Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Psychedelic India

Bollywood takes an acid trip in The Rough Guide to Psychedelic India.
Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Psychedelic India
World Music Network

It seems like a revisionist view of history to brand the ’60s as a period of wild sexual and psychedelic experimentation when many were leading quiet, ordinary lives, and more than probable that only a select few participated in a whirl of orgies and acid tests. This type of lifestyle, more often than not, requires a certain amount of free time to loaf around in recovery, either in bed or on a comfortable sofa, and unfortunately this is a luxury many could not, and still cannot, afford without some form of private income. To be truly bohemian, it helps to have some money behind you. Western pop stars and merry pranksters may have tuned in and dropped out, John and Yoko may have stayed in bed for two weeks, but the average person still had to get up every day to bring home the bacon (or alternative vegetarian substitute).

And so it goes. In ‘60s India, psychedelic flower-children were pretty much irrelevant; George Harrison may have added a sitar to “Norwegian Wood”, but it was the garage band scene that was taking off. These days hordes of trust fund kids in ethnic gear may float down the Keralan back-waters, on their way to hang out at the Crab Shack on Kovalam Beach, but their chances of finding Adela Quested’s “Real India”, if they are indeed looking for it, or even know who Adela Quested is, are less than zero. A dose of bhang lassi and a listen to The Rough Guide to Psychedelic India may assist them in either reaching the heights of yogic understanding or the depths of depravity.

This Rough Guide has been compiled by DJ Ritu, and the sleeve notes make the point that during the ’60s Western musical influences only gradually seeped through in the form of raga reverberations thanks to the battle of the bands contents held by Simla cigarettes in Mumbai. Eventually Bollywood started mixing pysch with luxurious Indian orchestration; Asha Bhosle’s “Dum Maro Dum” and Kalyanji-Anandji’s instrumental “Dance Music” from films Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Bairaag respectively, demonstrate the vintage psychedelic sound. Those Western rich kids in India may be well advised to escape the heat by immersing themselves in the air-conditioned excitement of a fully-loaded Indian cinema, and marvel as Zeenat Aman takes a hit on a large chillum before dancing loose-limbed amongst her outsider friends.

India is nothing but intense, and this is reflected here in the funky work-out of Ananda Shankar’s “Dancing Drums” and the tripped-out weirdness of Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti’s “Rakshasa”, the latter guaranteed to make your head spin faster than Anil Kumble’s cricket ball hurtling towards a well-run crease. The album includes a wide enough selection of music to encompass a variant of jazz in the previously unreleased “Jazz Thali” by Chamber of Dreams, the modern beats and sampling of “The Bombay Royale” by innovative Australian band Bombay Twist, and the tongue-twisting tabla epic of the Ray Spiegel Ensemble’s “Moksha”.

In an attempt to transfer Western ideologies onto Eastern artistry, you could say that Debashish Bhattacharya’s “A Mystical Morning” (featuring John McLaughlin) sounds like an Indian version of a Ry Cooder instrumental, and Brishtir Pani’s “Tiger Blosson” like a Joan Baez folk song. Ultimately however such a comparison must be a failure in the reviewer’s imagination. In an attempt to do better, Jyotsna Srikanth’s instrumental “Thilana” captures the sense of escape in a vast, unknowable sub-continent. And whatever the meaning of Paban Das Baul’s “Kaliya”, it sounds mighty fine. All of life is a foreign country, and The Rough Guide to Psychedelic India is a small but interesting part of a long strange trip.

RATING 7 / 10