Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Radio Tour of Northern India

It used to be that a few days before I left for an overseas trip I would make a couple tapes of my favourite radio station to keep me company when I was far away from wherever it was I called home.  What I wanted to capture on the tapes was not so much the music but the commentary from the DJs, the ads and the call signs that regularly broke into the program.  In a strange town or in a cramped damp hotel room the tapes connected me with ‘home’ in a way nothing else could.

Now we have internet radio and can get any radio station in any corner of the world as long as there is a hotspot or broadband jack. The need to make home radio tapes suddenly ceased to exist.  This is sad.  I’ve only ‘worked’ in radio for a very short time, a time that was in no way very mysterious or magical.  I was for a few weeks a news reader for the local University radio station.  So I am not one to wax lyrical on the ‘golden days’ of the wireless ala Garrison Keillor.  But even a hack like myself can get that magic does indeed lie between the squeals and snaps that come out of the little box.

Growing up in India in a time where TV was not yet a cultural phenomenon, radio was the main way to hear music.  My memory is packed with shards of sound-- shrill and irritating, weird and bizarre, solemn and joyous—and echoes of voices that I only later identified as Kishore, Rafi, Hemant Kumar and Asha.  There are more than a few advertisements tucked away in there too, like this one for a chocolate powder that one mixed in milk at breakfast time.

Brought up right/Bournvita bright!


Vicco Vajradanti Vicco Vajradanti/Tooth powder tooth paste!

It was with great surprise that several years ago I stumbled upon tonight’s selection, at the Sublime Frequencies website.  A double disc collection of radio programs from across north India on which every sort of music India has ever produced can be heard.  Film songs, classical ragas, Sunil Ganguly’s swinging guitar hits, English-language pop songs, interviews with startled British tourists, bhajans, snippets of comedy, advertisements,  keening shenais, doleful sitars, local talent shows, disco and the ruminations of DJs on local and personal matters.  All in all, a wonderfully glorious extended soundbite of the sounds of India.  Indeed, the title of the album, The Eternal Dream of Sound, is just perfect.

If you have ever travelled by train across the vast plains of India you’ll recognize these sounds. They were the ones that you could hear down at the end of the compartment where a group of fellow travellers surfed the dial for a station that didn’t fade away.  If you have ever walked through a bazaar in the afternoon these are the sounds you’ll hear coming from each chai shop along the way.

Thank yous must go out to the boys at SF for thinking of putting these sounds together!     

Track Listing:
            1-01 Radio Delhi #1
1-02 Radio Delhi #2
1-03 Radio Varanasi
1-04 Radio Transit
1-05 Radio Jaipur
1-06 Radio Hill Station
1-07 Radio Calcutta #1
1-08 Radio Bihar
1-09 Radio Lowlands
2-01 Radio Calcutta #2
2-02 Deep Disco Drama Diva
2-03 Glass Music
2-04 Hyderabad Fidelity
2-05 Lucknow Explosion   Very Impressed With Calcutta
2-06 Spirit Of Puja In Bengal   Dj No Home
2-07 Trolling The Crossroads Of Bliss
2-08 Silent Or Noisy World
2-09 India's Sound Museum Of Oddities
2-10 Eternal Finale

Monday, January 28, 2013

Music for Missing Someone: August Denhard and Munir Nurettin Beken


About the most lovely sound in the universe is the song of the lute.  Tonight’s  offering is a scrumptious and gentle concert of  lute, played by August Denhard, and oud (Arabian lute) played by Turkish master, Munir Nurettin Beken.

Denhard is from Seattle and the Director of the Early Music Guild (EMG) a collective of music lovers of which Frazier and Niles would be proud to be members.  In addition to his responsibilities of running EMG, Denhard, as this album demonstrates, is an outstanding lutenist himself.

Munir Nurettin Beken was born and raised in Istanbul. From the age of 11 he studied at the State Conservatory of Istanbul specializing in the Turkish classical repertoire, the oud (Turkish/Middle Eastern lute) and also Western classical music and composition. He graduated with honours and then taught at the Conservatory whilst studying for his bachelors degree. During this time he also began to perform on local television. He also represented his country at an international music festival in Poland and had many of his compositions performed by ensembles and orchestras. Following the completion of his BA studies, Beken helped to form the State Turkish Music Ensemble along with other respected Turkish classical musicians. He also began composing for local television, radio and ballet companies and has subsequently won numerous awards for his work on soundtracks. In 1989 he moved to the USA to study Ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland, where he subsequently became the Executive Director of the Centre for Turkish Music. He was invited by Rounder Records to compile Masters Of Turkish Music Volume Two, an anthology of recordings from the early twentieth century, and subsequently recorded his debut, The Art Of The Turkish Ud, for the same label. It featured solo ud performances of pieces from the Turkish classical repertoire, allowing Beken to display his mastery of the instrument and featuring a surprising variety of moods and tempos for a solo recording. (AMG)

This album is a series of duets and conversations between these two musical soulmates. Absolutely lovely music from the Renaissance and Medieval periods.  Great for Sunday mornings or afternoons when you are missing someone who’s company you love.

            Track Listing:
            01 Greensleeves
02 Piva
03 Estampie Fragment
04 Recercada I
05 Nota I
06 Estampie
07 Estampie IV
08 Lamento Da Tristano, Rotta
09 Spagna For Two Lutes
10 Aspire Refus Contre Doulce Priere
11 Notas II And III
12 La Manfredina Estampie
13 Douce Dame Jolie
14 Belle Fiore Dansa
15 Untitled
16 Un Fiore Gentile M'apparse
17 Calta Ala Spagnola
18 Saltarello
19 Buselik Saz Semaisi

Sunday, January 27, 2013


If there are links that are no longer alive or accessible, please let me know and I'll do my best to get them going again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stayin' Alive: Music for Heart Attack

Several years ago at the University of Illinois some scientists discovered that if a First Aider was listening to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, the chances of reviving a person who has suffered a heart attack, improved significantly. Apparently the 103 beats per minute (bpm) of the disco anthem is close to the optimum number of 100 compressions per minute to help jump start a human heart!


So on this Friday night I’ve put together a mixtape of several other songs with similar bpm for you to keep handy for that moment when you may have to help revive someone or god forbid, be revived yourself.

Track Listing:
  1. Stayin’ Alive [Bee Gees]
  2. What Can I Say [Boz Scaggs]
  3. Boom Boom [John Lee Hooker]
  4. Amarin [Amr Diab]
  5. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover [Paul Simon]
  6. Dama Dam Mast [Abida Parveen]
  7. Batonga [Angelique Kidjo]
  8. Terian Gulabi Buliyan [A.S. Kang]
  9. Invisible Wind [Jackie Stoudemire]
  10. Allah Addu Jam [Baaba Maal]
  11. I’ve Been Waiting on You [Al Green]
  12. That’s the Way God Planned It [Billy Preston]
  13. There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down [Brother Claude Ely]
  14. It’s All Right with Me [Johnny Griffen]
  15. Maggie’s Farm {Live} [Bob Dylan]
  16. Two Trains Runnin’ [Johnny Shines]
  17. Malou [Loketo]
  18. Chubb Sub [Medeski Martin and Wood]
  19. Yeke Yeke Yeke {Mory Kante]
  20. Rangi Rang [Musafir]

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Desi Dub: Nu Asian Soundz

The Voyage by Olaf Hajok

A collection of new sounds from India's urban dance hall crowd.  Interesting beats, basses that will rattle your bones and as ever, sweet lilting voices.

Glad to see my old friends Jalebee Cartel popping up again.

It's hot here. Not much fun to sit and think. Just let the grooves move you.

Track Listing:
01 Hexed & Perplexed [Liquid Stranger]
02 Mirrors - Breed Remix [Jalebee Cartel]
03 Mixed Feelings [Piyush Bhatnagar]
04 Awake - Karsh Kale's Morning Remix [Janaka Selekta]
05 Homeland Insecurity [Nuphio]
06 I Am That I Am [Radiohiro]
07 Tumbi Blaster [David Starfire]
08 Grasshopping - Slugstep Rmx [Anuj Rastogi]
09 21CFX [Goonda]
10 Rubstep - slow burn mix [dimmSummer]
11 Fearless - krts brooklyn bounce remix {Goonda]


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lord of the Primal Sound: Pandit Omkarnath Thakur

The traditions of Hindu India give encouragement to those who need to drop out of ‘normal’ society and follow an inner path.  Unlike contemporary Western society (and perhaps westernizing urban India, too) people are respected, even elevated, for taking long pilgrimages to holy sites, retreating to the forests to meditate or simply taking leave of earthly responsibilities in pursuit of brahman.

Of course, what becomes of those left behind to deal with the mundane world, is a less glorious chapter in the story. And the beginning of our story for tonight.

The time is the very early years of the 20th century in western India where the father of our hero is a soldier in the employ of a local noble. The man, Gaurishankar, crosses paths with    a ‘saint’, an encounter that irrevocably changes the direction of Gaurishankar’s life. He abandons his family, including our hero, who is still very young, to spend the rest of his days exploring the depths and mysteries of OM (ॐ).

Nearly destitute, our hero, who goes by the name of Omkarnath, moves with his mother and siblings to Bharuch, another western Indian town where he labors for a few coins to support his mother who works as a domestic to people richer than herself.  The boy likes to sing (perhaps because it is a way to stay connected with his absent father who is lost in the Lost Chord) and finds work as a bit actor in street theatricals. A local worthy believes the urchin has potential and sends him off to study in the big city of Bombay under the guidance of Pandit V.D. Paluskar.  For six or more years young Om, absorbs the secret science of singing in the style of the Gwalior gharana and learns to play the drum as well.  When he is barely into his twenties, Pt. Paluskar dispatches his star pupil to the other side of the country, to the ancient Punjabi city of Lahore, with instructions to be Principal of a new music academy.

After some time in Lahore, Omkarnath moves back home and ripens his voice as a performer across western India, Punjab and Nepal.  Still poor, he nevertheless is an autodidact and teaches himself several regional languages, including English.  Over the course of his life our hero will transform himself not only into one of the greatest singers of India but an authoritative scholar of classical music. In particular, two works, Pranava Bharati, published in 1956, a landmark treatise on the theoretical aspects of music – swara, raga, and rasa, and Sangeetanjali (in six volumes) published between 1938 and 1962, a manual on the practical aspects of music performance, including raga grammar and esthetics, are considered classics.

So well regarded and admired does Omkarnath Thakur become that he is asked to sing the nationalist hymn Vande Mataram on the occasion of India’s Independence.  This was not simply recognition of his status as an artist but also of his active participation in the movement to rid India of the British. He was an elected member of the Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee as well as President of his local branch.

In the latter years of his life he set up and was Dean of the Music Faculty at Benaras Hindu University, one of India’s premier universities.  The city of Shiva has claimed him as one of its own ever since and it is where he died of a stroke in 1967 at the age of 70.

For an outstanding article on Pandit Omkarnath Thakur which covers all aspects of his musicianship, I recommend you click on this link.

Tonight’s selection is a recording made in the late 1950’s during his time in Benaras (Varanasi) and was was one of many recordings in private collections and only committed to CD in the past decade or so.

On this recording, the maestro presents an elaborate Khyal, in two tempi, in raga Puriya and a bhajan in Pranava Ranjani. The title of this album is based on his pen-name Pranava, which refers to the holy mono-syllabic OM, often referred to as Omkar. He is accompanied on the violin by his disciple, Dr. N. Rajam, who carried forward the legendary vocalist’s academic tasks at the Benaras Hindu University, and has emerged as the most brilliant solo violinist in recent years. (liner notes)

Track Listing:
01. Raga Puriya (Sapne Me Aye) in Teental
02. Drut Gat in Teental
03. Bhajan (Jogi Ek Bair Bol) pt 1
        04. Bhajan (Jogi Ek Bair Bol) pt 2

Monday, January 21, 2013

Love No More: Richard and Linda Thompson

by Gerard Dubois

Richard & Linda Thompson's marriage was crumbling as they were recording Shoot Out the Lights in 1982, and many critics have read the album as a chronicle of the couple's divorce. In truth, most of the album's songs had been written two years earlier (when the Thompsons were getting along fine) for an abandoned project produced by Gerry Rafferty, and tales of busted relationships and domestic discord were always prominent in their songbook. But there is a palpable tension to Shoot Out the Lights which gives songs like "Don't Renege On Our Love" and "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" an edgy bite different from the Thompsons' other albums together; there's a subtle, unmistakable undertow of anger and dread in this music that cuts straight down to the bone. Joe Boyd's clean, uncluttered production was the ideal match for these songs and their Spartan arrangements, and Richard Thompson's wiry guitar work was remarkable, displaying a blazing technical skill that never interfered with his melodic sensibilities. Individually, all eight of the album's songs are striking (especially the sonic fireworks of the title cut, the beautiful drift of "Just The Motion," and the bitter reminiscence of "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed"), and as a whole they were far more than the sum of their parts, a meditation on love and loss in which beauty, passion, and heady joy can still be found in defeat. It's ironic that Richard & Linda Thompson enjoyed their breakthrough in the United States with the album that ended their career together, but Shoot Out the Lights found them rallying their strengths to the bitter end; it's often been cited as Richard Thompson's greatest work, and it's difficult for anyone who has heard his body of work to argue the point.

No need to add anything to this opinion with which I completely agree. This was the record that made me a fan.

         Track Listing:
         01 Don't Renege on Our Love
02 Walking on a Wire
03 Man in Need
04 Just the Motion
05 Shoot Out the Lights
06 Back Street Slide
07 Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
08 Wall of Death