Time Capsule of Delight: Golden Era of Sri Lankan Popular Music

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This poster comes from a time and place that no longer exists.   In 1972 after centuries of being known (at least to those who didn’t live there) as the fabled emerald tear drop of Ceylon, the country took the much more ancient name of Sri Lanka.

Though very different from the country it is so geographically close to there are of course  connections of history, faith, legend and people that are now completely entangled.  For most children of the 80s and 90s and 00s, Sri Lanka is infamous (but not unique by any means) for trying to unentangle that heritage with violence.  Tamil Tigers. Peoples Liberation Fronts. Civil War. All of these displaced images (and the reality) of the most beautiful beaches in the world, a lush hinterland and some of the nicest people on earth.

I first visited Sri Lanka in 1977. A longish haired, lungi wearing hippie who crossed the strait between Rameshwaram and Talaimanar on a rusty large steamship.  I fell instantly in love. The greenery. The tea plantations. The white sand. How life was so inexpensive. I think I spent the princely sum of $50 for a 10 day visit (including accommodation and transportation costs).

During those ten days I discovered a band called Supertramp. Some French Swiss longhair had it on his Sony tape recorder. Sadly, the music of the land I was visiting didn’t even register.  And it would be several more decades before it would.

Even now I consider myself an infant in the nursery school of Sri Lankan music and have nothing meaningful to say about it that others have not. Baila is probably the island’s most well known popular form of dance music and traces it roots to the Portuguese time.  But to limit the music of Sri Lanka to the baila would be akin to identifying Punjabi music as only bhangra.

And here, dear readers is evidence of that statement.

This is a recording which can only be described as delightful. A 30 track tour across Serendip in which including bubbly baila you will be treated to folk, rural and urban species of sound from all round.

Six out of five!

Out of the park.

Get down and get back up again!

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Track Listing:

01Instrumental Baila Medley

02 Soken Pala Ne

03 Gamen Liyumak

04 Naan Unnai Thedum

05 Instrumental Baila Medley

06 Netha Giya Hematana

07 Kaffiringha

08 Ceremonial Drums

09 Jeevithe Vasanthaye

10 Anbil Valarnthai

11 Pinna Mal

12 Mama Bohoma Bayauna

13 Vairodi Wannama

14 Handa Haami

15 Goyam Gee

16 Eka Dawasak

17 Mindada Heesara

18 Roshi

19 Sigiriya

20 Deepa Tupe Vihare

21 Drum Orchestra

22 Gavaskar the Century Maker

23 Bolanda Katha

24 Sinidu Sudu Muthu

25 Malli

26 City of Colombo (with Noeline Mendis)

27 Durakathanaya

28 Amma

29 Kimada Naave

30 Perakumba Davasa

SRILANKAGOLD

Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani

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This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!

Yaman

Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]

YAMAN

Sunday Best

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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!

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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

The Future: Perera Elsewhere

Perera Elsewhere

Perera Elsewhere

Without question the most impressive debut of the past 12 months in the desi music diaspora was the emergence of the rainbow haired embodiment of ‘cool’ who goes by the name of Perera Elsewhere.

 

Born into a Sri Lankan immigrant family Perera cut her artistic teeth in Europe and in particular the grimy arty clubs of Berlin. In that eternal musical markaz to which artists flock when careers need re-ignition or launching, this slight statuesque woman worked with an electronic band with a reggae name, Jahcoozi. After several albums and the purchase of a cheap guitar in a French street stall she branched out on her own and released her first solo album, Everlast in 2013.

 

imgresIt has taken the indie music world by storm.  The sound is rich and soulful but ultra-contemporary with no flashbacks to any previous decade and nothing Ceylonese. This is thinking person’s club melodies and beats, structured to soothe and seduce.

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Elsewhere is obviously not her real name. But it is a well chosen nom de plume. Though her music lies several oceans removed from the teardrop isle Perera is a restless soul, such is the destiny of the immigrant. Elsewhere, means, not here. Someplace other than this. Or that. An uncertain location. Indeterminate. Impossible to specify. Simply, ‘out there’.  What immigrant or third culture child has not felt more at home in these ambiguities than behind the mailbox and picket fence. Indeed, the true home of the immigrant, the globalised citizen is in the fissures between lands, not in any one.

 

With this loopy commendation I suggest you have a listen to a woman who is bound to loom large in the culture for many years, Perera Elsewhere.

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Track Listing:

01 Drunk Man

02 Giddy [ft. Gonjasufi]

03 Bizarre

04 Light Bulb

05 Ebora [ft. Aremu]

06 Dreamt That Dream

07 Shady [ft. Springintgut]

08 Bongoloid

09 Carousel

10 The Zap

11 Lazy

12 Dimmed Down

*^^@