Music

Nordic Raga Presents a Seamless Combination of Indian and Swedish Sounds

Photo courtesy of Riverboat Records

Scandinavian folk traditions find new heart and soul in sounds from the subcontinent on Nordic Raga.

Nordic Raga
Nordic Raga

Riverboat

23 Feb 2018

Over seven fascinating tracks, elfin European jigs, polkas, and waltzes in the now decades-old Scandinavian folk revivalist tradition find new heart and soul in sounds from the subcontinent and beyond on Nordic Raga, the new project by Indian Carnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth and Swedish folk musicians Dan Svensson, Pär Moberg, and Mats Éden. There's a pastoral grandeur to the stylistic mix; this is elegantly arranged roots music, rich, resonant, and evocative.

The album opens with "Vildhonung", a jig standard in the Swedish/Norwegian folk repertoire - a version appears on the second of Northside's Nordic Roots compilation series - here elevated by Srikanth's violin and Edén's fiddle, twisting and rising upward in an introductory dance before Moberg's enchanting woodwind joins the strings. With the three instruments suspended, unresolved in free rhythm, Edén strikes up a familiar melody, playing the sounds of northern fields, of the titular wild honey. Svensson's percussion - a frame drum, shimmering and echoing at the song's base - adds extra depth to the tune. It's a well Srikanth fills with her strings during a minute-long violin solo near the end of the track, drawing on improvisatory traditions of southern India to add some fluid motion to the sturdy dance. (I can't condone the decontextualized didgeridoo Moberg pulls out in the background - if Jamiroquai can let it go, why can't the world fusion scene?)

"Finnskogspols" follows, a dreamscape of melismatic vocals and Srikanth's violin acting as a singer in its own right. Here, it becomes important to note that Edén's instrument is a viola d'amore, a violin-like instrument with a few more strings, typically sympathetic ones ringing out in harmony with the main strings. As he lays the groundwork on "Finnskogspols", Edén's many strings allow for a broader foundation, a fuller drone. Svensson's vocals, both hypnotic and melancholy, eventually give way to a burst of instrumentation that finishes off the tune with a dramatic release.

A standout of the album is "Folk Dreams", wherein opening Konnakol - the performance of solkattu, a counting of rhythmic meter common to some South Indian classical music - leads into a piece that feels more original than the others, fully collaborative as the group comes together with body percussion and improvised instrumentation. While all tracks credit the entire quartet with arrangements, "Folk Dreams" is the one whose writing, too, is attributed to Srikanth. It is unpredictable, a full exploration of each musician's mind rather than of preexisting structures in which the group is able to play. As such, it doesn't stick in the mind quite the same way as some of the more repetitive dances, but it intrigues, leading you into a delightful, heretofore unknown realm of musical combinations.

No matter how closely the group adheres to established folk songs, though, the Nordic Raga collections brings something new to music, a combination of aesthetically pleasing sounds and top tier professional musicians. Nordic Raga presents a seamless combination of Indian and Swedish sounds - as well as some outside of it, as exemplified by metrically complex Svensson-composed tune "Balkan Waltz" - that makes for some mighty fine afternoon listening.

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