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

Harmonium up and playing again! Nandu Bhende’s Disco Duniya

Naacho ! Disco Chalo!

Naacho ! Disco Chalo!

Well, all systems are go! At least for now, even if behind the scenes a veritable tech menagerie is working overtime to stave off complete oblivion. In my free hours since the loss of my digital world I’ve dug out ancient tiny external drives and copied the most complete libraries of music and photos that survived to other safe havens. My desk is a bomb site of USBs, wires, little external drives and those two ugly fat Seagates, still dead as stones.

Even the MacAir which was similarly defunct has been persuaded (by the good unblocker, Ganesh, perhaps?) to come to life again. So while the panic levels have decreased somewhat there is still some ways to go before I can sleep completely easy at night.

Thanks to all of you who provided comfort and even offers of help and cash to get the show back on the road. That was unexpected and really, very deeply appreciated!

So to celebrate the resurrection Harmonium lets get right into it with a VERY special disc: Disco Duniya by Nandu Bhende.

Nandu Bhende is a seminal figure in the history of Indian popular music, about whom I am very poorly placed to write anything. Others, especially Sidarth Bhatia, the author of a history of India’s rock ‘n roll scene (India Psychedelic- The Story of a Rocking Generation), are far better placed than me to speak about Bhende and his many incarnations on the music scene.

A young Nandu Bhende

A young Nandu Bhende

An early founder and member of many rock groups that played the clubs of Calcutta and Bombay, Nandu was drawn into the world of film music where he both composed, performed and sang. From an artist family tree which includes one of India’s greatest modern writers/critics the Bene Israeli poet Nissim Ezekiel, Nandu Bhende produced this disco record that is now quite the collector’s item.

Capitalizing on the new disco sounds (the electronic pops and squeals are well represented here) Bhende basically sampled and blended and twisted the sounds of Bollywood into two long seamless tracks. Side A reviews some of the biggest filmi hits of the 1970s and revamps them in a sound that (for that time, the early 80s) was the absolute height of funkiness. He brings in the voice of a young lass (who remains nameless on the credits) and sings along on some of the tracks himself. I am also assuming Mr Bhende played all the ‘instruments’ himself, as they are all keyboard generated.

Side B, is a similar long (but very interesting) journey through the ever green hits of Shammi Kapoor, the handsome, romantic Hugh Grant of 1960s Indian cinema.

So without further ado…get on your dancing shoes and head out to the disco!

Disco Duniya front Disco Duniya back

01 Hits of the Decade

02 Shammi Kapoor Hits

disco

 

 

Garage Banda: King Khan

King Khan

King Khan

Arish Ahmad Khan, better known by his stage name King Khan, is a Canadian musician. He is best known as the frontman of the rock ‘n roll bands King Khan and the Shrines and The King Khan & BBQ Show.

 

Khan was born in Montreal to an Indo-Canadian family. Since 2005 he resides in Berlin, Germany with his wife and two daughters.

images-2

Brewing up a heady mixture of high-spirited rhythm & blues, real-gone psychedelia and middle-finger-flipping garage rock, King Khan has earned an international reputation as one of the wildest showmen in underground rock. Born and raised in the suburbs of Montreal to a family of Indian émigrés, Erick Khan first made a splash on the Canadian music scene in 1996 when he joined the frantic garage punk outfit the Spaceshits, where he played bass under the name Blacksnakethe Spaceshits released three albums and a handful of 7″s, but after nearly four years with the group, Khan opted to strike out on his own, relocating to Germany following a tour of Europe. Adopting the new stage name King Khan, he began assembling a solo act while also recording and touring with former Spaceshits vocalist Mark Sultan (aka Bridge Mixture and BBQ), cutting a pair of albums as the King Khan & BBQ ShowKing Khan & His Sensational Shrines (the “Sensational” part tends to come and go at will) made their recorded debut on a split single with Reverend Beat-Man & the Nonbelievers in 2001, followed by the EP Spread Your Love Like Peanut Butter and the album Three Hairs and You’re MineKing Khan‘s band grew all the while and took on a number of remarkable personalities, including Ron Streeter, a percussionist who spent years touring with Curtis Mayfield and Stevie WonderBen Ra, a German sax player who worships at the altar of John Coltrane and Sun Ra; Freddy Rococo, a French organ player who previously led a one-man band in drag; and Bamboorella, the Shrines’ full-time go-go dancer. After cutting a split LP with the DirtbombsBilliards at Nine ThirtyKhan and the Shrines released their second full-length album, 2004’s Mr. Supernatural, which was followed by lots of international touring and a third full-length, What Is?!, in 2007. In 2008, Vice Records signed King Khan & the Shrines to an American record contract, and sealed the deal by releasing The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines, a collection of Khan‘s best material to date, dominated by tracks from Mr. Supernatural and What Is?!. It would be several years before Khan returned with the Shrines, issuing the more psychedelicly-tinged Idle No More in 2013 on Merge Records.

Les Eurockéennes de Belfort 2009

And so ladies and gentleman, lovers of music of South Asia and its energetic, vibrant and diverse diaspora, we present to you some music with exactly 0 references to ragas, ghazals, Bollywood, Indian folk or khyal. Whether King Khan has any loyalty to the land of his forefathers at all, this record will not help illuminate.

Rave on!

King Khan front

King Khan inner

King Khan back

Track Listing:

01 Anala

02 Invisible Girl

03 I’ll Be Loving You

04 Animal Party

05 Spin The Bottle

06 Third Ave

07 Tastebuds

08 Truth Or Dare

09 Crystal Ball

10 Lonely Boy

11 Tryin’

12 Do The Chop

⏎