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Archive for June, 2013

Instruments from India — 10/ Guitar adaptations



Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (top) and Prasanna

IN September 2012, I had begun a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The aim was two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various Indian instruments offer.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mention the leading performers in each style. However, while I have tried to name all the main musicians, the lists mentioned are by no means exhaustive or complete. In all parts of the series, I shall use a similar format to maintain uniformity, and some portions on the concert structure may be repeated verbatim if needed.

The earlier parts of the series talked about the violin, sitar, bansuri, sarangi, different types of veena, sarod, santoor, shehnai/ nadaswaram and harmonium. This month, we feature Indian adaptations of the guitar.

Just to note, some readers have requested a piece on the tabla, India’s most popular percussion instrument. However, this series aims to complete the melody instruments first, before going on to types of drums. Hence, that wish will be fulfilled sooner than later.

THOUGH Indian classical music is primarily known for the way typically Indian instruments are played, there are quite a few cases when western instruments have been adapted to the Indian style.

Prominent among them is the violin, which we discussed extensively in the first part of this ‘Instruments from India’ series. An adaptation of the western model, it finds very prominent in Carnatic (south Indian classical) music, but is also used in Hindustani (north Indian classical), film music, folk and fusion.

Besides the violin, other western instruments modified or adapted for Indian classical music include the guitar, keyboards, saxophone, cello, mandolin and the African drum djembe. We will focus on the guitar this month, and focus on the other instruments in the next part of this series.

Where it is used: The guitar is used differently in Hindustani music and Carnatic music. In the former, it is played like a slide guitar and in the latter, an electric guitar has been adapted. Minor adaptations in technique have also been found in Indo-fusion music. Besides this, it is played in its natural, unmodified form in film music, popular non-film music and ghazals.

The guitar/ Mohan veena in Hindustani music: Two musicians are known to popularise the guitar in Hindustani classical music ¬— Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, with Bhatt improvising on the basic guitar in such a manner that he renamed it the Mohan veena.

Kabra was the first to play classical raags, the melodic modes used in Indian music, on the Hawaiian lap slide guitar. In fact, he had no plans to become a musician, but saw this guitar on a visit to Kolkata. His father let him learn it on the condition that he only played classical and not western music.

Living in Ahmedabad, he studied the instrument by imitating records, and later studying under sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. He modified the guitar by adding sympathetic and drone strings, began to perform in public, and gained huge recognition through the 1967 album Call of the Valley, which also featured santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and ace flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. He continued to record solo albums thereafter, even attracting western listeners.

The Mohan veena, created by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, is actually a highly modified Concord Archtop guitar, consisting of three melody, four drone and 12 sympathetic strings. The melody strings are on the treble side of the neck and the drone strings on the bass side.

Bhatt gained international fame when his fusion album A Meeting By the River with American guitarist Ry Cooder won the Grammy for best world music album in 1994. A disciple of the late sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, he continues to give purely classical concerts both in India and abroad, and has even been featured in the Crossroads Guitar Festival organised by guitar legend Eric Clapton.

Other exponents of the Mohan veena include Debashish Bhattacharya, Satish Khanwalkar, fusion artiste Harry Manx and Bhatt’s sons Salil and Saurabh.

How it is played: In a concert, the instrumentalist sits cross-legged on the floor and places the guitar/ Mohan veena on his lap. The instrument is played like a slide guitar. The rendition usually begins with the presentation of a classical raag. The first piece comprises a three-part movement beginning with the slow alaap, increasing tempo with the jod and reaching an energetic climax with the jhala. Here, there is no tabla accompaniment.

After the alaap-jod-jhala sequence, the instrumentalist plays two or three compositions in the same raag, with tabla accompaniment. These are known as gats or bandishes, and while the artiste demonstrates his skill here, the tabla player also gets certain portions to play brisk passages, much to the audience’s delight.

Once this first raag is over, the guitarist may play another raag, or may play certain light raags, folk tunes or devotional pieces, depending on the time allotted.

Use in Carnatic music: The technique used in Carnatic music is different, as it primarily uses the electric guitar. The instrument was first adapted by Sukumar Prasad, who began giving concerts in the 1970s and is best known for his album Brova Barama, currently out of print. However, in what is generally attributed to resistance from traditional audiences, he suddenly moved out of the scene.

From the 1990s onwards, Prasanna became a well-known name in Carnatic guitar, giving a mix of traditional concerts as well as fusion jams. A student of violinist A Kanyakumari, he is known as the pioneer of a unique style in guitar playing.

In a Carnatic concert, the musician plays traditional pieces written by famous composers. The fare includes compositions like varnams and kritis.

Indo-guitar fusion and popular non-film music: Needless to say, the name that immediately comes to mind when it comes to Indo-guitar fusion is that of John McLaughlin. As a member of the 1970s group Shakti and its later incarnation Remember Shakti, he developed a distinct style rooted in jazz but often using Indian phrases and techniques.

Larry Coryell was another guitarist to prominently play with Indian musicians. He substituted for McLaughlin who wasn’t available on one Shakti tour in the 1980s, and also released the album Moonlight Whispers with flautist Ronu Majumdar.

Among Indian guitarists, Ravi Iyer has innovatively blended Indian and western styles. On his last album ‘Bends’, released as part of his VRavi Guitar Fusion project, he used a Greg Bennett hollow-body single-neck jazz guitar. But more recently, for his fusion concerts, he has got a custom-made double neck guitar designed by Sunil Shinde. Both necks have six strings. The top neck is tuned to play Indian classical scales and raags, and the bottom one is adjusted to play western chords and jazz or blues progressions.

Certain vocal fusion bands also make prominent use of the guitar. In the 1990s, Susmit Sen developed his own style blending jazz and Indian folk for the group Indian Ocean, which he quit recently. Leslie Lewis plays western guitar for the Colonial Cousins, his project with singer Hariharan. Abhishek Mathur of Advaita, Varun Murali of Swarathma and T Praveen Kumar of Agam are some who blend western and Indian influences in their guitar playing.

In Pakistan, Salman Ahmed of Junoon, Mekaal Hasan of the Mekaal Hasan Band, Bilal Maqsood of Strings and Shallum Xavier of Fuzon are among those who matched their western jazz or rock guitar styles with the Sufi or pop sound of their groups.

Use in other forms: As mentioned, the guitar has been played in its natural form in film music and ghazals.

The list of musicians playing in Hindi film music is too long. But some of the prominent names include Ramesh Iyer, Dilip Naik, Bhupinder, Bhanu Gupta and Sunil Kaushik, who all played for music director RD Burman. Today, Ehsaan Noorani of the trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and blues guitarist Warren Mendonsa are among those who play in film music.

In ghazals, the guitar has been used from the late 1970s, thanks primarily to the efforts of Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas who had session players performing with them. Pakistani maestro Ghulam Ali also used the guitar in his later albums. Previously, ghazals mainly stuck to traditional instruments like harmonium, sarangi, sitar and tabla.

Chintoo Singh, who is also proficient at the Middle Eastern string instrument rabab, is a well-known guitarist in the ghazal world, having accompanied all the senior maestros. He also plays in film and popular music.

Summing up: For a true taste of Indian styles of guitar, it would be appropriate to check out the way it is played in Hindustani and Carnatic music. Barring the odd exception, the other styles are either loose blends of Indian and western styles, or focus on western technique only.

Recordings of Brij Bhushan Kabra, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Prasanna should suffice to begin with, besides VRavi Guitar Fusion’s albums ‘Bends’. They have a truly Indian feel, and should transport you into another zone.


The marketing of a music ‘Pandit’

indian music

In north Indian or Hindustani classical music, the titles ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ are bestowed upon a very senior musician, who is considered a scholar and a genius. The title is often accorded by his guru (teacher) or any other senior artiste. However, of late, it has become a fad for musicians from the younger generation to call themselves ‘Pandits’ or ‘Ustads’, and use that for publicising themselves. This spoof takes a look at one such extreme, imaginary case.

A FEW days ago, I had to cancel an important appointment, when Rajesh of the Musicstar Image public relations agency called me and told me a legendary classical vocalist was in town, and would be free only for the next three hours. I asked him for the singer’s name, and he replied: “That’s a total surprise. You’ll be completely delighted to meet Pandit-ji.”

I rushed to the Taj Lands End hotel, wondering who this musician might be. Totally excited, I reached the room where the interview had been fixed. Rajesh was sitting there with one of his team members Seema, who was assisting him. Besides them was a young gentleman, not more than 22 or 23 years old. He was wearing a saffron kurta, had long hair and wore some six or seven rings with different stones. He looked like one of the legendary singer’s young disciples, the one who probably carried his guru’s water bottle to the stage.

On seeing me, Rajesh immediately walked up and greeted me. “So glad you could make it. I didn’t want you to miss this glorious opportunity,” he said. And before I could ask where Pandit-ji was, he pointed out to the young man in the kurta, and said: “Meet Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar, the great maestro and founder of the Chunabhatti gharana.”

I almost collapsed. How could someone so young be called a Pandit? And that too, a Sangeet Samraat, the Emperor of Music? And hello, I had heard of the Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Patiala, Mewati and Rampur gharanas, even the Bhendi Bazaar gharana. They were schools representing a certain style of singing. But for heaven’s sake, what was this Chunabhatti gharana?

Sandwiches, samosas, biscuits and coffee immediately arrived. A huge press folder was given to me, along with some 25 pictures, each showing ‘Pandit-ji’ in a different kurta, with a different expression. I looked at him and said, “Nice meeting you, Swar.” Seema called me aside and told me softly: “Sir, would appreciate if you call him Pandit-ji.”

Trying to look normal, I read the press release. What made me jump up was the first sentence of the third paragraph, which said: “Pandit-ji is now all set to storm the music world by giving his first ever public concert at the Shanmukhananda Hall in August. He is also being considered for next year’s Padma Shri awards.”

Speechless, I asked for regular water. Evian mineral water was served. Rajesh asked me whether I was ready to begin my interview. So I asked my first question.

You have a very musical name. Swar Gandhaar. Do you come from a musical family? Did your parents always want you to become a classical musician?

This is my stage name. My real name is Deepak Kulshreshta, which is on my passport and PAN Card. But please don’t write that down. Deepak Kulshreshta doesn’t sound like a classical music legend. So I changed it to Swar Gandhaar. ‘Swar’ has different musical connotations, one of them being the purity of the musical note. ‘Gandhaar’ is the third musical note, which we sing as ‘Ga’. As for my parents, they both loved music, but neither of them learnt it. They sent me to music class to avoid my tantrums at home.

Don’t mind if I call you Swar, instead of Pandit-ji. Sorry Seema, but whenever I meet Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain, I have always called them Shiv-ji and Zakir-bhai. They appreciate it. Anyway, Swar, how old are you?

I am 21. I have been learning music from the age of nine. First from the late Barkatullah Khan (he touches his ears as a mark of respect), and later from Deviprasad Bhole, who still teaches me. Both come from a strong lineage covering eight or nine generations.

Surprising you don’t refer to either of them as ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’. Anyway, did they bestow the title ‘Pandit’ on you, and how long ago?

No way. They don’t call themselves ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’ so where’s the question of calling me one? I began calling myself ‘Pandit’ some three months ago. These days, every classical singer calls himself ‘Pandit’ after giving concerts for two or three years, irrespective of whether he is famous or not. I thought I’d do that earlier. The name will sell. With a name like Pandit Swar Gandhaar and the right media publicity, audiences would flock to my shows.

I don’t completely agree with you. Only the male singers are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’. This isn’t a practice among female singers. Even the most senior female singers like Kishori Amonkar and Parveen Sultana don’t go by ‘Pandita’ or ‘Ustadini’.

Agreed. But who’s stopping them? Seema, why don’t you learn singing for a year and call yourself Pandita Seema Shah? You can be my student.

You also don’t find this practice in Carnatic music.

There, all the young musicians are calling themselves ‘vidwaan’. Pretentious people who claim to know everything. By the way, can you please ask me something about my singing style?

I will surely come to that. But see, in the olden days, the term ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ was bestowed on the musician by his guru or any senior musician, only when he felt he had reached that stage of mastery. Isn’t it a bit early for you to call yourself ‘Pandit’?

You said it. That was the practice in the olden days. Times have changed. Today, so many young musicians are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’ after performing for just four or five years. And it’s not only happening in Hindustani classical music, but also in ghazals and dance forms like Kathak. If they can do so, so can I.

Great. But you’re already calling yourself ‘Sangeet Samraat’, or Emperor of Music, before even giving your first concert. Isn’t that a bit much?

I’m now getting irritated by your questions. Do you know what Facebook is? Twitter? Seema, I don’t want to give this interview. Rajesh, this is not what you told me! You said this person would ask me some sensible questions. You guys are wasting my time. I’ll have to rework my payment rates.

(Swar, Seema and Rajesh gather in a corner for a short discussion. Swar then returns and apologises for his conduct, requesting me to continue the interview).

Yes, I asked you about the title ‘Sangeet Samrat’. How did you get it?

Oh yes. As you know, it’s important to market yourself on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter these days. You see a lot of singers and musicians there who add things like ‘Pandit-ji’, ‘Super Singer’, ‘Ghazal Maestro’, ‘Classical Prodigy’, ‘Sitar Sensation’ to their names. We did some research and discovered that people who used such titles have five times the number of friends than those who don’t. Since I was using a very musical name like ‘Pandit Swar Gandhaar’, I thought the title ‘Sangeet Samraat’ would be perfect. In fact, one week before my concert, I plan to add ‘Doyen of Hindustani music’ to my name. And two weeks after my concert, I want to add ‘Legendary Luminary’.

I’ve been wanting to ask you this question for quite some time. I’ve heard of various gharanas in vocal music, but for the first time, I am hearing of the Chunabhatti gharana. What exactly is this?

All the gharanas you know of are old-fashioned. Nobody has created a new gharana in years, and I thought I would create one myself. What I have done is essentially mix elements of all the gharanas you know. Not that I know much about any of these gharanas myself. I’m not even sure what gharana I’ve been trained in. But the Chunabhatti gharana is like a very heady cocktail, a wonderfully mixed bhel puri. I was passing by this suburban Mumbai area called Chunabhatti one evening, and stopped by at the bhel puri shop. The bhel puri was really tasty. I liked the way the guy was mixing all ingredients, and I thought maybe I could use the same concept for my music. I worked on it, and from now on, I shall be referred to in music history books as the ‘founder of the Chunabhatti gharana’.

Fantastic. You might just set a trend here. Soon we may have the Koparkhairane gharana, Dariba Kalan gharana, Ballygunge gharana and Kukatpally gharana. Probably inspired by dishes like vada pav, chhole bathure, hilsa fish and Hyderabadi mutton biryani which you’ll definitely find in these areas.

Great idea, man. For once you’re saying something interesting. Rajesh, make a note of all these, and we’ll create a plan on how I should found all these gharanas. Find out about restaurants in these areas which serve these dishes. You got me thinking, dude!

Anyway, you’ve chosen such a huge auditorium for your first concert. Are you sure you’ll get a large enough crowd?

I am confident of my public relations agency. Musicstar Image knows exactly how to create super-stars. We have planned a terrific marketing campaign which will guarantee that some 2,800 people will attend the concert and another 10,000 will curse their luck because they didn’t get tickets.

You’ve never given a concert before. What if you receive negative feedback for the first one? What if people don’t appreciate the salient features of the.. what was it… Chunabhatti gharana?

A majority of people who attend my concert would know nothing about the notes used in raag Yaman, or the vadi and samvadi of raag Malkauns, the notes that define the raag. If I play a morning raag like Miyan ki Todi at 8 pm, they will clap. If I announce I am singing raag Darbari and actually sing the Bhairavi composition ‘Jamuna Ke Teer’, they will accept it and start dancing. Some seven or eight percent of the crowd may spot my mistakes and criticise me, but the minority doesn’t matter. I always look at the bigger picture.

Once your first concert is over, what are your plans?

Why only first concert? Musicstar Image and I have drawn up a career plan for the next 10 years. No other musician in the world would have had such a fabulous career plan. Forget about Indian musicians, not even Michael Jackson.

Very interesting. Can you tell me some of the highlights?

To begin with, we have already planned our international concert schedule. For the next two years, we have almost finalised concerts at the Madison Square Garden in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London and Burgtheater in Vienna. Another highlight is that every three years, we shall create a buzz that I am being considered for some prestigious national or musical award. As we’ve mentioned in the press folder, this year, we are aiming at the Padma Shri. The media will write it much in advance, and the government will actually end up believing them and awarding me with a Padma Shri. We have already created the draft of our press release on ‘Young legend wins Padma Shri’. Similarly, three years later, we’ll target Padma Bhushan. And six years later, we’re thinking of Padma Vibhushan…

My dear friend. Am sorry to say but there are so many senior and great musicians who have been performing for years and are yet to get the Padma Vibhushan. And you want to get the ultimate honour before turning 40.

My mantra has been to dream big. My PR agency will create the right plan, we’ll keep aside an adequate budget and we’ll connect with the right people in the government, preferably those who know nothing about music. You seem to live in an ancient world. Wake up, rock star. Anything can happen in today’s times. Mark my words. I’m only 21, but Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar the Legendary Luminary has arrived!

(In my mind) Well, you may have arrived, but it’s high time I disappeared…

Piano pizazz



Artiste: Sharik Hasan with the New York Quartet
Venue and date: Tata Theatre, Mumbai; June 19, 2013
Genre: Jazz
Rating: ****

FOR the past couple of years, there have been quite a few media reports about the talent of pianist Sharik Hasan. He’s done a few shows in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and many in the west, moreso in New York and Paris. Unfortunately, this blogger never got a chance to see him on stage.

So when one found out he was playing with the New York Quartet at the Tata Theatre on Wednesday, June 19, one didn’t want to miss the opportunity. It had been raining heavily from Sunday, but thankfully, the sun came out on the morning of the show.

The hall may have been 80 per cent full, with many seats empty at the side. Probably it was because of the rains. But whoever made it was in for a treat, as the quartet began sharp at 7 pm.

All four of them – Sharik, New York tenor saxophonist Adam Larson, double bassist Raviv Markovitz and Amsterdam-born drummer Philippe Lemm – were dressed in suits, with similar ties, with only Lemm taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves. Musically, they were in uniform too, as they mostly played originals composed by Sharik, with a few older tunes thrown in.

The show was organised by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in association with Jazz Addicts, with support from the True School of Music, Mumbai. For the next two hours or so, the four musicians impressed the crowd with some brilliant improvisations and great teamwork.

Both the adaptations were played in the first half. The great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk’s ‘I Mean You’ was played in a free-flowing manner, with Sharik excelling on the Steinway piano. Ace composer George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ had the saxophonist playing the standard melody in the beginning, before increasing the tempo to add loads of energy, to the accompaniment of a tight rhythm section.

The originals were charming too, with the compositions always introducing surprises. The band displayed marvellous coordination on ‘Waltz for Peach’, ‘Odyssey’, ‘Red’s Dilemma’ and ‘Ascension’, with the last seeing crisp bass-work and drumming. ‘Confluence’, which concluded the show, was loosely based on Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’, though Sharik added many layers to make it sound different.

In the end, one only wished the band had agreed to the crowd’s request and done an encore — maybe an interpretation of ‘Take Five’ as a tribute to late pianist Dave Brubeck, whom Sharik has seen in performance.

Born in Bangalore, Sharik has spent many years studying classical piano and jazz in the US and France. In Paris, he was part of an Indo-French trio, and in New York, he’s been playing with this quartet.

What was indeed heartening is that we saw a young Indian pianist who’s making waves on the international jazz circuit. In the past, Sharik has shared the stage with some masters like saxophonists Wayne Shorter, David Liebman and Joe Lovano, bassist John Patitucci and drummers Ralph Peterson and Adam Nussbaum.

Some of the others who are doing well in the west include alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is of Indian origin, and pianist Vijay Iyer, both of whom are doing regular gigs in New York.

Over the next two weeks, Sharik and the New York Quartet are also scheduled to play in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Goa. For jazz lovers in those cities, it would be definitely worth a visit.

RATING: * Terrible; ** Hmmm… okay; *** Decent; **** Super; ***** Simply out of the world

Manzarek, Densmore and the legacy of Jim Morrison


IT’S been three weeks since Ray Manzarek passed away on May 20. As co-founder and keyboardist of the Doors, he played a huge role in giving the band a distinct sound with remarkable riffs that adorned songs like ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Riders On The Storm’, ‘When The Music’s Over’, ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, ‘Strange Days’ and ‘People Are Strange’, to name just a few.

On hearing of his death, my first impulse as a music blogger was to write an obituary highlighting his immense contribution and also mentioning how he was also overshadowed by the sheer showmanship and even eccentricities of the band’s frontman, the late Jim Morrison. But naturally, tributes were being paid everywhere, saying more or less the same things, and much as I tried, I couldn’t say anything that somebody else hadn’t said.

Around the same time, I began reading the book ‘The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes On Trial’, written by the band’s drummer John Densmore. It had a very interesting yet controversial subject — the bitter courtroom battles between Densmore and Morrison’s family in one camp, and Manzarek and the band’s guitarist Robby Krieger in the other. So this blog combines a Manzarek tribute with a review of that book, adding a few pertinent questions along the way.

In ‘The Doors Unhinged’, Densmore recounts his experience of suing Manzarek and Krieger for using the Doors name and logo without permission, even calling themselves ‘The Doors of the 21st Century’, using the band’s name in large font and the rest in small letters. The drummer also talks about how his former band-mates counter-sued him for a whopping 40 million dollars for vetoing a Cadillac ad that wanted to use ‘Break on Through’ as a slogan.

This is Densmore’s second book about his association with the band. His earlier ‘Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors’ was a bestseller. He’s even penned articles for various newspapers, and his passion for writing may have prompted him to begin this no-holds-barred account.

To recall from the past, the Doors were one of the world’s most popular rock bands in the late 60s and early 70s, till Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in Paris on July 3, 1971. Though they released only six studio albums till that fateful day, they created a huge impact on rock audiences worldwide with songs like ‘Light My Fire’, ‘LA Woman’, ‘Roadhouse Blues’, ‘Hello I Love You’, ‘Love Me Two Times’ and ‘The End’. Morrison was considered the ultimate rock icon of that era, his remarkable voice and his Greek God looks making up for all the instances of abusiveness, on-stage obscenity and self-destructive alcoholism that went against him.

When Morrison was alive, the Doors had gained an image of a band that didn’t sell out. The frontman laid down the condition that all four members were equal, and were also entitled to equal remuneration and credit, irrespective of their actual contribution in each song. He was also strictly against commercialisation of their songs, a famous instance being when he was upset with the others for agreeing to sell ‘Light My Fire’ for a Buick ad.

After his death, the other three members tried releasing a couple of albums (‘Other Voices’ and ‘Full Circle’), and put out a collection of Morrison’s recorded poetry set to their music (in ‘An American Prayer’). But they soon ended up doing their own things, sometimes with the help of each other.

The Morrison legend, of course, continued growing, and songs done by the original line-up kept increasing in popularity. Their tunes were in demand in Hollywood too, with Francis Ford Coppola using ‘The End’ at the beginning of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Oliver Stone using their songs in his movie ‘The Doors’, based on the band. The soundtrack of ‘Forrest Gump’ also used ‘Break on Through’ in the soundtrack and some other Doors songs like ‘Hello I Love You’, ‘Soul Kitchen’ and ‘People Are Strange’ in the movie.

Problems started cropping up between Densmore and the others, and matters came to a head when Manzarek and Kreiger began performing as The Doors of the 21st Century, roping in the Cult’s Ian Astbury as vocalist and Stewart Copeland of the Police on drums. Things went to court, and it was full-on war between both parties.

Eventually, Densmore won the case in 2005, with the court finding Manzarek and Krieger “liable for false advertising,” and enjoining them from “performing, touring, promoting their band as The Doors, The Doors of the 21st Century, or using any other name that includes the words The Doors, without the written consent of all the partners of the old Doors partnership.” The court also enjoined Manzarek and Krieger from “using the name, likeness, voice or image of Jim Morrison to promote their bands or their concerts.”

Manzarek and Krieger continued performing together, and played Doors songs calling themselves Manzarek-Krieger. They were even meant to come to India earlier this year, but the entire festival got cancelled.

Overall, ‘The Doors Unhinged’ is a racy read, and gives a great insight into what made the band special in the early years. However, but for the times when the courtroom scenes depicting Manzarek’s and Krieger’s trials are described, this book is totally Densmore’s observation of things. Much as one agrees with and admires his stand against the corporatisation of music, it is a one-sided view where we only get to hear Densmore’s accusations of Manzarek and Krieger being greedy.

Yet, some of Densmore’s statements are remarkably pertinent and blunt. “The fact is that the Doors, the US version of the Fab Four, died in a bathtub in Paris in 1971… I don’t know whether Jim is up there resting in peace or not, but down here, we’re fighting like cats and dogs over his entrails,” he says.

‘The Doors Unhinged’ was released in April, over a month before Manzarek breathed his last. As such, one doesn’t know whether he had read some parts of the book, considering he had been ill. One doesn’t even know whether he could read the last chapter, where Densmore tries to justify through a direct letter to Manzarek and Krieger why he attempted to write it in the first place.

Here, Densmore says: “I don’t think I could handle losing you, Robby…. We were really kindled spirits, holding each other’s hands through Jim’s craziness and Ray’s arrogance. Okay, it’s hard to admit but I probably wouldn’t be able to handle losing you either, Ray, assuming of course that everyone is going to cross over before Yours Truly. The truth is that, way deep down, I have a reservoir of cherished memories of our early days together. Rapping with you, Ray, excitedly over our favourite jazz musicians… dreaming of the future, hoping this little dream of ours would actually come to fruition. It did. We had our glory days.”

In the book, Densmore makes it very clear how he admired Manzarek musically. The day the keyboardist passed away, the drummer was one of the first to issue a statement in his memory. He said: “There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words. Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.”

That brings us to some other points. One, had Densmore been only half-way through the book when Manzarek died, would he have finished it in a similar manner or toned down some of his observations? Secondly, and more important from a fan’s point of view, where does all this leave us?

One wouldn’t know the answer to the first question. But certainly, most Doors fans would feel genuinely uncomfortable with whatever happened between the two parties. Yes, there have been squabbles in many of the great bands, right from the Beatles to Deep Purple to Guns N Roses. And there have also been cases like Queen, when two of its band members Brian May and Roger Taylor teamed up with singer Paul Rodgers many years after the demise of their frontman Freddie Mercury to form a group called ‘Queen + Paul Rodgers’. In this case, the other member John Deacon stayed away, but there was no bitterness or controversy about using the Queen name.

Whatever, all of us have loved the Doors for their music. Those glorious songs we have grown up on, and which we continue to relish today. No matter how much Densmore is justified in his stand, or for that matter whether Manzarek and Krieger really had the right to continue using the band name, it’s not fair for us fans to take sides.

Manzarek is no more. As a keyboardist, he definitely changed the game. Along with Steve Winwood of Traffic, Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, he was one of the main musicians from that era to give the instrument its own status in the guitar-driven world of rock. And he also produced bass riffs on his keyboard.

For the fans, the Doors shall continue to be a four-member band. Jim Morrison on vocals, Ray Manzarek on keyboards, Robby Krieger on guitar and John Densmore on drums. Let the bygones be bygones. Their music will never get over. Don’t turn out the lights.

‘The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial’ has been printed by Percussive Press. Copyright, 2013, John Densmore

(June 22: To keep updated of the latest developments, John Densmore has said in an interview to Rolling Stone magazine that he plans to get together with Robby Krieger to do a tribute to Ray Manzarek, and that he had been in touch with Manzarek after he heard of his illness. Hopefully, all the bitterness of the past decade has been forgotten)

CD review – Raanjhanaa/ Music: A R Rahman


Raanjhanaa/ Music: A R Rahman
Genre: Hindi film music
Sony Music-Eros Music/ Rs 175
Rating: *** ½

FANS of A R Rahman have been anxiously awaiting his latest release ‘Raanjhanaa’. With his last two Hindi films ‘Ekk Deewana Tha’ and ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ receiving mixed reactions, a lot of hopes were pinned on the new film, whose audio rights were sold for a whopping Rs 6 crore.

To a large extent and despite a few flaws here and there, Rahman fulfils expectations in ‘Raanjhanaa’, using a good mix of classical-based, folk, Sufi and western-styled numbers. Indian instruments like the sitar, bansuri, shehnai and manjira have been used smartly. Most compositions have the Rahman stamp, and Irshad Kamil’s lyrics fit the tunes perfectly, whether the theme is romantic or rustic.

Yet, despite a few really marvellous numbers, we have one major complaint about the ‘Raanjhanaa’ music. And that concerns Rahman’s decision to sing certain songs himself, when he could have settled for singers whose voices and training would have been more suitable. Here, he completely messes up this number ‘Aise na dekho’. Even though it is a well-arranged smooth jazz composition with a hummable whistle part, it is marred by a completely insipid and expressionless vocal line.

To be fair, the composer has tasted reasonable success as a singer in the past. Songs like ‘Dil se re’ (from ‘Dil Se’), ‘Chale chalo’ (‘Lagaan’), ‘Yeh jo des hai mera’ (‘Swades’), ‘Khwaja mere khwaja’ (‘Jodhaa Akbar) and ‘Maa tujhe salaam’ (private album) have been fairly popular. This is besides many Tamil songs. But many of these were peppy songs which relied more on their tune and instrumentation, than on intricate singing technique. And in some of these songs, one has even noticed some obvious computer-generated pitch correction.

In ‘Raanjhanaa’ itself, Rahman also lends his voice to the electronica-meets-hip-hoppish number ‘Tu mun shudi’. Here, there doesn’t seem to be a problem, because it’s a song more dependent on the vocals of Rabbi Shergill, and on its orchestration. But then, Rahman isn’t a full-time singer, and should thus be choosy about what he sings. We’re sure there were many singers who could do better justice to ‘Aise na dekho’.

Barring that one huge flaw, ‘Raanjhanaa’ has quite a few highs. The title track, sung by Jaswinder Singh and Shiraz Uppal, uses the violin, sitar and dhol smartly. The lines “Raanjhana hua main tera, kaun tere bin mera, raunak hai tumhi se meri, kaun tere bin mera’ are simple yet effective.

The folk-classical number ‘Banarasiya’ contains some incredible vocals by Shreya Ghoshal, who is accompanied by Anwesha Datta Gupta and Meenal Jain. A nice sarangi and flute start, followed by a sitar interlude, give this a typical Uttar Pradesh feel.

The rhythm-heavy ‘Piya milenge’, featuring Sukhwinder Singh and the KMMC Sufi Ensemble, is one of the clear highlights. Lines like “Jisko dhoondhe baahar baahar who baitha hai chupke chupke, tere andar ek samandar kyon dhoondhe tubke tubke; akal ke parde peeche kar de, toh piya milenge” are simply outstanding, and the use of Sufi and classical elements adds class.

Also in the classical sphere is ‘Ay sakhi’, where Madhushree, Chinmayee, Vaishali and Aanchal Sethi sing sargams, taans and even some nonsensical syllables with great coordination.

If the first four songs are steeped in folk and classical flavour, ‘Nazar layee’ is a pleasant guitar-backed ballad, sung by Rashid Ali and Neeti Mohan, with the latter sounding very different from her chart-topping ‘Jiya re’ from ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.

Next to follow are ‘Tu mun shudi’ and ‘Aise na dekho’, already discussed above. Strong rhythms and the faint sound of chants characterise the short piece ‘The land of Shiva’, which provides a brief diversion.

The album concludes with ‘Tum tak’, which is a pleasantly orchestrated number featuring Javed Ali, Keerthi Sagathia and Pooja Vaidyanath. It has a nice shehnai stretch and wonderful lyrics (‘Meri har dushwaari tum tak, meri har khumaari tum tak’), but the tune of the main line seems like a rehash of the ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ title song.

Some readers may wonder why this reviewer has given three and a half stars, and not four. Well, though this is his best set of songs after ‘Rockstar’ two years ago, only three of the nine numbers (‘Piya milenge’, ‘Banarasiya’ and ‘Ay sakhi’) can be called really extraordinary and one (‘Aise na dekho’) is a complete mess.

Many of the others have familiar overtones, as Rahman uses orchestral styles he has attempted before. Even his rhythm-structuring seem to follow the formulae that have worked in the past. Yet, though it doesn’t quite match up to his all-time best, it is definitely one of the better Rahman scores over the past three years. And that’s good enough reason to celebrate.

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

The Ghulam Ali experience


THE special thing about Ghulam Ali’s style of concert singing is the way he takes specific words or phrases and repeats them in a variety of ways, altering their range or volume. Take the Adeem Hashmi-penned ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’. Whenever one hears it, one is simply enamoured by the way he keeps repeating the word ‘faasle’, almost making it sound like a different song each time. Likewise with Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Dil mein ek lehar si uthi hai abhi’, where ‘lehar’ gets the same magical treatment.

Both these songs were the high points of the Pakistani maestro’s concert at Mumbai’s Shanmukhananda Hall on Friday night. For over two hours, he charmed the appreciative audience with a set-list that also included Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Neeyat-e-shauq bhar na jaaye kahin’, Dagh Dehlvi’s ‘Tumhare khat mein ik naya salaam kiska tha’, Ibn-e-Insha’s ‘Yeh baatein jhooti baatein hain’, Athar Nafees’ ‘Sochte aur jaagte saanson ka ek dariya hoon mein’ and Masroor Anwar’s ‘Hum ko kiske gham ne maara’, before concluding with shorter versions of Hasrat Mohani’s ‘Chupke chupke raat din’ and Akbar Allahabadi’s ‘Hungama hai kyon barpa’.

While the evening was a surefire trip down nostalgia lane, one couldn’t help but notice how Ghulam Ali’s timbre has changed. He’s 72 now, and like most septuagenarian singers, his voice showed a certain coarseness, especially if one compares it with the sheer brilliance of the texture we all have grown up on. Strangely, it didn’t seem so obvious on the sargams and taans, which have been drilled to perfection through his Patiala gharana training and years of riyaaz. But one clearly noticed it when he was singing the straighter lines, mainly in the middle register.

That’s not to take away from the overall charisma he displayed throughout the concert, interspersing the music with witty remarks, sometimes targeted at errant members of the audience, and sometimes playfully teasing his accompanying musicians.

Musically too, the concert was of the highest quality, with perfect assistance on the tabla, sitar, violin, keyboard and guitar. With part of the proceeds going towards drought relief, it served a noble purpose too.

LIKE many Indian ghazal fans from my generation, I was first exposed to Ghulam Ali’s voice in 1982, when ‘Chupke chupke raat din’ was used in B R Chopra’s film ‘Nikaah’. I simply loved his voice, though it took me another year to hear his other songs.

The ghazal craze was in full swing in India, with Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Rajendra-Nina Mehta and Talat Aziz doing regular concerts and albums. After getting hold of a Ghulam Ali greatest hits compilation cassette, I was immediately hooked to ‘Hungama’ and Mohsin Naqvi’s ‘Yeh dil yeh paagal dil mera’, also known as ‘Awaargi’.

For over a year, I would listen to that compilation regularly, till the Ghulam Ali fever was broken the following year when I heard an LP of Mehdi Hassan singing Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s ‘Mohabbat karne waale kam na honge’ and Ahmed Faraz’s ‘Ranjish hi sahi’.

At that point, my understanding of the technicalities of music was very basic, and knowledge of Urdu limited. But what I loved about both singers was the sheer beauty and expression of their voices. And though Mehdi-saab has remained a bigger favourite ever since, Ghulam Ali kept coming back in phases.

As a journalist covering the music beat for Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper, I was lucky to have interacted with the legend thrice. One was during an interview, and one was at a select gathering hosted by Saregama HMV to mark the launch of ‘Visaal’, an album featuring Ghulam Ali and Gulzar. The third was during a private mehfil hosted at the place of an income-tax officer about 10 years ago, where Ghulam Ali sang for three hours, his voice in perfect shape. After each encounter, I would explore more and more of his music.

Many Ghulam Ali songs have been personal favourites at different points in time. Earlier on, it was Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Apni dhun mein rehta hoon’. Then, ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’ came along, followed by ‘Dil mein ek lehar’. Many years later, it was Syed Razid-e-Ramzi’s ‘Paara paara hua pairaahan-e-jaan’. For a brief while, it was Rifat Sultan’s ‘Bahaaron ko chaman yaad aa gaya hai’. Then ‘Hum ko kiske gham ne maara’. Khatir Ghaznavi’s ‘Kaisi chali hai abke hawa’. Qamar Jalalabadi’s ‘Kehte hain mujhse ishq ka afsaana chahiye’. Qateel Shifai’s ‘Kiya hai jise pyaar hamne zindagi ki tarah’. Gulzar’s ‘Mera kya tha tere hisaab mein’. The tradional Punjabi heer. Some songs whose poets I don’t know, like ‘Apni tasveer ko aankhon se lagaata kya hai’ and ‘Jinke honton pe hansi’.

My favourite Ghulam Ali song? There’s one obvious choice, and the poetry is so beautiful that I will put down the entire thing here:

Aye husn-e-beparwah tujhe shabnam kahoon shola kahoon
Phoolon mein bhi shokhi to hai kisko magar tujhsa kahoon

Gesu udhe, mehki fazaa, jaadoo kare aankhen teri
Soya hua manzar kahoon ya jaagta sapna kahoon

Chanda ki tu hai chandni, lehron ki tu hai raagini
Jaan-e-tamanna mein tujhe kya kya kahoon kya na kahoon

It’s definitely one of the most romantic songs I have ever heard. Strangely enough, the poet has always been credited in the cassettes and CDs as ‘unknown’. On the Net, however, some posts attribute it to Bashir Badr, though there’s no guarantee whether that is authentic.

Either way, I was hoping he would sing ‘Aye husn-e-beparwah’ at the Shanmukhananda Hall on Friday night. He had presented it with such mastery at the private mehfil a decade ago, but this time, it was one song I missed. Of course, his rendition of ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’ and ‘Dil mein ek lehar’ were more than good enough compensation.

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