Multi-coloured soul: Susheela Raman

susheela_raman

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

Sunday Best

old womn 49

 

For several years now I have been privileged to write a weekly column for India’s premier online newspaper, Scroll.in. The column is called Sunday Sounds. I consider myself privileged for a couple of reasons:

  • I have been given a very wide and liberal brief. Essentially, I can write and share music of any genre, type, style or artist so long as it has some connection with South Asia.
  • As I’ve prepared for each week’s column I find myself researching and learning and discovering ever more about the incredible diversity and abundance of South Asian musical talent.
  • As a result of the column I’ve created a small following of fans many of whom are connected with the arts and culture communities of South Asia. In turn and through their good graces I’ve been able to begin other creative projects, such as writing books.

So to all the people at Scroll.in, especially its incredible editor Naresh Fernandes I say thank you.

There have been the more than 100 editions of Sunday Sounds thus far. To share my gratitude and joy I have put a small collection of just 25 tracks in a double ‘disc’ which I hope you will enjoy. If you’re already a fan of Sunday Sounds, you can look forward to more columns and fascinating music. If you’re a newbie, I hope you’ll log in to Scroll every Sunday and enjoy the stupendous and endlessly pleasing world of South Asian sangeet/musiqui.

This is diverse collection and reflects the Sunday Sounds mandate perfectly. You’ll discover South Indian rock fusion and fresh Pakistani qawwali. You’ll also find some English pop songs from the Beatles and Sam Roberts. Of course, there is quite a bit of South Asian folk music (one of my favourite genres), some ragas (both traditional and funked-up) and contributions from the South Asian diaspora in South and North America. In other words, quite a bit to keep a smile on your face for several hours!

Sunday sounds v1

Track Listing (pt. 1)

01 Panivizhum Malarvanam [Karthik and Bennet and Band]

02 Limbo Jazz [Wynton Marsalis and Sachal Ensemble]

03 Akhan cham cham wassiyan [Tina Sani]

04 NSA vs USA [Shahid Buttar]

05 Mustt Mustt [Brookly Qawwali Party]

06 Love, Love, Love [Shaukat Ali].

07 Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child/ Mai Ni [Madeleine Peyroux and Sachal Ensemble]

08 Hai Sharmaon Kis Kis Ko Bataon [Tabla for Two]

09 People Power in the Disco Hour [Clinton]

10 Jokerman [Divana]

11 Light My Fire [Ananda Shankar]

12 Dear Prudence [The Beatles]

 

V1

Track Listing (pt.2)

13 Sialkot [Sunny Jain Collective]

14 Idhar Zindagi ka Janaaza Uthega [Attaluah Khan Niazi]

15 Taj Mahal [Sam Roberts]

16 Raag Megh [Zohaib Hassan Khan]

17 Charkha [Ustad Ameer Ali Khan]

18 Blues For Yusef [Lionel Pillay]

19 Soul Raga [Abbas Mehrpouya]

20 Api Sanasille [Wayo]

21 Raat ke sapna (Raatein Sapna) [Ramdew Chaitoe]

22 Hippie Hindustani [Bonnie Remedios]

23 Hello madam disco [Nahid Akhtar]

24 Sri Jimi [Prasanna]

25 Mere Ghar Aaja [Blind Boy Raju]

V2

Sirens of Carnatica: Ranjani and Gayatri

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I wish to thank long time supporter of this blog Mr Barron B, for introducing me to tonight’s selection!

The divas of Carnatic music, Ranjani and Gayatri, grew up in the midst of many languages, and absorbed much of it into their music. They tell DEEPA GANESH that while music can exist without lyric, it however heightens the experience of it. {Article from The Hindu}

Track Listing:

Disc 1:

1-01 Ento Prema (Varnam) – Surutti – Adi

1-02 Ni bhajana gaana – Nayaki – Adi

1-03 Intakannananda – Bilahari – Rupakam

1-04 Kamakshi (Swarajati) – Bhairavi – Misra Chapu

here

Disc 2:

2-01 Kaava Vaa – Varali – Adi

2-02 Sri Guruguha – Devakriya – Rupakam

2-03 Ragam Tanam Pallavi – Kalyani – Khanda Triputa

2-04 Virutam – Kandaralankaram – Kandaranubhuti – Arunagirinathar

2-05 Abhang – Maruva Behag – Adi

here

Sunday Sounds: a new weekly feature

Dear readers and followers and friends,

I have mentioned from time to time that I write a weekly column on South Asian music for India’s award winning online newspaper Scroll.in. I’ve been doing this for over a year now and have developed a bit of a following, including among others Salman Rushdie and A.R. Rahman.

As the format is different from this blog, and always includes several videos, I’ve decided to post the article here on this blog every week as well.  So to get the ball rolling, here is this week’s feature. It is an interview with Indian jazz/rock/Carnatic guitarist Prasanna.

prasannaheader

http://scroll.in/article/731210/meet-prasanna-the-guitarist-ar-rahman-calls-a-living-hope-for-quality-music

Hope you enjoy it!

He’s a bloody good musician and fine person to boot!

Carnatic with a (jazz) Cherry on Top: Ragabop Trio

George Brooks, Steve Smith, Prasanna   aka The Ragabop Trio

George Brooks, Steve Smith, Prasanna aka The Ragabop Trio

Raga Bop is a fun play on words; the perfect name for that long standing amalgam of American jazz and Hindustani classical music. One wonders why it took so long for someone to come up it.

The trio that sports the name is a collaborative effort of Prasanna, a south Indian guitarist, Steve Smith, a rock and roll drummer who once played with Journey and George Brooks, sax player, composer and band leader. Smith had played with the other two separately as a duo on various projects before hitting on the idea of combining their separate efforts into a trio that explores building jazz on top of a Carnatic music base.

Smith and Brooks had both been interested in and involved in mixing their musical visions with subcontinental music. Smith, though most famous as the drummer of a mega rock act, has been a devotee of Carnatic percussion for many years. Brooks a saxophonist and composer has in turn been a lover of Hindustani classical music which from time to time has influenced his performance and writing. Both men knew and had performed with Prasanna, probably the world’s greatest naval engineer cum guitarist! As all three individuals loved composing as much as playing, the prospect of working together was too exciting not to pursue. Recognizing that such a collaboration could be a hit or a big miss, they girded their loins and set out hoping for some magic.

What resulted is the album under the Harmonium bright lights this evening: Ragabop Trio. After many listens I must say this is a winner of an album. They didn’t miss at all. Rather they have hit pretty much as close to the bullseye as you can get. Prasanna’s guitar playing is for me the stand out delight of the album. Not only can he tickle the strings in that warm southern Carnatic way he can stroke and swing his instrument like a lover practicing all the moves of the kama sutra—teasing, gentle, cheeky and commanding.

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Smith’s drum work is the ever present strength throughout. With a sound and style that clearly counts Steve Gadd among his influences Smith is able to demonstrate an array of rhythms and affinity with complex beats that rivals Prasanna’s mastery on the guitar.

Perhaps I am being unfair but even though Brooks does pull off some wondrous sounds that are not too distant from a Madurai temple at festival time, I feel as if his playing is mostly uninspired. Almost superfluous. At worst the sax grates (but luckily there are very few ‘worst’ moments).

Still, don’t let that get you down. The Ragabop Trio not only have coined a stellar name for their combo, they’ve delivered a really enjoyable record. The Sanskrit-scatting is a thick icing on the cake!

Raga Bop Trio

Track Listing:

01 Tug Of War

02 Miss Oma

03 Love And Hunger

04 Ironically

05 Garuda

06 The Geometry Of Rap

07 Moonlanding

08 Dubai Dance

09 Katyayini

Raga