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How Indian and Western sounds shaped world music

Published : Jul 3, 2017, 1:44 am IST
Updated : Jul 3, 2017, 1:44 am IST

Worldbeat arose as mainstream artistes incorporated world music into their sound.

Dhanashree Pandit-Rai and Merlin D’Souza are the duo behind Lets Merge.
 Dhanashree Pandit-Rai and Merlin D’Souza are the duo behind Lets Merge.

June 21 saw the celebration of World Music Day, an annual event that was introduced in 1992 in France – Fete de la Musique – to commemorate a musical genre, which was once commonly referred to as “fusion”, that is still alive and kicking, but has undergone various name changes. It has since been known as “World music” and “global fusion” and a more recently introduced term, “worldbeat”.

Worldbeat arose when mainstream artistes began incorporating world music into their sound. Initially, the most prominent influences came from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, but now they arrive from Asia and especially from India, encompassing an ever-widening range of ethnic diversity that includes Celtic, Afrobeat, mbaqanga, qawwali, rai, samba, flamenco, tango and, of course, elements of Indian classical music! World music remains a thriving genre, while continuing to influence today’s growing roster of indie artistes.

For instance, take the recent release of an album called “Let’s Merge” from Mumbai-based Turnkey Music & Publishing, a label founded by industry veteran Atul Churamani.

 The progenitors of the musical venture consist of leading Indian classical vocalist Dhanashree Pandit-Rai, a trained singer under the tutelage of Pandit Firoz Dastur, specialising in thumri under the guidance of Shobha Gurtu.

Dhanashree’s musical partner in crime is keyboard wizard Merlin, who is a composer and pianist, having dabbled in film, albums, advertising, and theatre.

Describing the five tracks featured in the album as an “experience” and “an experimental process through which fusion music is created” by member Dhanashree, the duo – also known by the same name as the album – have been honing their art, through the years, by performing live. Adds colleague Merlin, “Our aim is unravelling the mysteries behind collaborations, and demonstrating the musical blend of Indian and Western scales with a clear-cut aim to demystify world music”.

“Let’s Merge” does precisely just that by expounding, demonstrating, and performing musical-frameworks and modes from the traditional to the contemporary with their sounds incorporating khayal, thumri, ghazals, and Sufi; essentially, merging and mingling everything from raga to rock. One of the standouts of the album is “Holi Hai”, a thumri celebrating Holi festivities, which is backed by “Spring” from Western classical composer Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The other outstanding track arrives courtesy of the person behind the obvious inspiration of Indian classical music on The Beatles, namely Pandit Ravi Shankar. “Prabhujee” is the name of the track, which first appeared on Panditji’s “Chants Of India” album [produced by Beatle George Harrison], which I proudly released in India in 1997 on behalf of the company still popularly known as HMV [now Saregama] which, then, represented Angel Records, a record label founded by EMI in 1953 and, since 2013, stands merged with Warner Music. “Prabhujee” is set to raga shuddh kalyan, with Dhanashree and Merlin adding an interesting tangent of gospel to the invocation of this chant.

Another recent pleasure for me in the realms of world music was listening to the efforts of homegrown talent Bombay Bairag, a collaboration between singers Ashish Ranjan Thakur and Harpreet Hassrat. While the typical Western elements are fused here with Indian
instrumentation on a track called “The Rain”, the sound is much closer to the deep foundation roots of Bombay Bairag’s ethnicity, courtesy the members’

tutelage in Indian classical music, which is obvious from their singing, and the prominent usage of flute. Often, though not always, the aim of world music is to find ways to create unity and harmony between Western instrumentation and more earth- and nature-oriented cultures as can be found within India.

In time, fusion has become a favourite way for adventurous contemporary musicians to broaden their sound with newly found rhythms and, on “The Rain”, this seasonal offering from Bombay Bairag is refreshing.

Nevertheless, my first reminiscence of seeing “world music” performed live was back in March 1984 when Shakti – the band fronted by guitarist John McLaughlin – played at the Cooperage Football Grounds in south Mumbai, featuring members Zakir Husain on tabla and L.Shankar on violin.

But the most obvious collaboration that returned world music into global limelight was the success of musician Sting’s collaboration with Algerian-born Mohamed Khelifati, more popularly known as Cheb Mami, on “Desert Rose” in 2000.

However, to truly appreciate world music and make the experience memorable is by seeing the genre performed live, as the homework undertaken by the Let’s Merge team, Dhanashree Pandit-Rai and Merlin D’Souza, in “merging” two genres and beyond remains the perfect base for building yet another well-deserved indigenous world music platform.

Tags: world music day