in Spanish.

On headphones or turned up full blast on a good stereo, this is a perfect album for a late evening chill.

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Feng Shui: The Eightfold Path

Chinmaya Dunster – Feng Shui: The Eightfold Path

Chinmaya Dunster – Feng Shui: The Eightfold Path (Times Music/New Earth Records, 2000)

Chinmaya Dunster was born in England in 1954, and has studied Western and Indian classical music extensively, particularly guitar and sarod. Dunster was also part of the fusion band Terra Incognita, with Prem Joshua. He later founded the Celtic Ragas Band.

Devotees of meditation, yoga and Buddhism would love the music and the superb liner notes on this CD, which describe the associated colour, image, element, direction, and emotional quality of each of the eight tracks.

The album also features Don Lax on violin, Sambodhi Prem on guitar, John Zagando on flute, and Alistair Couper on drums. In sum, this is a good fusion of East and West, though brief at barley 45 minutes in length.

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Planet Buzz

Various Artists – Planet Buzz

Various Artists – Planet Buzz (Narada/EMI, 2004)

This is an excellent compilation of world music, put together by Global Rhythm Magazine. Handpicked by Alecia Cohen, founder and publisher of Globalrhythm.net, each of the 11 tracks is superb.

Latin sound is well represented with tracks like Juana Molina’s Quien and Estrella Morente’s At the top of Cerro de Palomares. DJ Cheb I Sabbah has an unbelievable remix of a Tamil track called Raja Vedalu. And of course the album includes the superhit Home Cooking, featuring veteran drummer Tony Allen who was part of the legendary Afrobeat band headed by Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.

In sum, a must for world music fans, and a terrific introduction to this genre.

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Niladri Kumar Pushes the frontiers of Indian classical music

Niladri Kumar – Sitar Gaze

Niladri Kumar – Sitar Gaze (Times Music, 2005)

Pushing the frontiers of Indian classical music, this is an excellent album featuring sitar virtuoso Niladri Kumar, son of sitar maestro Pandit Kartick Kumar. All eight tracks are beautiful; our picks include the title track, as well as two others called Lovers Dream and Sensuous.

Rounding off the full and rich sitar sound are Tejendra Narayan Majumdar on sarod, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Ankur Chatterjee on guitar, Vijay Prakash on vocals and Madhav Pawar on Pakhawaj. The percussion work is slick and the album is very well produced. It would also make a great gift, so get an extra copy or two when you buy your own.

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‘It is important to build an ecosystem for cross-cultural music collaboration’ – interview with Dr. L. Subramaniam, Ambi and Bindu Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam

 

In recent interviews arranged over a week, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. L. Subramaniam (legendary violinist in Indian classical and Western styles), his son Ambi Subramaniam (also an accomplished violinist) and daughter Bindu Subramaniam (vocalist in Indian and soft rock styles).

Their annual performances at the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in Bangalore are a huge draw (see my earlier writeups from 2014 and 2012). They also teach Indian classical and Western music at SaPa (Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts).

Fusion: India and the world

Early cultural collaborations between India and the West included Uday Shankar (who also included dance). “India has two classical music systems – Hindustani and Carnatic,” says Dr. Subramaniam. He started collaboration with Western, African, Australian and East Asian musicians from the 1970s onwards.

Interpretation of music from different cultures creates harmony and peace,” he said. “Music is an expression of emotion, and successful collaboration blends knowledge with respect,” he explained.

As one of his memorable collaborations, he cites ‘Sangeet Sangam,’ performed along with vocalist Pandit Jasraj. It consists of only the aalap section and features no percussion.

 

Dr. L. Subramaniam

 

Dr. Subramaniam’s most recent project is Bharat Symphony, composed to celebrate 70 years of India’s Independence. It premiered at the Chicago World Music Festival, and was performed with the London Symphony Orchestra last month.

The movements reflect four major periods of Indian heritage: the prehistoric Vedic period, Mughal period, British colonial era, and post-Independence period,” he explained. The performances also featured Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam (vocals), Dhulipala Srirama Murthy (mridangam), and Tanmoy Bose (tabla).

Dr. Subramaniam’s son Ambi and daughter Bindu were of course exposed to musical collaborations right from their childhood days; they recalled seeing musicians like Herbie Hancock in their living room. “Fusion is normal,” they joked.

They explained how jazz lends itself well to collaboration with Indian classical music, thanks to the commonality of improvisation and call-and-response interaction. All three musicians have collaborated with Western folk musicians as well, from Scandinavian countries like Norway.

 

Ambi Subramaniam

 

Ambi has also collaborated with gypsy musicians on guitar, violin and cimbalon, fondly recalling some amazing spontaneous jam sessions while on tour in Europe. Vocalist Bindu cites as influences Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Al Jareau.

The group SubraMania, formed by Ambi and Bindu, released its first single and music video ‘Days in the Sun’ in 2015. The single is dedicated to the late great keyboardist George Duke, with whom they had earlier collaborated.

 

Technology and travel

Digital media have rapidly disrupted the music industry. “CD sales are not the benchmark for a band’s success anymore,” according to Ambi and Bindu. The Internet, however, is great for promoting music and coordinating activities around concerts.

Streaming video and audio have led to music consumption “on tap.” This applies to NetFlix as well as the Indian music app Twaang. For example, SubraMania’s debut album, ‘You Were There,’ is available on Twaang. All instructional audio content of SaPa is accessible for free on Twaang. SaPa’s initiatives reach over 12,000 students between 3-16 years old across South India.

The musicians travel around the world for recordings and collaborations. “I can compose music on the plane also,” says Bindu. “The drone sound of the engine is like a tanpura,” she jokes.

 

Ambi and Bindu with their band SubraMania

 

The future of music

The future of music is in education and collaboration, according to Ambi and Bindu, who both teach at the SaPa school. “It is important to build a good ecosystem which immerses young students in different musical traditions,” they urge.

The school gives scholarships to talented but needy students. Ambi and Bindu also urge music venues to give discounted tickets and passes for students. Musicians around the world have great respect for Indian music, all three musicians observe across generations.

While some classical musicians may look down on other forms of music, Ambi and Bindu urge listeners and performers not too be too judgemental about other genres, and appreciate how they connect to different kinds of audience. “Don’t get trapped in narrow-minded categories,” they advise.

Chase good music and focus on outstanding performances – don’t just chase social media views,” Ambi and Bindu joke. Music represents a path of growth for musicians and for society, and it is truly blessed to become a musician, Ambi and Bindu sign off. 

About the artists:

Dr. L. Subramaniam is a leading exponent of Indian classical and fusion violin, and has performed and recorded South Indian classical music as well as Western classical. His international collaborations have included Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, and Billy Cobham.

 

 

 

Ambi Subramaniam gave his first violin performance at the tender age of seven; he has played violin in Western and Indian styles along with Larry Coryell, Ernie Watts, Corky Siegel and Shankar Mahadevan. He has performed along with orchestras in France, South Africa and Austria.

 

 

 

Bindu Subramaniam wrote her first song at seven and has been performing since age twelve. She blends soft rock and jazz elements with traditional Indian music. Bindu has performed alongside artists like Al Jarreau, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Hariharan, and Remo Fernandes.

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Forest of the Saints

Goa Gil – Forest of the Saints

Goa Gil – Forest of the Saints (EMI)

Goa Gil is a San Francisco musician, DJ and party organiser now based in Goa. He is one of the founders of the Goa trance and psytrance movement in electronic dance music. His influences include the hippie movement, acid rock and early electronic music such as Kraftwerk.

His staple mix of outdoor electronic dance parties with Eastern mystical and spiritual overtones have become legend in the trance circles. Gil’s music attempts to “redefine the ancient tribal ritual for the 21st century”.

The 11 tracks of this album span over 70 minutes, and will put you right in the heart of the throbbing pulse of electronic trance.

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Desert Visions

Prem Joshua – Desert Visions

Prem Joshua – Desert Visions (New Earth Records/Music Today, 1995)

This CD showcases New Age guru Prem Joshua’s versatile multi-instrumental skills. The lineup also includes Manish Vyas (vocals), Jo Shiro Shunyam (guitar), Rishi Viote (percussion) and Chintan Relenberg (bass).

A fine mid-tempo blend of Indian ragas and smooth jazz, the 10 tracks make for a nice mellow and positive mood. The tracks are largely instrumental, and we would recommend the opening track Raja’s Ride and the percussion piece Jungle.

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Flamenco Romantico

Rafa El Tachuela – Flamenco Romantico

Rafa El Tachuela – Flamenco Romantico (ARC Music, 2006)

After his fruitful collaboration with master Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy on the best selling album Flamenco Arabe, flamenco guitar virtuoso Rafa El Tachuela returns with a masterpiece of work, a collection of romantic and beautiful compositions in Flamenco Romantico.

The moods evoked on the 12 instrumental tracks range from harmony and longing to quarrels and beauty. Born in Berlin, Rafa El Tachuela began teaching himself flamenco guitar at the age of thirteen.
He has toured through Europe as a soloist. Our picks on this album include the upbeat Con Temperamento and the Arabic-tinged Juntos en la Inspiracion.

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