From the five-hundred-year old musical history of the Sufi Fakirs of Bengal to the virtuoso musicianship of Calcutta’s guitar master Debashsish Bhattacharya and Carnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, this Rough Guide explores India’s spiritual connections with its ancient musical traditions.
A country woven with spirituality, India has a mystical charm which draws people from all over the world to its colourful mosaic of cultures and religions. The traditional Indian way of life has been instrumental in the evolution and growth of spiritualism, and this is reflected in the mystery and beauty of its unbroken musical forms. As the world becomes increasingly capitalistic and materialist, the quest and urgency for spirituality grows, and this seamless collection offers the perfect soundtrack for an exploration of some of India’s most divine cultures.
The album opener ‘In Between Us’ introduces the golden voice of Anandi Bhattacharya on a contemporary exploration of her musical roots. With sublime guitar accompaniment by her father Debashish and other leading instrumentalists, Anandi’s outward-looking approach imbues her music with real musical wisdom which belies her years.Likewise, the Guillaume Barraud Quartet reflect the spirit of India, but this time through the prism of jazz. After many years studying with the legendary Indian flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, Guillaume Barraud explores the sound of the bansuri(Indian flute) with his contemporary jazz quartet. The nostalgic ballad ‘Esquisse’ highlights the delicacy and sensuality of the Indian bamboo flute to its full, with the beautifully understated backing of his band.
Both Babu and Arman are Sufi Fakirs from Bengal, a group of musicians and Islamic spiritual practitioners who have preserved a series of esoteric teachings on breath, asceticism, philosophy and mystical devotion. Sufi Fakirs are also the guardians of an ancient standard of enigmatic songs about love and humanity, underlining their central belief that salvation is found in the present moment and within oneself rather than in a conceptual heaven. The Indian counterpart to the Fakir tradition is that of the Bauls. Paban Das Baul’s beautiful ‘Kala Re’ is taken from his album Music Of The Honey Gatherers. On that record Paban performed songs from the trail of the honey gatherers – wandering Baul singers from the very eastern end of the Indo-Gangetic plains. The honey they reference is spiritual rather than physical. Madhukuri (honey gathering) is a tradition amongst Baul singers, who every morning wander from village to village singing for alms with voices raised in ecstasy.
Jyotsna Srikanth is a Bangalore-born violinist and is one of the foremost Carnatic musicians of her generation. The style in which she plays is called gāyaki which translates as ‘as if sung’. ‘Annapoorne’ is a composition by one of the most famous Carnatic composers, Muttuswami Dikshitar, and the subject concerns Annapoorne, the Hindu goddess of nourishment. The raga used is sama,one that denotes peace. Also manipulating string textures, but this time on his own specially modified guitar, Calcutta’s Debashish Bhattacharya is heard on the introspective piece ‘Aanandam’. Based on Raga Mishra Shiva Ranjani, this simpler piece features the tiny Anandi guitar of his own creation, singing like an innocent child above a six-beat rhythm. It combines an expression of elation with a hint of sorrow. ‘The small instrument brings a sound of innocence and purity,’ Bhattacharya says. ‘It is like holding a baby.’
One of the world’s foremost tabla players, Subhasis Bhattacharya has performed and recorded with his brother Debashish on many classic albums, and on Tablananda,his first international collaboration, Subhasis assembled an incredible line-up of musicians to produce a visionary album that showcases his incredible creativity. ‘Blood Of Two Oceans’ is a true world music hybrid, which blends musical sensibilities from far flung parts of the world; a celebration of universal music principles which bind all musicians and all music.
All these artists can be seen as guardians of ancient traditions, and never has the role been more important than in today’s world. Like everywhere, modern day India vibrates with amplified sound; ringtones, radios, the blast of a horn from a passing rickshaw. Technology has changed the sound of India; it has made it louder and quite literally turned up the dial. Alongside this simmering, there is a continued need for India’s true spiritual identity to be reflected in its deep-rooted musical traditions, which are as relevant now as at any time in its history.
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