There is a common saying in India the subject of which lends its name to this blog.
Na ghar ka/ na ghat ka/ dhobi ka kutta (the washerman's dog is neither of the home or the square)
It is a somewhat ambiguous and not entirely flattering saying that hints at a certain wildness and rootlessness. A state of being known in Hindi/Urdu as awara. It is an apt description of myself and one I've used for years. You see, I am a classic third culture kid. Born and raised in South Asia of American parents, I have never felt entirely comfortable in either of my cultural shoes. Take away one from me for too long and I become anxious and restless and a bit snappy. Just like that washerman's dog.
There is no part of my life where this sense of 'neither here nor there' is more deeply felt than in my love of music. I grew up in a house where music was a fundamental family value. My parents played the piano and accordion and instilled in us that music was a wonderful way to praise the Creator. The music collection of my parents was composed mainly of Western classical and Christian hymns. The Tijuana Brass and Eddie Calvert and Chad Mitchell Trio were generational concessions by my parents to us kids. In high school I sang in choirs and played the trumpet in band (not with any brilliance, mind you) and listened mainly to Creedence Clearwater Revival and Cat Stevens.
Indian cinema was another early source of aural pleasure. Though I didn't know their names yet I fell in love with the crooning of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar. (The subtle genius of Lata Mangeshkar didn't stir my heart till years later.) My brothers introduced me to jazz (Thelonious Monk and Brubeck) and Dylan. At university my life seemed to fill up with all the greats of American pop culture: Springsteen, Neil Young, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash and Billy Joel.
My discovery in the early 80s of Jagjit and Chitra Singh, the undisputed royalty of the ghazal, cracked my increasingly parochial (American) musical tastes wide open and I've been awara ever since. Roaming from pillar to post, sniffing out musical titbits, with canine restlessness.
The music of Merle Haggard, one of America's great living artists, has been my guide in the land of country, Americana, alt country and bluegrass. I would wither away without country music.
Mohammad Rafi's silky voice was the subliminal soundtrack of my childhood. One of the all time great playback singers of Bollywood, Rafi was passionate, versatile and prolific, recording more than 5000 songs. Thanks to Rafi I've uncovered the weird and wonderful and crushingly rich universe that is Indian cinema music.
I first heard Zombie, by Fela Kuti in 1978 and was completely shaken to my core. I never imagined such music could exist. This was spiritual music of a completely different order and over the years Fela has led me to the vast, varied and absolutely incredible world of African music.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the giant of Pakistan, rightly sits at the very summit of musical expression in that country. But he is by no means the only Pakistani artist worthy of appreciation in the West. Through his Coltrane-esque intensity and spiritual yearning I stumbled upon one of the contemporary world's greatest folk music cultures.
These four figures are but touch-points of the sorts of music I love and which I hope to share with you on this blog.