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Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!

Seminar: Aesthetic Expressions of Psychedelic Funk Music 1970-1983

(World Psychedelic Funk Classics; US: 7 Dec 2010; UK: 7 Dec 2010)

For the title track on 2003’s universally anticipated Jaylib album, J Dilla tears into a dusty, Eastern- and Jamaican-sourced joint from friend and collaborator Madlib. All of Champion Sound is like this—two kings of sample excavation in their prime, swapping emcee and producer roles for about 50 minutes. Outside of the threat-driven debut appearance by Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson, this is the best of the lot, for my money. A devilishly psychedelic beat from ‘Lib built on a freely rolling bass line and dusty drum breaks, with a soaring vocal melody cutting the deep tumble beneath Dilla’s biting verses—and nearly all of the crackling groove owes to the soundtrack of a 1975 Bollywood film called Dharmatma.


While “Dharmatma: Theme Music” is known to folks who’ve had the patience to dig for Bollywood scores online, or who’ve crossed fingers hoping they’d exit neighborhood record shops with used copies of Simla Beat 70, it appears on 2010’s Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!: Seminar: Aesthetic Expressions of Psychedelic Funk Music 1970-1983 from World Psychedelic Funk Classics, where the piece’s backstory gets its due in the collection’s bulky liner notes.


Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! mines decades-old venturesome, clamorous Indian psychedelic funk music named after the proponents’ “primary interest in the funk rhythm,” as opposed to a comparatively “tertiary interest in psychedelic flourishes” in the productions. Pressed to vinyl between 1970 and 1983, much of this work was utilized for Bollywood soundtracking purposes during those years. Just as local psychedelic acts took cues from the nearby flourishing Hindi film industry, the region’s film composers were drawn to the sound filtering out of clubs stationed in Mumbai and Poona (now Pune). The comp offers a wealth of the screeching guitar tones and blurting organs you’d expect, with spirited and blissful head trips peppering its 20 thoroughly researched selections.


The Western influences on display during Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! are more overt in some places than in others, with a Deep Purple cover surfacing late in the tracklist from Atomic Forest, dubbed here “the best known of India’s ‘70s psychedelic bands.” This is hardly as exciting as “Lekar Ham Diwana Dil”, a surf-inspired hodgepodge of crafty instrumentation and acid overtones that garnered a Best Score nomination in 1973 from Filmfare, the awards ceremony for India’s Hindi cinema. A more minimal “Sitar Beat” sizzles, with buzzing sitars and shaker percussion atop deep, wall-rattling drums, composed by German musician Klaus Doldinger, eager to apply Indian psychedelic funk music to a spy film he’d been scoring in his native country. Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! suffers infrequently from the poor sound quality that’s sometimes a part of archival collections, but this isn’t noticeably detrimental to those of us who treasure lo-fi garage comps, or to the cast of diggers behind the scenes.


Lots of folks could sift through a country’s archives of recorded music for the handful of gems in the pile, but the task is managed with finesse and stamina at World Psychedelic Funk Classics, or in the hands of Joel “Stones” Oliveira at Tropicalia in Furs Records. Oliveira dug into his own ultra-rare seven-inches in order to string together his Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas: Tropicalia Psychedelic Masterpieces 1967-1976. Now-Again chieftain/Stones Throw manager Eothen “Egon” Alapatt assisted on both Brazilian Guitar Fuzz and with production matters for Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!.


Akin to the agenda of a bored composer who ambles in and out of clubs on India’s west coast, Egon has sought-out and broken down pieces of buried musical brilliance from all over the place—little-known Nigerian psych, Zambian acid rock, and rare California funk for Now-Again. In 2010 alone, he contextualized each work with carefully prepared, novel-length discussions and vivid photography. Speaking to Remix in 2007, producer/MC/Madlib’s brother Michael “Oh No” Jackson discussed the making of the bold and riveting beat du jour he dubbed Dr. No’s Oxperiment, an instrumental hip-hop album built of strung-together Turkish, Italian, and Lebanese psych samples. Jackson called his friend Egon the “mastermind” behind the record—Dr. No‘s textures were borrowed from the Now-Again founder’s prized collection, and the beats wouldn’t have come to fruition had the artist not heard Egon looping vintage Turkish garage during a DJ set.


In its original shape, Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!‘s “Dharmatma…” is intoxicating alongside the collection’s other finds—flutes and brass lay the foundation for a serene melody delivered toward its end by famed Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar, one of the thousands of recordings to which she’s reportedly contributed over her long career. Kalyanji Anadji, a pseudonym that sibling composers Kalyanji Virji Shah and Anandji Virji Shah used when they began scoring films in the late 1950s, is the force behind this pioneering release. In Egon’s Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! liner notes and mirroring NPR column, he explains that psychedelic music in India was at first part of an underground scene that offered an experimental interpretation of rock and of the Western pop broadcast on All India Radio. How could film score writers of the period not incorporate this breakbeat-ridden, wildly rambunctious stuff into their work?

Rating:

Dominic Umile is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Chicago Reader, The Comics Journal, and more. Follow: @dominicumile | Email: dominic.umile@gmail.com | about.me/dominicumile


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