Inter-India Fusion: Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan




Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan maestros of their respective instruments–violin and sarod–have made huge contributions to the two main branches of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani.  At the same time both have adventured far beyond their own gardens, coupling, tripling and even quadrupling up with a whole assortment of jazz, rock and Western classical musicians. Along with Ravi Shankar, Dr sahib and Ustadji are rightly recognised as some of the best known Indian classical musicians in the West.   Any number of albums could be suggested to  you but among my favorite is Karuna Supreme an early and outstanding example of Hindustani music blended with American jazz (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy) and Conversations (L. Subramaniam and Stephane Grappelli).

It should come as no surprise then that these two great men came together to do an ‘Inter-India’ fusion album.  While sharing several commonalities like the raga (the essential musical frame for all compositions) and a similar scale (though with more semitones available to the Carnatic musician) the music of North India is very different from that of the South.  So this album, originally available on cassette, is a fusion of two branches of one of the world’s oldest musical systems.

Raga Jog is sometimes known as Ragam Naat in Carnatic music.  Several North Indian ragas have what you could call counterparts in the South, though to be historically accurate and to acknowledge that Carnatic music is considered to the ‘original’ Indian music,  I should probably turn that sentence around.  Many Carnatic ragams have Northern raga counterparts.

Raga Jog, some say can be traced back to the time of the court of Akbar the Great (15th C.). True or not, I don’t know but this raga is certainly melodious and both maestros  give powerful, sympathetic performances.

I hope you enjoy this.


Track Listing:

  1. Raga Jog Ragam Naatai Teen Taal (pt 1)
  2. Raga Jog Ragam Naatai Teen Taal (pt.2)


Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani


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!


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]


By the Trunk of Ganesha: Kadri Gopalnath

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Kadri Gopalnath was born in Mangalore, on India’s west coast.  As a young boy, while on a visit to the royal city of Mysore Kadri had his Damascus moment. As a marching band made its way through the streets he spied a strange looking instrument, unlike anything he’d seen to that time. It was brass and looked a bit like the trunk of Ganesha reaching up to accept the gift of a banana.   Kadri was entranced and bugged his father to tell him what the instrument was.  “A saxophone. Now keep quiet,” scolded his father.


Kadri Gopalnath

Kadri Gopalnath

As an adult, Sri Gopalnath, has carved out a niche for himself as the most famous, and most accomplished Indian saxophone player.  Like many of his musical peers who took to western instruments (guitar, violin, clarinet) he had to make some adjustments to the classic jazz instrument to make it perform and sound the way he wished, which was the Carnatic classical musical way.


Over thirty years ago while attending India’s premier international jazz festival in Bombay, his playing caught the year of John Handy. Asking the young musician to play with him he was immediately taken by this strange but familiar music coming out of the sax.  Sort of like free jazz pioneered in the lofts of New York in the 60’s, Gopalnath’s playing was nothing like the music American jazzmen were making.


Over the years, Kadri Gopalnath, has toured the world, both as an Indian classical musician as well as a partner with some of the great jazzmen of the day.  He has collaborated with fellow sax player Rudresh Mahantappa (among many others) and received rapturous accolades from audiences and critics alike.


Here is a CD of his Carnatic playing that I picked up in Chennai several years back.  Enjoy this fresh music!

Captivating Sounds Of Saxophone And Tavil

Track Listing:

01 Raja Raja Aradhithe – Niroshta – Thistra Adi – Muthiah Bhagavathar

02 Adukaradhuni – Manoranjini – Adi – Thyagaraja

03 Baja Mana Rama – Sindhu Bhairavi – Adi – Thulasi Dasar

04 Raga Alapana – Karaharapriya

05 Rama Neeyata – Karaharapriya – Adi – Thyagaraja

06 Sri Rama Padhama – Amirtha Vahini – Adi – Thyagaraja

07 Western Notes

08 Swami Sangeetham – Ayyappan Song

09 Magudi



Murugan Music: R.K. Suryanarayan

Lord Murugan

Lord Murugan

I’m in a Carnatic kind of mood today.


Woke early, before the sun, hopped on the local train and headed towards the northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.  I was picked by a colleague who drove me to Batu Caves, the last station on the commuter train line.  The caves extend into the limestone interior of one of several ranges of hills that edge KL. The caves are said to be about 400 million years old. Today they are a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus from around the world, especially those from Tamil Nadu.


Statue of Lord Murugan at entrance to Batu Caves

Statue of Lord Murugan at entrance to Batu Caves

The main temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan (brother of Ganesha and son of Parvati and Siva).  On Friday the annual thaipusam holy day will be celebrated.  This is day that commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) with which to ward off evil spirits and the demon Soorapadam.  Hundreds of thousands of people will gather throughout the week to make offerings to the great Murugan, whose gold plated image stands at least 25-30 meters high, by the side of the mountain.  Worshippers carry offerings—tankards of milk and flowers, bananas—on top of their heads and climb 272 steps into the cave temple.  Other pilgrims, dance into a trance and then pierce their skin with hooks or small vels (spears). They hang little pots of milk and other holy things on the hooks and walk up the steps, giving thanks for prayers answered, or seeking the Lord’s favour.


A fascinating place, to which I will return again and again, I am sure.


The festival is especially significant to Tamilians and one has the feeling of being back in south India, not in Malaysia.  Shops all around the temple sell sweet milk coffee and all varieties of south Indian foods.  When I returned home, tired but exhilarated, I needed to hear some southern Indian music. And it is that I share with you today.


R.K. Suryanarayan was one of the premier exponents of the veena, an ancient Indian classical instrument recognised by the two large gourds which form its head and feet.  Suryanarayan hailed from the village of Rudrapatna, in Hassan District of Karnataka.  The village has a long and proud history of learning and culture, with fully 60% of practising Carnatic musicians claiming a connection to the village!


Suryanarayan had a very distinctive way of playing the veena which relied on a lot of strumming, almost as if he were playing the guitar.  The sound is vigorous and lively. Close your eyes and focus on Lord Murugan as you listen to this lovely music.

Gayathri Veena

Track Listing:

01 Hamsanaada

02 Krishnaveni

03 Shankara Bharana

04 Mohana

05 Gambheer Nata Madhyamavathi



Priceless in any language: M.S. Subbalakshmi

Ten Rupee Note

Ten Rupee Note

Hindi is the official national language of India.  But that’s like saying Latin is the official language of Catholics.  People in a certain part of northern India speak what is considered to be ‘pure’ Hindi, the kind that is taught in a text book.  But pretty much everyone else speaks Hindi +.  Hindi mixed with a local or regional dialect (Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi, Garhwali, Braj, Sekhawati) or a completely distinct language (Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali etc. etc.).

Take a look at the reverse of the Indian 10 Rupee note.  On the left hand side of the note is the phrase ‘ten rupees’ in 15 other officially recognised regional languages!  And if you happen to be completely illiterate in any of those languages then each denomination of note is color-coded so you don’t get confused and pay Rs 100 for your cup of tea.

This is rather a twisted, long way around the mountain, to introduce the post for tonight. Another stellar female voice, this time from the Carnatic (southern Indian) classical music tradition, M.S. Subbalakhsmi.  Her full name for those who are interested is: Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi.

M.S Subbalakhsmi, holds a place in the artistic and cultural heart of Indians (even those not from the South) that is second to none.  In terms that non-Indians might appreciate her stature is on par with Edith Piaf, Oum Kulthoum, Amalia Rodrigues and Dame Joan Sutherland. Obviously, though Carnatic singing is completely different from opera, fado or Piaf’storch songs, Subbalakshmi is easily included in such august company for her sheer brilliance as a vocalist.

When she was awarded the ‘Asian Nobel Prize’, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, in 1974, the committee’s citation read: “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the Carnatic tradition of South India.”

Her peers similarly sat in awe of her talent and interpretive artistry. Born into a Devadasi family, Subbalakhsmibegan singing in professional settings at the age of 13.  As a girl this was nearly unprecedented.  Yet rather than marginalise her, it was apparent to all who heard her that her’s was an exceptional talent.  She quickly rose to prominence, moving to Madras (Chennai) where like nearly every other singer in the sub-continent gained access and credibility by singing in films.

But her true calling was in classical and semi-classical styles, and it is for these that she is so revered and respected.  In 1998 she was first musician of any style or gender in India to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, that country’s top civilian award. Other recipients include Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. Pandit Ravi Shankar was awarded the same prize a year after Subbalakhsmi.

Her singing so entranced the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru ‘that he exclaimed on three occasions, “Who am I, a mere Prime Minister, before the Queen of Music.”

She has specially chosen for this LP ten songs in as many languages. There runs through them a common thread: of Absolute Devotion to God. Therein, is the secret of the inherent vitality of the Culture of the Indian People. The tongues of Indians may be different but their soul is one.’

(Liner Notes)

Whether the end of the year brings to your mind thoughts of the Divine, God, and devotion or not, this album, Devotional Songs in 10 Languages is one to treasure and listen to again and again.

Sublakhsmi front subalakhsmi back

Track Listing:

01 Sanskrit (Bhajare Yadu Natham)

02 Hindi (Hari Maitho)

03 Gujarati (Narayananu Nama Narayananu Nama)

04 Bengali (Pathithoddharini Gange)

05 Malayalam (Kandu Kandu)

06 Urdu (Ishtrate Katra)

07 Marathi (Hari Bola Hari Bola)

08 Kannada (Yadu Vamsa Yadu Vamsa)

09 Telugu (Vasudeva Vasudeva)

10 Tamil (Nenjukku Neethi Nenjukku Neethi)