Multi-coloured soul: Susheela Raman

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Queen Between, Susheela Raman’s 2014 album, is grownup music by an artist of exceptional quality. When I say ‘grownup’ I mean, mature, substantial, packed with musical nutrition, polished and accomplished. I do not mean serious, ponderous or boring.

 

Raman, of Indian Tamil (Thanjavur) origin, was born in the UK and grew up in Sydney where she began exploring her gift in a number of ‘funk/rocknroll’ bands. In 2001 her debut album Salt Rain (highly recommended) caught the attention of the British and European progressive music scene, garnering her a shortlisting for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Award.

 

In Queen Between on which she jams with and is supported by Indian/Pakistani musicians as well as Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s long time drummer), Raman takes us on a journey into her multi-coloured soul.

 

Sharabi, opens the album with a nod to the sharabi qawwali popularized in the late 70s by Pakistan’s giant king of qawwali Aziz Mian. Sharab literally means, wine/liquor, hence sharabi is generally a pharase used for a drunk. But in the context of qawwali there is always the hidden implication of spiritual intoxification and it is this ecstatic feel that infuses Sharabi.

 

The qawwali theme is woven throughout the album, flowering up again in the beautiful Sajana (Beloved) and the killer final track Taboo. The former settles into the familiar male voiced clapping/chorus on top of which Raman sings of anguish, pain and love sounding like a cross between PJ Harvey and a whirling dervish. The atmosphere is explosive and intense: harmonium, men chanting ‘sajana’ over and over, and guitars acoustic and electric picking and stabbing out their riffs.

 

Taboo which closes the album is a tour de force; a mythic, tale of soul-searching and mortal caution. One thinks immediately of Dylan’s epic story songs like Idiot Wind or Isis. But then we are pushed into some desert shrine in the faraway Tharparkar Desert where ecstatic, frenzied qawwals invoke god and all the saints, long into the night. The drama ultimately subsides and gives way to the very sounds of the Universe which carry, sparkle and whisper the majestic piece to its subdued end.

 

Karunei, sung in Tamil, is another gem. Acoustic guitar and traditional Indian mouth harp (morchang) form an electric nest for Raman’s stunning, resonant, slithering and orgasmic voice to do its dance.

 

The remaining songs, Corn Maiden, Riverside, North Star and the title track, are showcases of her rock n roll side. These vary in quality with Corn Maiden being the best of the lot. It moves like a freight train and Raman sings with a Coltrane like intensity.

 

The moods, rhythms and atmospheres of this album are several but the whole thing hangs together beautifully thanks to Raman’s spectacular voice and the qawwali.

 

I have no doubt this album will rank among your favourite after just a couple of listens. So much meat on this bone.

Queen Between

 

Track Listing:

01 Sharabi

02 Corn Maiden

03 Riverside

04 Sajana

05 North Star

06 Queen Between

07 Karunei

08 Taboo

SRQB

Australia ka raj: The Bombay Royale

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Australia is famous for many things including being home to some world-class tribute bands.  Bjorn Again (ABBA) and The Australian Pink Floyd Experience (Pink Floyd) both have enormous fan bases and critical support around the world. The most recent addition to the tribe is The Bombay Royale which pays musical homage to the Golden Age of Hindi cinema when the likes of R.D Burman, Laxmikant Pyarelal and Bappi Lahiri ruled the studios and manned the sound boards.

 

The Bombay Royale

The Bombay Royale

The Bombay Royale is a Melbourne-based but very globe-trotting band fronted by two Indian diaspora-wale Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya who along with their numerous band mates are directed by the ‘Skipper’ Andy Williamson, on saxophone.  They’ve created quite a fun lively stir in the clubs around the country and recently played Glastonbury as well as other dates in the UK. In a very multi-cultural country it seems almost unremarkable that such a unit—the world’s first Bollywood Tribute Big Band—should emerge.  But as is the case with Hindi cinema music, at its best, it is always noteworthy and exciting, and so is Bombay Royale. The real question is not, how did such a band come together, but where have you been all my life?

 

Their only album today is under the big spotlight tonight. Its called You Me Bullets Love which leaves no doubt that they are about having fun.  Of the 10 tracks, eight are originals.  The band, made up of the above mentioned vocalists, who sing in Hindi as well as Bengali and English, draws on a full complement of brass instruments, including trumpets, trombones and saxes as well as a mand and a half of various stringed instruments and percussive drums.

 

The brew that flows from their magical connection is spectacularly on-the-mark.  They are able to capture that wide screen bombast that opens and closes the great flicks of the 60s and 70s—fast moving, gay and as sharp as the point on Shammi Kapoor’s tie. The title track is a clear high point which manages not only to get the sound right but also the feel. The rapid fire back flirty chorus (hum tum, tum, mein, hum, tum) is a perfect slice of vintage Bombay.

 

The Perfect Plan, sung in English, has more in common with a mid-sixties Hollywood thriller than anything that came out of India but fits right into the vatavaram (atmosphere) of the album.  The closing number Phone Baje Na, is a moody stunner.  Just the right mix of tribute and original masala to be worthy of many repeated listens.

To my mind the Everest of this collection is a jaw dropping cover of Sote Sote Adhi Raat. Lifted from the Qurbani era (1980) when ‘disco’ numbers were just getting an airing in films, SSAR, replicates the music to a tee, down to the little electronic bursts that in those early films signalled the arrival of a hat lady on the dance floor.

The other cover, the internationally renowned and beloved rocker Jan Pechaan Ho originally heard on the 1965 superhit film Gumnaam, sadly doesn’t deliver.  Bhattacharya gives it a real go but he just does not possess the vocal chords of Mohammad Rafi whose singing led the raucous clatter of the band in the original. In this version Bhattacharya seems to be drowning and holding on for dear life.  It is a brave but ultimately failed attempt to try to recreate a stone classic. Just click here to hear and watch the fabulous original.

Overall, the Bombay Royale exceeds expectations. The band delivers not just the sound, affection, feel and style of the original music but like all successful tribute bands transforms it and develops into something fresh and new.

Goli maro yaar!

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Track Listing:

01 Monkey Fight Snake

02 You Me Bullets Love

03 Jaan Pehechan Ho

04 Sote Sote Adhi Raat

05 The Perfect Plan

06 Bobbywood

07 Mahindra Death Ride

08 Oh Sajna

09 Dacoit’s Choice

10 Phone Baje Na

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