The experimentations of jazz musicians with Indian classical (Hindustani and Carnatic) music is a well established chapter of contemporary music. Indian garage bands began making rock ‘n roll in the mid-60’s; today the rock, hip hop and electronica scene is alive, innovative and well across India. Indian musicians have appropriated all sorts of Western instruments from the saxophone and violin to the mandolin and guitar to make beautiful and authentic South Asian music.
From time to time I have let my mind run wild and tried to imagine what a fusion of Hindustani music and bluegrass would sound like. I can hear the horrified gasps coming from both Varanasi and West Virginia. How dare you! Perish the thought! Are you mad?
And while I acknowledge the cultural dirt in which bluegrass thrives is very different from the Ganges mud and Himalayan snow that has nurtured Hindustani classical music for millennia, I could not help but thinking that there was some common ground that deserved to be explored.
So imagine the joy I felt when I stumbled upon a band called Hindugrass! An outfit of scarily talented and deeply credentialed American multi-instrumentalists based around Chapel Hill/Durham, North Carolina Hindugrass’ music comes out of Appalachian bluegrass country. But it is most definitely not something Bill Monroe or the Stanley Brothers would recognise as the music they popularised. Various members of this unusual band have studied tabla, sitar, sarod and khyal singing in India and (amazingly) like me have dared to dream about the fertile soil of both countries. Unlike me (obviously) they have done something about it, namely make a self-titled album of Indo-Appalachian fusion!
I must say that just as this is not bluegrass it is not Hindustani music. It is genuinely something new and different and yet the twin spirits of ancient India and not-so-ancient Appalachia are surely present. Like some sort of ghost haunting the mountain hollows, Hindugrass’ music is ethereal and hard to pin down. Yet unlike that ghost, entirely pleasure inducing.
Fools gold this is not.
02 Mi Ne Mie Kplo Fa Do