Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thunder in the Mountains: Himalaya Blues

Vajra Virahi (Newari painting)
There are two types of people in this world, I reckon. Mountain people or ocean people.  I’m the former.  Mountains give me peace. They form a mysterious connection to something ancient in my soul. They are where I feel most at home.

I grew up in the Himalayas, so that probably is why I feel this. Oceans to me were as familiar as my American cousins and visited with about the same (in)frequency.

In the early 90s I spent some time in the refugee camps of south eastern Nepal where I worked with Bhutanese like those pictured here. I visited Kathmandu fairly regularly and stayed just a short evening stroll from the Durbar (royal) square of Patan (below), one of three ancient cities that make up modern Kathmandu. Patan is rich with culture, arts and the narrow galis that meander off the main square are full of curio, antique and traditional handicraft shops.  It was always exciting and invigorating to wander through the area absorbing as one does in Asia, a thousand smells, sounds and sights  in each step.   

Sadly, during my stay in Nepal I was too focused on buying cheap tapes of western music to delve into the local scene. About as close as I got were regular trips for kebabs, beer and great conversation with a dear friend, Pratap, at a local restaurant that had live ghazal singers most evenings. 

My memory of the music of the Garhwal mountains where I went to school in India is dominated by the flute. Played lonely but beautifully by an unseen shepherd or dudhwala (milkman) around the next misty corner. It still stirs my spirit in a way no other music can. Bringing home feelings of comfort, loss, security and wonder.  

Tonight’s post is a wonderful record called Himalaya Blues.  It is the work of two Norwegian musicians, Knut Reiersrud, an accomplished blues guitarist and Hans Fredrik Jacobsen a composer, multi instrumentalist and a Nepali folk band Vajra.  The Scandianvians had a group called the Funky Homosapiens which toured India and Nepal where the idea of this record was born. The Funky Homosapiens and Vajra played together at a jazz festival in Kathmandu and so loved the experience they determined to make record. 

The result is Himalaya Blues a superb blending of Nepali flute based folk tunes and western music.  It is elegant, never precious, meditative without being dull. It is also full of surprises.  Ever thought you’d hear She Holds the Whole World in Her Hands sung in Nepali?  And for those of you who, like me, love wandering the bazaars of Asia with no particular destination the opening few minutes will be a complete delight!

This is a east-west fusion of high quality, up there with some of Ry Cooder’s, Taj Mahal’s and Ravi Shankar’s cross cultural work.  Fantastic.

            Track Listing:
       01 Kuvisa
02 Morning Song
03 Mother Himalaya
04 Sylvartun
05 Shangri-La
06 Loknes
07 Ballad Of The Sad Young Tigers
08 Golden Tap
09 Himalaya Blues
Listen here.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Fantastic! (I was just thinking about Nepal the other day...)