I love the sound of a deadline as it whistles past. Here we are merrily biting into the proverbial sandwich of week 23 and I am still labouring on providing you with four tunes for week 22. I’m not angry. I’m just disappointing.
I was in India last week, which has kept me a little distracted and unable to spend my leisure time satisfying my musical want. My experience of this vast country has been cursory at best. Each visit has left me feeling more intrigued, if slightly shell shocked. The noise, the smells, the food, the broad smiles and wide eyes. The knowledge that it is possible to fit a thousand moving vehicles into an acre of tarmac and gravel with only the deities and the humble car horn to keep them from colliding.
In reality I didn’t get to experience much else aside from the traffic and the interior of a hotel. However, it did get me thinking about Indian music.
Now I’m not going to suddenly claim any depth of knowledge on the subject or suggest for a moment that it would be possible to choose 4 tunes that represent a couple of thousand years of culture in a few hours whilst I piece this post together. There will also be no Cornershop here and no ‘brimful’s’ of anything.
We have Indian influences in much of our English culture. From the Balti houses of Birmingham to words like jungle, bungalow, pyjamas and shampoo; all pilfered from Hindi. In the 1960’s there was seemingly a proliferation of British musicians descending on the subcontinent, intent on stuffing their luggage with dhotis, chappals, sacks of hashish and Ravi Shankar. Returning enlighten from these cultural expeditions, sitars or tamburas were sometimes unceremoniously forced into the public consciousness by advocates like the Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Donovan and of course the Beatles. In fairness the influences have remained. So we shall, as they say in India, ‘do the needful’ and dig out a few western tracks that pay homage to this rich and spicy country in no short order.
So without tripping over the obvious, it’s clear to me there should be a Beatles track in here and I’ll use that as an excuse to include one of my favorites. Norwegian Wood has a very non-Norwegian sound to it. I’ll likely be incorrect to say that this was the song that started it all, but had it not been for George Harrison’s fascination for the sitar, when he saw it being used by some Indian session musicians on the set for ‘Help!’ (in Twickenham rather than in downtown Pune I might add) then we may not have had the sound being adopted by a slew of other musicians from the time. Apparently George bought the instrument from a small shop on Oxford street. I suspect its now worth significantly more than he paid for it. Unlike nearly everything else that was bought there.
Next a bit of a cliche but hard to leave out for a number of reasons. Kula Shaker rose to fame during the rather indulgent years of my university attendance. I seem to remember seeing them live at one point, but in all honesty it could have been Space or any number of other 90’s indie bands. Crispian Mills is a interesting character born into an interesting dynasty. I remember, even at the time, thinking their brand of Indian infused jangle rock seemed a little over baked. But it was ‘out there’ and to give them credit, more interesting than many of their peers. I think I lost interest in them before they self imploded under the misinterpretation of Mills’ ideology, but I’m glad to see he stayed true to his influences in the naming of his children, Keshava and Hari, who will either sink or swim on the basis of that parental gift. So to Govinda – notably the only British top-ten hit to be sung entirely in Sanskrit.
Now, I am rather smug in my pleasure of introducing Feel by Bombay Bicycle Club. In my own company I am correct in stating that ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose‘ is one of the greatest albums of a generation, because I agree completely with myself. You can make your own mind up. This band barely made it out of school before thumping on the door of global success and long may they continue, as their music is ever evolving. So we get full points for this tune as it has Indian instruments used in the arrangement, a sample from a 1954 Hindi film ‘Nagin’ mixed in, the video is clearly a take on Bollywood, er the drummer is Suren de Saram, son of a Sri Lankan cellist (tenuous) and the band is named after a chain of Indian restaurants for Ganesh’s sake. Need I say more.
Finally a bit of jazz fusion. I’m both ashamed and excited to say I have just made a personal discovery of John MacLaughlin. An incredibly talented guitarist from Yorkshire, MacLaughlin has had a long and distinguished career playing alongside many notable musicians. Two of his projects over the years, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti appear to have been fueled by his passion for indian spiritualism and have given us some little bits of genius. I’ve not had chance to listen to much yet but I’ll include this lovely, if rather mournful tune, Two Sisters from the album A Handful of Beauty by John under the guise of Shakti.
Happy listening and alavida…
I’ll also include the Bombay Bicycle Club video for an extra point…
A credit here to another site I have been browsing in my research. This blog entry by ‘angiemoonthemod’ who despite sounding like a character from the moomins, has done some solid work on digging into the history of Indian influence on western music and has spent far more time on it than I could have..