The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Bollywood
We say: Tune in, turn on, and drop preconceptions.
For anyone who grew up with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and Sgt Pepper's, the P word is bandied about a bit loosely these days. But given the influence of Indian music in the late 60s — drones, sitars, tabla, slippery microtones and tripped out raga-rock — this substantial collection just gets away with its catch-all title, even though Bollywood as we know it didn't come into existence until well after the smell of patchouli oil and incense had wafted away into the more cynical 70s. But across 27 mind-bending tracks the trickle down of the Western hippie era is all here: freak-out production (echoes), movie themes (more than a touch of Bond here), swirling percussion, and bent guitar solos. They're plastered across songs by the great playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, composer R.D. Burman, and rocker Mohammed Rafi.
Mostly drawn from 70s films, these songs are by turns sexy (Bhosle and Burman on "Mera Naam Hai Shabnam"), thrilling (the driving percussion), influenced by San Francisco rock guitars, and always exotically different. Perhaps still not psychedelic as some might define it, but when the funk and wah-wah guitars arrive unexpectedly, undeniably brain altering.
We say: The recipe sounds unlikely but the results are tasty, and tasteful.
While it's true the fusion of different cultural influences can result in dilution, this exceptional group prove it can be done with integrity and respect for traditions, and something beguilingly beautiful can be created. This Norwegian group is the project of saxophonist/clarinet player Hallvard Godal who — with a grant from his government — lived for a year as a musician in Maputo, Mozambique. On his return to Oslo he put together a group of like-minded jazz musicians, and brought in Zimbabwean mbira player/singer Hope Masike and vocalist/percussionist Calu Tsemane.
The result is music which exists between understated and slightly esoteric European jazz, minimalism, folk (the 10 pieces are mostly rearranged traditional songs from Zimbabwe), and the intimate cabaret room in a concert hall. Proving less-is-more, the spacious arrangements allow for the simple folk melodies to sit easily with elegantly sophisticated jazz. The warmth of the voices, unhurried pace (check the lovely and evocative "Kalahari"), and subtle use of bells, ticking percussion and weaving acoustic bass behind the sinuous saxophone and woody clarinet make for an experience as much as an album. A winner.
We say: Probably available for weddings and your next corporate function.
If the album title didn't tell you everything, the mischievous faces of this trio who play gypsy jazz-meets-tango on guitar, violin, and accordion hint they might not be here for a long time, but will guarantee a good time. From melancholy tunes for slow dancing to dancefloor stompers, this is one for your collection if you've tired of your sophisticated Gotan Project albums and always secretly preferred the more energetic Gypsy Kings. Useful, functional, but hardly essential.
We say: Middle Eastern influences served chilled and in a tall glass.
Originally released last year but now re-presented with five new tracks, this collaboration between the acclaimed and respected Lebanon-born, Paris-based singer-songwriter Hamdan and producer-writer Marc Collin of the cool-mood French art project/covers band Nouvelle Vague hits a point between sensual electronica, downbeat chill-out, generic pan-Middle Eastern slo-mo pop, and a cocktail bar.
Lyrically this is going to go right past anyone who doesn't speak the multiple languages she does (and she slips between them in single songs), but on a purely ambient level this is a classy production of dialed-down moods for late night listening. Your reference point is Nouvelle Vague's low-lights and sometimes emotionally aloof style rather than music out of the Lebanon/Kuwait/Egypt axis. Some excellent songs here (the velvety "La Mouch" for example) but they are sometimes lost in the overall atmospherics.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His newer collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .