Music

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of India

Indian music: Not just Bollywood, Shankar, and Sitars.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of India

Label: Rough Guides
US Release Date: 2010-06-22
UK Release Date: 2010-06-21
Amazon
iTunes

The case of Indian music in the West is unique. Neither before nor since has one man had so much influence over how one culture's music has been perceived by another culture. That man, of course, is George Harrison. When the casual Westerner thinks "Indian music", they think sitar and Ravi Shankar. Both of those were introduced into pop music, and thus the popular consciousness, by Harrison. It's entirely probable that millions of people's only experience with Indian music is "Norwegian Wood" and "Within You Without You".

Harrison's innovations have led to innumerable positive developments in music. Would we use the term "world music" if not for Harrison's efforts? Would we have been treated to the cultural melding of everyone from the Clash and Paul Simon to Gorillaz and MIA? But Harrison's Indian legacy has not been without its downside. Shankar has openly expressed disillusion, even resentment, at being turned into a "pop star". And the door to Indian music beyond Shankar and his instrument of choice has been mostly left closed.

The Rough Guide to the Music of India hasn't become a surprise best-seller since its release in June 2010. But it does aim to provide a broader sampling of Indian music than most might have heard before. Actually, this is the second edition, the first having appeared in 2002. This edition attempts to rectify a couple perceived shortcomings of the first. One of those, ironically, was that Shankar, who has an entire Rough Guide dedicated to him, was not represented. Here, he appears in all his glory on "Megh". A couple artists are carried over from the first edition, though none of the tracks are repeated.

All stereotypes have some truth to them, and that of Indian music is no different. As the extensive liner notes point out, India has two traditional music systems stemming from its major religions, Hindu and Muslim. Both are centered on the heavily rhythmic drone of the raga. So, yes, you do get lots of pitter-pattering tablas here. The sitar is featured on several tracks, as is the emotive, moaning type of vocalizing you might expect. This all comes together more effectively on Vishwa Mohan Bhatt & Musicians of Rajastan's "Helo Mharo Suno". The rolling rhythm is particularly catchy, while a violin provides melody and enlivened vocals deliver effortless energy. The result is like aural sunshine in the best sense, easily the collection's most accessible track. From a West-centric point of view, it could be Dead Can Dance in a good mood.

India's own popular culture is represented as well. That would be the most prolific film center in the world, Bollywood. "Playback" or soundtrack legend Asha Bhosle, immortalized in Cornershop's XXXXlink, opens the album. Her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, another playback star, closes it. Both these tracks are pleasant yet cheesy in the Bollywood tradition, with the most interesting point being the use of electronic instruments to complement the more traditional sounds.

The best parts of The Rough Guide to the Music of India, though, are the unexpected surprises featuring lesser-known instruments. T.H. Subashchandran provides a brief yet charismatic solo on the moorsing or jew's harp. Sohan Nath "Sapera" features on the been, or snake charmer's pipes. Imagine bagpipes with tablas laying down the rhythm. It's pretty interesting. On "Mishra Tilang' In Keharwa Tãl", Shivkumar Sharma plays a type of zither called a santoor. Suffice to say it's like a shimmering, mesmerizing harp, and it's sublime. Best of all is Seeta Doaiswamy's "Vatapi Ganapatim". While Indian rhythms tend to be thick and dense, this one is light and sparse, nothing but jalatharangam, or tuned water bowls, floating in the breeze like wind chimes.

As a bonus, this set also comes with a second disc featuring a live set from Debashish Bhattacharya. Accompanied by rattling tablas and droning tanpura, he etches out stark, resonant figures on hand-made slide guitar. The often-mesmerizing effect recalls none so much as Durutti Column's Vini Reilly.

What The Rough Guide to the Music of India doesn't do is explore the ways in which this traditional music has intersected with pop. The likes of the Monsoon Wedding soundtrack and Dan the Automator's Bombay the Hard Way have done a good job of this, and it's too bad the Rough Guide doesn't bring things into the present. But for a good overview of the past, it works pretty well.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image