The Indian subcontinent is big. It is sprawling. India alone has roughly 16 different languages spoken within its borders. The population includes Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and others different, indifferent, or spun-of from these major religions. Devotion: Spiritual Music of the Indian Subcontinent reflects this diversity and expansiveness of beliefs within this (rather large) section of the world. This CD is dedicated primarily to presenting not only devotional music of the Indian subcontinent, but the mystical musical traditions there in particular.
On first listen, my wife (who is a Pakistani immigrant) called this CD “Easy Listening Devotional Music of the Indian Subcontinent.” She asked, “where’s the meat in this CD, where’s the history?” After a few listens, though, we sensed that this collection’s goal was to present these devotional and mystical musical traditions to outsiders. In this process, then, this strange mixing and matching of Sufi qawwali, Hindu bhajan, and Sikh shabad kirtan comes across as an exotic mish-mash of diverse—and divergent—religious traditions. The connecting thread here seems no more than geography—and a physical geography rather than a political one at that. This is an “easy listening” CD in that it skims across the surface of musical traditions rather than delving deep in to specific histories or expanding laterally the various expressions of devotion within these various traditions. But it is not “easy listening” background music, unless you’re a dumb hippie who can’t tell someone’s god from a hole in the ground (thankfully, given the packaging and the liner notes, that is not the target market for this collection). Unfortunately, many collections of Indian music, especially devotional music, become prime sites for exoticization of alien cultures by First World (usually liberal, groovy, and New Agey) markets. In its breadth and no-nonsense presentation, this CD shoots for exposition, not exploitation. While the spread of this collection my let it fall easily into an “easy listening music by Others” category, its lack of a stamp by Western gurus of Otherness (Mickey Hart, for example), will relegate these tracks to listeners truly interested in spiritual devotion.
This is devotional music; these are songs of god, of love, and of adoration. For a Western audience, the religious importance and history of these songs may not be evident through listening, but when coupled with excellent liner notes on each song, the listener can begin to appreciate the depth of religious enthusiasm imbedded in these various traditions.
While Devotion: Spiritual Music of the Indian Subcontinent does not delve deep into these centuries long devotional traditions, this collection successfully covers the numerous religious musical traditions of this immensely diverse part of the world.
A last thought: Does anyone market collections like Dunk Me in the Water: Selections from American Baptist Hymnals or Stand Up Straighter: The Music of the Presbyterians to areas outside of the Western world?