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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej recently organized and performed at The RoundGlass Samsara Festival in Bangalore, focused on environmental sustainability and nature conservation. He joins in this exclusive interview from his home in Bangalore.
As part of the multi-disciplinary festival, film screenings and art exhibitions were held at the Sublime Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art, showcasing art about nature. A conference was held on environmental conservation, with speakers such as President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who highlighted the disastrous climate change effects in the Pacific islands.
The Samsara Concert featured other performers as well, such as Darlene Koldenhoven and Wouter Kellerman (Grammy Award winners), Lonnie Park (Grammy nominee), Hai Phuong (virtuoso on the Vietnamese zither, dan tranh), Venugopal (tabla maestro), Raveolution String Section, Suma Sudhindra (veena exponent) and B. Jayashree (theatre actor and singer).
Ricky has won a range of awards and distinctions such as the United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist Award, Producer of the Year at the South African Music Awards, Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards (New Orleans), Centre for Conscious Creativity ‘FutureVision’ Award (Los Angeles), Mirchi Music Awards (India), as well as ‘Pride of Karnataka’ and ‘Youth Icon of India.’
His earlier albums include The Shanti Orchestra and Shanti Samsara, as well as the benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel (aimed at humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza). The album Winds of Samsara won a Grammy in 2015; it was a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Shanti Samsara was launched at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Tracks from Shanti Samsara were performed at the Bangalore festival, which was held at the government legislative centre Vidhana Soudha. In this interview, Ricky shares his visions and insights into the connections between music, artistic collaboration, nature, spirituality and global environmental consciousness.
How do you view the connection between music and nature?
There is a deep relationship between music and nature. Music began as the sounds of nature, and early instruments were derived from nature. Only later did academic, professional, mass market and electronic elements come in.
I strongly believe that all artists have an obligation to use their work to make this world a better place. The threat to our environment is progressively getting worse. Musicians play an important role in creating conversations about our world. It is important for musicians and artists today to be on the right side of history. Art can be used to celebrate bio-diversity, and also showcase ecological impacts.
What was it like to perform at the Vidhana Soundha?
It is one thing to play at concert venues and hotels, but another thing altogether to perform right where policymakers are. That is why our recent Bangalore concert was held at the Vidhana Soudha, so that government officials could be exposed to the important messages about conservation right at their workplace.
I have always dreamed of performing at this venue and have known it right from my childhood. We began planning this festival way back in December last year.
I performed twice at the United Nations General Assembly. My work has been encouraged by India’s prime minister, and I have performed for heads of state in the audience. Music and art can go beyond speeches and pamphlets, and evoke messages at a deeper level. Musicians have the gift of art and communication.
Who are some of the music influences in your life?
My influences include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, AR Rahman, Wouter Kellerman, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others.
How is technology transforming your work these days?
On the one hand, technology has helped with reducing costs of production of music. Digital technology has helped promote my music and the movement for conservation. The rapid growth of technology also means you have to keep learning on the job.
While consumers benefit from getting access to lots of music, they also need to work hard at filtering what’s out there and finding what appeals to them. Many consumers are just content with getting music ‘pushed’ at them. Discovery gives thrill but takes work. Curators play an important role here.
What do you when you take a holiday from your hectic music career?
I have not had a holiday in over 11 years! What would I do on a holiday – nothing? I can’t imagine that; music is my everything, and I am devoted to conservation. Even when I am not making music, I am listening to new music.
Even during my travels I have not done typical ‘touristy’ things. I go to New York city six times a year but have yet to see the Statue of Liberty!
What kinds of collaboration are needed to promote environmental awareness?
Everything is inter-connected. The Amazon jungles are the lungs of the world, generating 20% of our oxygen. Global warming is already affecting the Pacific Islands with rising water levels, many of those countries stand no chance unless drastic action is taken today.
Society needs more spiritual balance. There should be more commitment to conserve nature, beyond mere compliance with regulations. This begins with encouraging children to think positively about nature. Scientific advice is also needed here.
That is why the Samsara Festival has been multi-disciplinary. We need more inter-disciplinary dialogue – between legislators, scientists, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists, innovators, musicians, thought leaders, industry leaders, media, change-makers and youth.
What role can India play in the environmental movement?
India can play an important role in conservation. It is a country that can make the most impact, since it is still in growth stage and can choose a sustainable path of development. The West is realizing that centuries of mis-directed development have extracted a huge toll on the environment, we need to have more environmental consciousness across the world now.
There are 350 million people in India who are entering the economic development stages, as much as the whole US population. There has to be a focus on renewable energy. India is in the Top Three countries in terms of coal reserves, but getting energy by burning coal has severe consequences.
India has an old civilization, and rich biodiversity in terms of plant and animal life. We pray to trees and animals, our gods are the natural elements. We can either screw it all up – or preserve it and lead the world with our example. We have the power to do the right thing. India needs to take leadership in environmental consciousness and be at the forefront of nature conservation.
What is your message to musicians and our audience out there?
Do what you can do conserve nature and increase environmental consciousness within you and around you. Do whatever you can within your limitations, be realistic.
There is no need to shame or shock people to change their attitude and behavior towards the environment; people may shy away from gory images of dead animals. Instead, it can be done through inspiration, creativity and positive reinforcement.
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion