By Arundhati Bhanot
Cross-cultural and composite music, evolved out of combining melodies from across the globe, is turning out to be the new delight of musicians and listeners alike. World Music is the name of this genre
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Robert Gass and On Wings of Song
Robert Gass and his renowned vocal group, On Wings of Song, have touched the heart of millions with their version of the sacred chant, ‘Om Namah Shivaya‘. New Age Journal calls it, “One of the most influential recordings of the past 20 years.
In times when our lives are so full of stress, we look for various modes of relaxation. And what better way to unwind than to listen to music. Music speaks a universal language. At least that is what a growing number of musicians are attempting to do. There is a rise in the interest among musicians to experiment with new styles and to imbibe the best of music from various cultures of the world.
What has emerged is a beautiful blend of eastern music (characterized by sitar, tabla, flutes, santoor, etc.) with modern western sounds which together transport the listener to a cross-cultural mythic land. These universal sounds now fall in the category of ‘World Music’.
In their quest to expand their musical horizons, a large number of international artistes were drawn towards India, for its mysticism and rich history of melody. The ancient Indian scriptures and spiritual texts provided a perfect backdrop to the cross-cultural music.
A large number of musicians collaborated with Indian musicians to create a fusion—soulful melodies, modern grooves, hip hop, drum and bass and trancy rhythms, all harmoniously interwoven to relax the body, mind and spirit. This musical synthesis began in India in the 1970s when Bhagwan Rajneesh (later Osho) set up his ashram in Pune. Believers from all over the world gathered here, including renowned musicians like Deuter.
Deuter is famous for his musical accompaniment to Osho’s series on meditation. Like many contemporary artistes, Deuter mixes acoustic and electronic instruments, ethnic influences and sounds from nature. Deuter’s album BuddhaNature (Times Music) has tracks like ‘Joyful path’ and ‘Illumination’ for meditation and relaxation. His music is used extensively by medical and psychological practitioners for therapy. Another musician who set the stage for the fusion movement was John ‘Mahavishnu’ McLaughlin.
With the formation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1972 and the release of his album Inner Mounting Flame, he had set the precedent for a musical style that was not only universal but also ethereal. ‘Mahavishnu’ was a disciple of US-based guru, Sri Chinmoy, who gave him this name and inspired a series of richly spiritual fusion albums.
In India, however, this movement did not catch people’s fancy till much later. The concept of World Music got its share of listeners here only when mainstream musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, A.R. Rahman, Osman Ismen, Talvin Singh and Sufi diva Abida Parveen made music that people identified with.
Here were rhythms, lyrics and vocals evoking our faith in measures that transcended all cultural barriers. Both Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida had a transcendental quality to their music and voices, bordering on various themes of devotion.
Remember the trance DJ WHOsane? His title track ‘Moksh’ from the album of the same name, was a combination of classical music with chants, trance and techno.
DJ WHOsane’s of shlokas—such as ‘Suryam shamam gacchami; yada yada hi dharmasya’—hit an emotional chord with listeners who were waiting for something new in the field of music. He took what was in the ancient scriptures and combined it with modern music to give an ethereal, spacy feel.
While talking about his album WHOsane says: ‘‘I wanted it to be a music that touches you somewhere. Makes you think a bit… of little things that we take for granted, like how the sun rises and sets every day.’’
He believes that music has to do with the heartbeat. Most techno dance music emerges from there. The recent years have seen a steady rise in the popularity of World Music, as can be seen from the increasing number of albums now hitting music stores.
According to Times group President and Times Music CEO Arun Arora: ‘‘We’re now associated with artists like Karunesh who has produced Buddha Bar music, James Asher and the Dum Dum project. The Ministry of Sound label stands out as one that has dominated European charts, outselling mainstream commercial artists.’’
Delhi’s best-known deejay, Sunny Sarid, talks about the growing interest among people for World Music. He says that the distinctive sounds and percussion used gives the music a mystical serenity which makes one relate to it. He warns that this is not run-of-the-mill.
World music, according to Sarid, can be enjoyed only by those who can cross the boundaries of spirituality, mysticism and are willing to make a voyage to the unknown. He also talks about the albums Buddha Bar (I&II) and Nirvana Lounge, by the Paris-based DJs Claude Challe and Ravin, hitting the popularity charts.
Claude Challe and Ravin are both famous for creating oriental mysticism by collaborating with various Indian artists like Nitin Sawhney and other world musicians like Karunesh to produce music for the heart and soul.
Karunesh has carved a niche for himself in the World Music scene. His album, Global Spirit, as the name suggests, is a fusion of music from India, Australia, Africa, Native America and the Mideast.
In his world, tribe meets tribe, East meets West, old meets new, we meet music of the new world. In his other album Secrets of Life, Karunesh takes you on a tour of the world. In the solo, ‘Journey to India’, Karunesh by using the sitar in the backdrop brings forth the spiritual intensity of India. Secrets of Life is a tribute to all that is beautiful in life.
James Asher is another noted name in World Music. He makes use of hypnotic and enchanting rhythms, deriving inspiration from tribal and folk music. Globarium is a fusion of multiple ethnic styles revolving around the theme of a unified world. He was inspired by the splendour of the palaces of Rajasthan to compile his compositions in the album Tigers of the Raj.
Multi-instrumentalist and music composer Prem Joshua is a pioneer in World Music and has been collaborating with composer, tabla and santoor player, Manish Vyas, for the last 15 years.
Their latest release, Water Down the Ganges, is both energetic and meditative. His other albums The Dance of Shakti, Mudraand Hamsafar are a synthesis of ancient Indian instruments with modern western styles.
In these albums, we see Joshua offering a contemporary version of tarana, along with the rendition of beautiful mantras. There are hypnotic grooves, rich melodies transporting the listeners to the land of golden radiance.
There is no doubt that musicians of the world are experiencing a new awakening, attuning to the universal sounds of heart and soul. It is an amalgamation of different notes to a unified whole. They have shown unity can exist in diversity, if we are willing to create that harmony. That is what World Music is about. That is what music is about.
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