Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


fete

FOR the past few years, India has witnessed an increasing level of activity on June 21, to celebrate Fete de la Musique, also known as Make Music Day or World Music Day. Now, hardcore music fans will happily state that for them, every day is a music day, and some will say that we also have International Music Day on October 1, besides genre-specific days like International Jazz Day on April 30 and International Blues Day on the first Saturday of August. Others may insist that this day is meant only to celebrate the ‘world music’ genre, and wonder why everyone else who doesn’t belong to this genre is making a hue and cry.

Whatever the objections, the fact is that World Music Day, as celebrated on June 21, is getting increasing prominence in India, just like it is in many other countries. The good thing about this is that more musicians get a platform to perform and thus reach out to their audiences. From classical and folk to film and pop, one has been noticing an increasing participation. This year is no exception, and below, we list some of the things happening.

Before that, a bit about this World Music Day business. The concept of an all-day musical celebration on Summer Solstice Day was initiated in the late 1970s by American musician Joel Cohen, who spent two seasons as a producer for the France Musique radio station. In 1982, French minister of culture decided to make it a national celebration, and ever since, it has been celebrated in 120 years across the globe.

As conceived in France, the objective of this festival has been two-fold. One was to encourage amateur and professional musicians to perform in the streets. The second was to organise free concerts, making various genres of music accessible to the general public.

Times have, of course, changed. Today, the celebration of World Music Day has gone on to include paid concerts, shows at clubs, appearances on radio and even mobile phone promotions. There are no street performances, in India at least. The bottomline, of course, is that the music community has accepted the changes, simply because it helps spot new talent and gives performance or media appearance opportunities to those already established.

Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the activities taking place this year:

Radio City: The radio station actually began its celebrations on June 19 with a three-day musical affair. Now in its third year, this series on Radio City 91.1 FM will feature both established and upcoming musicians. Artistes like Kailash Kher, Raghav Sachar, Neeti Mohan, Akriti Kakar and Shibani Kashyap are part of this, besides acts like ‘a cappella’ teams Chai-Town and Penn Masala, and YouTube acts Shraddha Sharma and Hanu Dixit.

Radio City outlets in Chennai, Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam will have special events the coming week. In Chennai, artistes like G V Prakash Kumar, Anirudh, D Imman and Sean Roldan will be on air from June 22 to 26. The Hyderabad and Vizag stations will be graced by music directors RP Patnaik, MM Srilekha and Koti.

Besides this, the web radio station PlanetRadiocity.com will run a different range of specials across their 21 stations. On Radio City Freedom, RJ 2Blue will talk of 10 popular acts like Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Faridkot and Papon.

Artist Aloud events: This year, ArtistAloud.com has got into a partnership with vH1 India to have a simultaneous event in five Hard Rock Cafe outlets across India. The event will feature Papon in Mumbai, Indiva in Pune, Parikrama in Delhi, Swarathma in Bangalore and Avial in Hyderabad.

The opening acts in each city were selected after online contests.

BB King tribute: In Mumbai, Blue Frog is hosting a tribute to blues legend BB King, who passed away on May 14, Organised by Mahindra Blues, known for its annual two-day festival in February, it will feature the Blackstratblues, the blues-rock project of guitarist Warren Mendonsa. Vocalist Tejas and keyboardist Loy Mendonsa will be among the musicians performing.

The Ragas Live Festival, New York: This unique 24-hour Indian classical music marathon will feature over 60 musicians. To be held at the Central Park, it is set to be broadcast in New York over the weekend, and streamed live on the Internet for listeners around the world.

The event will be streamed live on http://www.wkcr.org and it will be archived at the station’s website and at http://www.nycradiolive.org for listeners to hear it later. The performers include vocalists Mashkoor Ali Khan and Tripti Mukherjee, sitar player Krishna Bhatt and sarod players Aashish Khan and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. Mailan kora player Yacouba Sissoko will perform with Jay Gandhi on bansuri and Ellenbogen on guitar. The Arun Ramamurthy Trio will play jazz interpretations of Carnatic compositions.

Music from Odisha: The Orissa government has planned a three-day festival featuring the essence of Odissi music at the Bhanja Kala Mandap, Bhubaneswar. A seminar on the state of Odissi music on the national and international arena will also be held.

Vocalists Lata Ghosh, Bijay Jena, Sangita Gosain and Minati Mishra will be among the performers.

Aircel promotions:
Aircel is offering its customers limitless music without any subscription charges. On the day, customers can dial toll free code 543213 or 543219 and listen to any music/ song/ album of their choice free of cost. The drive is powered by Hungama.

Aircel has also dedicated a month from June 21 to July 31, 2015 to celebrate World Music Festival. Each week will be dedicated to iconic artists and singers who have made a mark in different genres.

As one observed earlier, there’s plenty of activity this year. Whether or not you’re in a city affected by the rains, this is a great way to divert yourself.


Shashank Subramanyam,Flute Artist,in his house,at Mylapore,Chennai,on 4thDec2014.

Shashank Subramanyam in his house,at Mylapore,Chennai

THE audience is dominated by hardcore Carnatic music aficionados. The venue is the prestigious Shanmukhananda Hall in Sion. The date is June 13, and flautist Shashank Subramanyam is ruling the stage.

In his mid-30s, the musician is a picture of immaculate class and perfection. He’s been playing in front of gatherings since the age of six, and at 12, created a still-unbroken record of being the youngest to grace the seniormost slot at the Music Academy, Chennai. Today, he makes the flute sound so effortless, displaying remarkable phrasing and breath control.

He plays non-stop for close to three hours, and the coordination between him and extra-talented violinist Akkarai Subhalakshmi is simply amazing. Mridangam player VV Ramanamurthy and ghatam exponent Tripunithura Radhakrishnan control the rhythm section. All the way, it’s sheer magic.

From the varnam in Kaanada to the Purandara Dasa composition in raga Nata, Thyagharaja creations in ragas Devamruthavarshini and Saramati, and the raagam-taanam-pallavi, Shashank is in total control. He’d have probably gone on playing, if he doesn’t have to catch a flight to Germany later that night.

A few days before his Mumbai concert, Shashank gave this writer an interview. A part of it was published in the June 12 edition of Mid Day, Mumbai, the link to which is pasted below. For all his fans, the following is the complete text of the interview.

What are your observations of the audience for Carnatic music in Mumbai?

Mumbai has a substantial south Indian music loving community that is extremely qualitative. Institutions like Shanmukhananda, Chembur Fine Arts Society and scores of smaller organisations around the city have been promoting Carnatic music concerts and teaching activities during the past 80 years. This gave an opportunity for the non-south Indian audience to also get an exposure to south Indian classical music, with Mumbai becoming a melting pot of south and north Indian music and culture.

In recent years, Mumbai has witnessed many north and south jugalbandi concerts attracting different kinds of audiences. Among the organisers promoting such events, there are Banyan Tree, Idea Jalsa, Pancham Nishad and many others. In my own experience, I have committed listeners both from the north and south of India equally. Factually I have performed more for north Indian organisations in the city of Mumbai.

Let’s look at how your career has evolved. You started playing at the age of six and were hailed as a child prodigy. How did the early attention affect you?

Given the short learning time span for a human being, the focus on one thing takes a toll on other aspects of life. In my case, I used to work on music for more than 10 hours a day, even as a five-year-old. Therefore, my academic achievements became a casualty. Looking back I don’t regret this. Honestly, if one wants to super-specialise, the only way is to begin very young and achieve as quickly as possible to stay put in one’s career for a very long time. There are many examples of this kind of career graph from around the world in many fields, including the arts.

What made you choose the flute and who were your biggest influences as a child?

My father Subramanyam was an amateur flautist and I mostly learnt watching him practise at home. At the age of six, when I began performing for the general public, my biggest influences were my father who was my first guru, and my vocal gurus Palghat K V Narayanaswamy and others.

As you grew up, were there any special pressures to keep up with the adulation you received as a child?

Although I began performing when I was six, I got into the big circuit at the age of 12 with a performance at the Music Academy, Chennai in the seniormost slot called the ‘sadas’ during the 1990 music season. Since the expectations were sky high, and also considering the fact that I was relatively young, my father contained and restricted my public performances, thereby making sure that I lived up to the expectations of the audience every time I performed. This also ensured that I could continue to develop and evolve as an artiste.

Who have been your favourite flautists?

From amongst the Indian classical flute players, legends T R Mahalingam from the south and Hariprasad Chaurasia from the north are certainly my favourites although I have followed my own instincts and technique to play the instrument.

Besides pure Carnatic music, you’ve performed at various jazz festivals. What line-up of musicians have accompanied you?

I have been a part of many jazz bands from around the world of which my brief association with guitar legend John McLaughlin is worth taking note of. I was a part of the Grammy-nominated album ‘Floating Point’ along with him. I also perform with well-known European bands including The Jungle Orchestra, Blue Lotus and many others. Some of the festivals that I have performed in include the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Skopje Jazz Festival in Macedonia and Delemont Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

What has been your experience with the Jungle Orchestra?

The Jungle Orchestra, a concept that was initiated by Duke Ellington in the 1920s and further developed by Pierre Dorge, a composer and guitar player from Denmark, is inspired by sounds of the jungle that are incorporated into a concert of jazz music. I met Pierre Dorge when I was teaching at the Rytmisk Conservatory in Copenhagen in 1997. In 2007, we thought of performing at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. It was a very nice interaction with 10 musicians in the band playing drums, percussion, guitar, piano, saxophone, trumpet, flute, etc. Ever since, we have performed around the world including in India.

What is the response of foreign audiences to Indian music?

Many of those who attend our performances in the West or East are either musicians themselves or highly knowledgeable music lovers who are exposed to many genres of music from around the world. They particularly appreciate the complex rhythmic content and the meditative aspects in Indian classical music. They also appreciate the creative blending of melody and rhythm in our system.

What level of interest do youngsters show in Indian classical music?

Although we can’t assign a number or percentage to the decline in interest amongst youngsters, it could be emphatically stated that the decline is very alarming. One example of this could be seen in the age group of people attending live performances. However, it is a little more encouraging to see the growth of interest among Non Resident Indians in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Most Indian kids would try to pursue one or the other form of classical music or dance and some of the young musicians from the countries mentioned above are making names as performers in south India.

Could you tell us about your concept ‘Spirit of Krishna’?

‘Spirit of Krishna’ is an amalgamation of the traditional folk and classical music. The Manganyars of Rajasthan and myself are a constant part of the team. The percussionist and the sitar artistes are mostly guest performers who are invited to be a part of the team from time to time. We present traditional compositions on Lord Krishna in many languages and also incorporate a big section wherein the musicians indulge in creative improvisations. In addition, at times, we also include classical dancers to enhance the presentation.

Do you think collaborations with Hindustani musicians will help expose more north Indians to Carnatic music?

For the past five decades, jugalbandi concerts have been taking place both in the north and south. Citing from my own personal experiences, the audiences have immensely enjoyed both systems equally. However, when it comes to presenting a Carnatic solo to a conservative Hindustani music audience, many in the concert establishment have apprehensions about its success. This is grossly unjustified though. I am of the firm opinion that Carnatic music, if packaged to suit Hindustani music lovers, will be greatly appreciated and right from the beginning of my career, I have been doing just that.

The north Indian music festivals where I have performed Carnatic recitals include Dover Lane (in Kolkata), Hariballabh festival (Jalandhar), Saptak (Ahmedabad), Sawai Gandharva (Pune) and concerts at NCPA (Mumbai). It is time that organisers in the north become more open minded and present music lovers with at least one Carnatic music concert in any series or festival. In some ways, this will be a reciprocation of how south Indian organisations have been offering Hindustani musicians to their audience for quite some time now.

What projects are you working on now?

Careers in music, like anywhere else, involve a constant and continuous evolution in progress and in that direction I keep working on many projects. One of them is to popularise a format of presenting Carnatic music to the north Indian music lovers and the uninitiated music lover as well.

When you aren’t involved with music, what hobbies and interests do you pursue?

Travelling, teaching students, aviation, cars and catching up with the news and happenings from around the world.

Could you tell me about your family’s support to your music.

For the past three decades, my entire family has been dedicated 24/ 7 to the cause of music. My father, a former bio-chemistry professor, has been my teacher. My mother has been a music lover, and sister Shantala an upcoming flautist. My wife Shirisha is a very talented Bharatanatyam dancer and daughter Swara a serious music student. They have all made up for a very healthy music environment.

Finally, as someone who began and succeeded so early, what advice do you give to youngsters who want to learn musical instruments and follow music professionally?

The success rate for a bright professional career in classical music is one out of a 10,000. This is because there is very little focused and committed patronage from the state and central governments. Although there is plenty of talent, parents are often haunted by the scarcity of opportunities and are thus apprehensive. Therefore children are advised to take up professions which ensure a stable livelihood.

My only suggestion to talented youngsters is to take up the arts as a career if they have sufficient financial backing to fall back on, in case of a failure in their arts careers. In spite of the uncertain future faced by students of the arts, if they still wish to pursue this field, it is their extreme passion that will have to play a role immaterial of the outcome. I am one who belongs to the latter.

The link to this writer’s article in Mid Day on June 12 can be found on http://www.mid-day.com/articles/meet-the-flautist-wonder/16284168


arka

Album: And A Half

Artistes: Arka

Label: Times Music

Price: Rs 295

Rating: *****

WE’VE all known Selva Ganesh as an outstanding player of the Carnatic percussion instrument kanjira, and as one of the members of the group Remember Shakti. Now, the son of ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram adds another feather to his cap via the fusion band Arka.

Here, Selva is joined by five extremely talented musicians – vocalist Karthik, flautist Ravichandra Kulur, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Mishko M’ba and guitarist Santhosh Chandran. Recently, the group launched its album ‘And A Half’, which as its title suggests, contains compositions with odd rhythmic scales ranging from one-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half.

Blending styles as diverse as Carnatic, Hindustani, rock, jazz, funk and flamenco, the album is a symbol of mathematical precision. Technically, everything is bang on target, and the tunes grow on repeated listening. Karthik, well-known for his playback singing and his work with AR Rahman, excels on the sargam passages, presenting complex phrases with effortless ease. Though he is sometimes reminiscent of Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan, he has a presentation style that’s his own, and a supreme command over the nuances.

The other musicians are in perfect sync, and there is some terrific interaction between them. Selva’s spoken konnakol portions blend smoothly with Karthik’s vocals, and the accompaniment of Ravichandra’s flute, Gino’s drums and Mishko’s bass is first-rate. If anything, one feels Santhosh is a bit underplayed, but wherever he appears, he’s a delight.

‘And A Half’ contains eight tracks, beginning with ‘Arka’, a piece in seven-and-a-half. With lyrics by Manoj Yadav, it has some incredible interplay between vocals and flute, and supple drumming by Gino. ‘Meera’s Maya’, set in two-and-a-half, is a melodious number with the lines ‘Mhaare ghar aao preetam pyaara’, sung to the backdrop of marvelous flute lines.

‘Mini Tiffin’ bubbles with energy, with its funk-filled groove and flawless coordination. ‘Chain ko diya’, written by Gayatri Ganjawala, has an infectious hook, with Karthik singing ‘Mera wajood tere bin kuchh nahin’. On ‘Flamingo’, guitarist Santhosh excels with his flamenco-based sequences.

‘Parmaatma’, written by Manoj Yadav, has been set in a five-and-a-half beat cycle. After a slow bass and flute intro, it suddenly picks up tempo. ‘Ca Va Bien’ has some superb coordination between bass, drums, kanjira and voice. Set in one-and-a-half, the final piece ‘Boom Shankara’ is filled with verve, with the lines ‘Boom boom Shiv Shankar Mahadev Shiv Shankar’.

Each of the eight numbers has been masterfully presented. A lot of thought has gone into composing these tunes, which demanded total perfection from each artiste. While that has come naturally on the CD, one also saw that quality during the live performance held at Blue Frog last week to mark the launch. Clearly, Arka is a group with a future. It’s one of the most eclectic and exciting sounds to have come out in the recent past.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


ajay pic

IT’S always been a pleasure to listen to a live recital by Pt Ajoy Chakraborty. A leading representative of Patiala gharana gayaki, he has helped carry forward the tradition set by the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. While he has mastered the techniques of the school through his training under the maestro’s son Munawar Ali Khan, he has also adapted nuances from other styles by learning from the renowned musicologist and teacher Pt Gnan Prakash Ghosh, besides being guided by the likes of Hirabai Badodekar, Nivruttibuva Sarnaik, Latafat Ali Khan and M Balamuralikrishna.

Chakraborty performed at the Dinanath Mangeshkar Hall in Vile Parle, Mumbai, on Tuesday in a concert held in memory of the well-known taar-shehnai exponent Pt Vinayakrai Vora. Though the proceedings started almost 50 minutes late, the singer mesmerised the audience from the moment he began. Accompanying him were Soumen Sarkar on tabla and Gaureb Chatterjee on harmonium, with his disciple Kaustubh providing vocal sangat.

Though critics have in the past complained of overuse of ornamentation, the fact is that the Patiala gharana style is very enjoyable to listen to. Special features are the use of intricate taan patterns and sargam passages, which are slowly and meticulously constructed while unfolding the raag. Singers also specialise in the Punjab ang thumri, with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother Barkat Ali Khan leaving behind a treasure trove of memorable compositions.

Unlike many vocalists who prefer to just come on stage and sing, Chakraborty likes to explain his music to the audience, not only at the beginning but sometimes just before executing a phrase. So when he announced that he was beginning with a rare form of raag Kalyan, he talked of the research he had to conduct before actually becoming preparing to render it live, and also the meaning of the words. A speciality of this piece, he said, was that it used both shuddh and teevra madhyam, with all other notes being in the pure form.

Chakraborty’s Kalyan lasted almost 70 minutes. The vilambit ‘Jag mein kacchu kaam nar naariyan ki bas mein nahin’ was charactertised by a smooth build-up, some soulful phrases in the mandra saptak and later a stunning display of sargams. Being devotional in nature, the drut ‘Darshan devo Shankar Mahadev’ was rhythmically resonant and reached an energetic crescendo. A brilliantly rendered taraana, which boasted of complex permutations and combinations of syllables, ended the raag.

A 20-minute break was followed by a short khayal in raag Kaushik Dhwani, with the words ‘Kavan dhang se tum gaavat ho’, followed by the faster portion ‘Ajahun aaye baalamva’. Also known as Bhinn Shadja, this is a pentatonic night raag which omits rishabh and pancham, using other notes in the shuddh form.

As anticipated by the listeners, Chakaraborty next sang two thumris, with tabalchi Sarkar excelling in the laggi portions toward the end. The first ‘Saajan to humse rooth gaye’ was in Maanj Khamaj, and had a melodic air. The extra-popular Sindh Bhairavi tune ‘Kaa karoon sajni aaye’ received an overwhelming response, with Chakraborty totally putting his heart and soul into its presentation. He even demonstrated how a particular portion would be sung in the jazz form. As an apt conclusion, he rounded off with a shloka in memory of Vora.

Before presenting the thumris, Chakraborty said he was only providing a ‘jhalak’ as he has been scheduled for a full-fledged thumri evening at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in July. That would be an evening worth looking forward to.


sam zaman

State of Bengal

SIX days ago, the news came as a sudden shock to those who knew the man and his music. Sam Zaman, the UK-based Bangladeshi DJ who went by the name State of Bengal, passed away after a cardiac arrest. He was best known for his tracks ‘Flight IC408’ and ‘Chittagong Chill’, the album ‘Visual Audio’, his pathbreaking collaborations with the Ananda Shankar Experience and Paban Das Baul, and remixes of works by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Massive Attack, Bjork and Algerian musician Cheb i Sabbah. While initial reports said he was 43, Wikipedia put his age as 50.

State of Bengal was one of the early stars of the UK-based Asian Underground scene, whose popularity among a cult audience was largely attributed to the efforts of producer and tabla player Talvin Singh. The popular club Anokha was founded by Talvin with promoter Sweety Kapoor, and the compilation ‘Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground’ was a success.

The movement, which peaked between late 1995 and 1999, essentially comprised musicians from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who blended rootsy traditional music from the sub-continent with modern club styles like drum n’ bass, jungle, house, ambient, triphop and 90s electronica. After Talvin got the 1999 Mercury Music Prize for his album ‘OK’, the style received a further boost. However, while most musicians continued to produce music on a personal level, the sub-genre as such slowly faded away.

Till the turn of the century, there was a lot of innovative music by Asians in London and Birmingham. Besides Talvin and State of Bengal, artistes like Bangladeshi band Joi and Indian songstress Amar were labelled Asian Underground. The former had an excellent album ‘One and One is One’, but after the death of member Haroon Shamsher, his brother Farook continued to work on his own. Amar, along with State of Bengal, was one of the early acts to play in Mumbai, with a memorable show at Juhu’s then-hotspot Razzberry Rhinoceros in the late 1990s.

There were others who used a similar amalgam but preferred to be associated with the ‘British Asian’ sound, rather than be described as ‘Asian Underground’ artistes. While Asian Dub Foundation, Aki Nawaz’s Fun-Da-Mental and Tjinder Singh’s Cornershop were among the first to use such sounds in the early 1990s, Nitin Sawhney, Badmarsh & Shri and later Karsh Kale were all part of this effort to promote Asian music in the UK. Sawhney, in particular, had – and still has – a huge following, thanks to his albums ‘Beyond Skin’ and ‘Human’, and also his contribution to films and television. Through regular appearances in India, Kale has successfully broken through among the audiences here.

Besides these groups, others used the Asian Underground influence too. Zakir Hussain’s Tabla Beat Science, featuring producer Bill Laswell, and Talvin’s Tablatronic project mixed north Indian rhythms with Asian underground and electronica influences. Foreign acts like Cheb i Sabbah and Transglobal Underground, featuring Natacha Atlas of Belgium, used a lot of south Asian sounds.

Whether they were called Asian underground or British Asian, their music was a far cry from the commercial sound of UK-based artistes like Apache Indian (who used more reggae), Bally Sagoo (Bollywood remixes), Malkit Singh and Panjabi MC (both bhangra), and Tarsame Singh of Stereo Nation (pop-friendly tunes). The basic formula the Underground lot used was a more club-oriented extension of the fusion concept, retaining the basic melodies from the Indian sub-continent and yet being modern and energetic enough to cater to western listeners.

While the bhangra brigade was followed even in India, the Asian Underground and British Asian were followed more in the UK, and very selectively in Indian metros. The chunk of the audience comprised either UK-bred youngsters of Asian origin whose parents had grown up on Hindi film music, Indian classical or ghazals, or of people who travelled to the UK or mainland Europe and soaked in the latest club sounds there. As the name suggests, it was an underground sound, and not a mainstream one. Yet, it was something that was considered cool and happening by the young crowd.

Unfortunately, the glory days didn’t last long. To begin with, the Asian Underground musicians concentrated on DJing and playing in clubs. They released very few albums in comparison to their pop and bhangra counterparts, and thus lost out on those who preferred home listening. Though they had a few shows in India, the number and frequency of concerts was inadequate.

Even otherwise, the tastes of audiences changed towards the beginning of the 2000s. Indipop was becoming passé, and bhangra was getting repetitive. Indians across the globe were opting for a pure Bollywood sound, which had begun relying on Punjabi and Sufiana-inspired hooks. Even within international dance music, there was a shift towards celebrity DJs like Paul Van Dyk, Sasha and Paul Oakenfold.

Yet, though the genre lost its sting, the musicians continued to create new stuff. Asian Dub Foundation and Nitin Sawhney continued recording regularly, their last albums being released in 2013. Besides electronica and club music, Talvin Singh started focusing more on classical tabla playing, releasing albums with flautist Rakesh Chaurasia and sitar exponent Niladri Kumar.

As for ‘State of Bengal’ Sam Zaman, he released his last album ‘Skip-Ij’ in 2007, but has thereafter spent time DJing, doing session work, teaching music and conducting workshops. Musicians who knew him admired his keenness to experiment with sounds and his knowledge of traditional folk forms. He shall be missed, especially by those who followed the Asian Underground movement and 1990s UK club scene closely.


bb

THE title ‘King of the Blues’ wasn’t just a pun on his surname. BB King, who passed away in Las Vegas on May 14, was easily one of the most influential bluesmen of all time, matched in terms of following only by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. And he was definitely the most lasting of the legends, ruling the stage from the early 1950s till almost the end. Sixty-plus years at the very top is something very few musicians have achieved.

As news of his death spread, I was asked by Mumbai’s Mid-Day newspaper to write a tribute. For those who missed that in the May 16 edition of the newspaper, I am attaching the link below. The article sums up King’s life and contribution to music, and also talks of his biggest songs like ‘The thrill is gone’, ‘Lucille’ and ‘3o’clock blues’.

After King, a few others have successfully attempted to carry forward the blues. Buddy Guy, the other two Kings Albert and Freddie, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and Bonnie Raitt have been some of them. Today’s audiences are fairly familiar with their work, thanks to regular release of albums and the availability of their concert footage on YouTube. Many others are clued in to the modern blues-rock artistes, and in India, the Mahindra Blues Festival, has been a platform for some big contemporary names.

Yet, the music of the older masters remains largely unexplored among today’s younger lot. Their names would be familiar, as they have been mentioned in interviews by the likes of Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton. Now, with the passing of the legendary King, it might be ideal to start digging back into the work of all those greats who preceded or were contemporary to him. Those days, the blues was pure and unadulterated, and needless to say, was a delight to hear.

One may, of course, start with King’s live records ‘Live at the Regal’ and ‘Live at Cook County Jail’, or his studio album ‘Lucille’ or his collaboration with Clapton on ‘Riding with the King’. Besides that, here are 10 artistes one must check out:

Robert Johnson: A huge inspiration on greats like Muddy Waters, Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, Johnson recorded only 29 tracks in a brief career. He died a violent death at the age of 26, apparently of poisoning . His songs ‘Sweet home Chicago’, ‘Love in vain’, ‘Crossroads blues’, ‘Terraplane blues’ and ‘I believe I’ll dust my broom’ have become major blues anthems.

Son House: In many ways, he was the father of the Delta blues, as he was the mentor of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. His style was rooted in the cottonfields of Mississippi, and he played often with the other blues pioneer Charlie Patton.

Big Bill Broonzy: His biggest achievement is of popularising the blues outside the US, doing concerts in Europe, South American, Africa and Australia in the early 1950s. He was also known for guiding many younger players, with Muddy Waters, Little Walter Jacobs and Memphis Slim acknowledging his role.

Muddy Waters: Born McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters was called the father of the electric blues. Almost single handedly, he made the Chicago blues scene turn into the world’s most vibrant music centre in the 1950s and 1960s. His rendition of ‘I’m a hoochie coochie man’, ‘Got my mojo working’, ‘I got my brand on you’ and ‘I’m a man’ are hugely successful.

T-Bone Walker:
A huge influence on BB King and Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker was the man who first took the music electric in a big way. His guitar technique was unique, and he was known for his perfect timing.

Bessie Smith: The empress of the blues, Bessie’s music retains its power and emotion to this day, despite facing limitations in recording techniques during her era. Although primarily known as a blues singer, she was equally at home with jazz, vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley material.

John Lee Hooker: Best known for songs like ‘Boom boom’, ‘Dimples’ and ‘Onions’, Hooker was known for his unique vocal timbre and brilliant guitar style. Despite being rooted in tradition, he also had a mass commercial appeal, specially in the 1990s.

Leadbelly: Huddle Ledbetter or Leadbelly was a notorious womaniser and convicted killer, who claimed to have twice sung his way out of prison. Musically, he was best known for keeping the country blues tradition alive, and played various instruments like 12-string guitar, bass, accordion, harmonica and piano.

Elmore James: It’s said that the most copied guitar sound in the blues is that of Elmore James’ bottleneck riff in ‘Dust my broom’. It was a sound he developed at age 12 running a broken bottleneck down a wire stung to his shack in Mississippi. James has been a huge influence on many slide guitar players.

Howlin’ Wolf: Born Chester Arthur Burnett, Howlin’ Wolf was best known for his dark and brooding voice, and his innovative harmonica and guitar work. He was a major influence of British rock stars like Steve Winwood and the Rolling Stones.

Summing up: Besides King, these were 10 early legends to begin with. There are obviously many more and the list of greats from the pre-1950s era includes names like WC Handy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Jimmy Reed, Memphis Slim, Charlie Patton and Memphis Minnie, to name a few.

In many ways and like Muddy Waters, King was the bridge between their music and the modern blues sound. His work will stay on forever.

This blogger’s tribute to BB King in Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper appears on http://www.mid-day.com/articles/remembering-blues-legend-bb-king/16214191


Fazal

Fazal Qureshi

Concert: The Journey Continues…

Musicians: Fazal Qureshi, Rahul Sharma, Andres Hagberg, Ahmad Al-Khatib, Sabir Khan, Sanjay Divecha, Sridhar Parthasarathy, Varun Sunil

Date and venue: May 13, St Andrew’s Auditorium

AROUND 7.35 pm on Wednesday evening, the melodic notes of Rahul Sharma’s santoor mingled with the sounds of Ahmad Al-Khatib’s elegant Middle Eastern string instrument oud. The alaap, jod and jhala portions of raag Basantmukhari met the equivalent scale of the Arabic musical system. Over the next three hours, one heard different combinations in which eight musicians fused Indian classical, Arabian music and European folk-jazz.

The occasion was the concert ‘The Journey Continues’, held at Bandra’s St Andrew’s Auditorium to mark the 96th birth anniversary of tabla legend Ustad Allarakha, which actually took place a fortnight ago on April 29. After shows in New Delhi and Pune, the last leg in Mumbai also featured tabla exponent Fazal Qureshi, Swedish flautist-saxophonist Andres Hagberg, sarangi player Sabir Khan, guitarist Sanjay Divecha, mridangam player Sridhar Parthasarathy and percussionist Varun Sunil.

The mix of musical styles went well with the concert’s theme of ‘Connecting 3 Worlds’. The evening began with the recitation of spoken percussion syllables by students of the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music. The host Darshan Jariwalla then introduced the evening’s concert, after which Rahul Sharma and Ahmad Al-Khatib got together.

The latter temporarily left the stage after raag Basantmukhari, and Rahul continued with raag Charukeshi, played in two compositions set to rupak and teen taal. Here, Fazal played wonderful portions, and he remained in great form for the rest of the show, showing mastery in both the traditional and experimental styles.

Rahul’s performance was followed by the appearance of Andres, who began by introducing two rare flutes – a contemporary silver flute coated with platinum, and an old-style plastic flute without fingerholes on the main surface. His command on the flute, and on the soprano saxophone in the latter half, was simply amazing.

Post-intermission, Fazal, Ahmad and Andres were joined by Sabir Khan and Varun Sunil, with Sanjay Divecha and Sridhar Parthasarathy coming towards the end. A Sufiana piece fronted by Sabir on vocals was followed by Ahmad’s composition ‘The dance of Salma’, an effervescent tune he had written for his young daughter. Sabir again showed his vocal prowess on ‘Panihaari’, based on a Rajasthani folk tune. The tune had some smooth sarangi and soprano saxophone passages.

One of the evening’s highlights was Ahmad’s composition ‘Two rivers’, which had a marvelous lilt. Andres’s Swedish folk lullaby took the audience into another world, and ‘Creation’ meandered effortlessly, with Varun Sunil excelling on the percussion instrument cajon, and having an interactive session with the crowd. The final piece was an untitled jazz fusion piece composed by Rahul. Sadly, because of time limitations, the piece – and the show – ended rather abruptly.

The evening, presented by LIC and co-sponsored by Dena Bank, had many highs in terms of musical quality and innovative compositions. However, one wished Sanjay Divecha and Sridhar had been given a few more pieces, with the former appearing on only two. In that sense, the time could have been managed better, with maybe a shorter speech by the compere.

That flaw apart, the show was well-received, with Fazal putting it succinctly by announcing towards the end: “We’re running out of time, but thankfully not running out of audience.” The fact that most people stayed till the end gave an indication of how much they were enjoying.

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