Progressing the Tradition: Rafiki Jazz

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Rafiki Jazz, from Sheffield in the UK confounds easy categorization. The band which includes musicians from the Senegalese and South Asian diasporas as well as British and refugee musicians has been called ‘the most diverse band in the UK’. The group’s website claims the band plays ‘jazz world’ music.

 

The jazz reference in their name continues a long tradition of African bands using the word: Bembeya Jazz National, TPOK Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz and Morogoro Jazz.  Of course, the music these and countless other ‘jazz’ bands played while improvisational to some extent and solo-friendly sounded nothing like the American original.  The African sounds were free wheeling and danceable with guitars being the primary heroes of the stage.

 

Rafiki Jazz draws deep on Africa for much of its sound which again bears little resemblance to the iconic bands named above. High in the mix is a powerful strain of Sufi music and Indian sangeet. Indeed, though the band’s name is African/Middle Eastern (rafiki=friends) most of the tracks make you think this is a subcontinental band, especially as the title Har Dam Sahara is emblazoned in Urdu on the cover.

 

This is an album full of wonderful sounds, pauses and instruments. Definitely a couple listens are required to start to an appreciation for the many jewels contained within. But I highly recommend this to friends of this blog even if it doesn’t technically qualify as South Asian.

 

TUG1106

Track Listing:

  1. Sunno
  2. Saya
  3. Tasbih
  4. You Are Light
  5. Har Chand Sahara
  6. Jhooli Lal Qalandar
  7. Cheikh Amadou Bamba

RAFIKIJAZZ

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

Everybody Must Get Stoned: Sunday Sounds

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The exact moment that India finally embraced Flower Power is captured forever in the hypnotic and groping guitar riff that opens the hippie anthem “Dum Maro Dum” in the film Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).

That this cultural milestone was designed by director and film lead Dev Anand to warn Indians about the loose, drug-addled lifestyle of hippies, rather than embrace it, is the very definition of irony.

“Dum Maro Dum” became an instant hit. Along with Asha Bhosle’s sultry vocals, the acrid smell of charas (hashish) seemed to seep out of radios all across North India. The composer, RD Burman, used the song as a platform to fly at the loftiest levels of popular music for the next 15 years. A young Zeenat Aman, on whom the song had been picturised, shot to “national sexpot” status overnight. Even Anand confessed he had fallen in love with his co-star.

The song remains one of Bollywood’s all-time favourites, as evergreen as eternal young man Dev Anand himself.

Over the years, as reputations of Bhosle and Pancham da (Burman) grew internationally, “Dum Maro Dum” became a source of inspiration for a slew of artists all over the world. [full article]

Rivers flow together: Irene Schweizer

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Hello everyone.

It’s the weekend so there is a bit of time to catch up on the neglected Harmonium blog!

Irène Schweizer (born June 2, 1941) is a notable Swiss jazz and free improvising pianist. She was born in Schaffhausen, in 1941. She has performed and recorded numerous solo piano performances as well as performing as part of the Feminist Improvising Group, whose members include Lindsay Cooper, Maggie Nichols, Georgie Born and Sally Potter. She has also performed a series of duos with drummers Pierre Favre, Louis Moholo, Andrew Cyrille, Günter Sommer, Han Bennink, Hamid Drake, as well as in trio and quartet sessions with others, including John Tchicai, Evan Parker or Peter Kowald. With Yusef Lateef, Uli Trepte and Mani Neumeier she performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967. One of her most enduring collaborations is with the improvising musician Rüdiger Carl. (Wikipedia)

This record from 1967 mixes Irene and her band with some Indian classical musicians. An interesting early combining of jazz and Hindustani classical which tends to be more jazz than India. But hey, still very worth a listen. The final track refers to two rivers: one in India the other in Germany.

Jazz Meets India

Track Listing:

01 Sun Love

02 Yaad

03 Brigach and Ganges

I…S..