the colour of rain

29 08 2009

A piano and a voice. Together they weave a world of gushing passion, religious love, ethereal feminine beauty, intense devotion, a plea for deliverance, with a climatic understanding of the soul’s permanence and the body’s ephemerality. Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan collaborate yet again to produce complexity in the barebones combination of a grand piano and carnatic vocals. Maaya is the colour of the rain. Maaya is illusion. Maaya is a prism through which the colours of light get shaped in such a way that the old growth appears greener, and old colours find themselves formed into a rainbow, as the album cover states. The music becomes metaphor for the illusion of romance, or rain. The rain is gentle. It is the wellspring of all things new, refreshing and resurgent. The rain is fury. It prances with abandon, uprooting the old and challenging every form that comes its way. It is Shakthi, virile and potent, changing the course of several destinies as it unleashes its might.

The songs are sheer poetry. From Ponnin Oli of Kamba Ramayanam, where the grass underneath young Sita’s feet speak of her radiance and beauty, to a tryst between a young maiden and her divine lover, set in a garden inhabited  by nightingales, in Punguyil by Kalki Krishnamurthy, the bewitching words carry us to various emotional spaces, while the music remains free from over-dramatization of sounds. Here’s a transliteration (much of the complexity is lost in translation. from here) of Subramaniya Bharathi’s Suttum Vizhi Chudar sung to his permanent muse, Kannama.

Thy glowing eyes – Kannamma
Are they the sun and the moon?
Thy black eyeballs – Kannamma
Is that the dark hue of the sky?
Glittering diamonds-In
thy dark blue silk sari
Are shining stars – seen
in the middle of the night.

Garden flower’s brightness – Is that
thy alluring smile?
Waves of the blue ocean – Are
thy bosom’s thoughts.
Enchanting melody of the cuckoo- Is
thy sweet voice.
Innocent girl are you – Kannamma
I am in love with thee.

You talk of tradition – Kannamma
Who needs that?
For those in a hurry – Kannamma
Is tradition a hurdle?
If elders accept – our wedding
Shall happen later.
Can I wait till then – here
Let me kiss you on the cheek.

Maaya is the colour of the rain. Every song is clear and serene. Maaya is the colour of the rain. It reflects who we are. Maaya is an illusion. It is what we want it to be.

maaya Pungiyil* from the album Maaya by Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan

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More Anil Srinivasan on his website. Annapoorne and Annamacharya Keerthana Kseerabdhi Kanyakaku Neerajanam with Subiksha Rangarajan are recommended.

~posted by nithya [* best enjoyed with filter coffee]


delicium/delirium: dengue fever

27 08 2009

You have been here: the beach-side, in the evening? The lights and music at the edge of humanity. Mediocre music heard filtering out of distant doors, the words garbled. Contemplating a long night, to come or perhaps already passed. Attention at the edge of engagement. Confusion: should you go in or not?

You have surely wanted to be here: a foreign land, the beach-side, in the night? A grimy place, humid.. warm.. comfortable.. cheap. Bad beer, perhaps, but plentiful. The lyric of sex hovering around you all evening. The poorly tuned band, and the woman singing in a strange tongue, too fast for you to follow the sounds, but too slow to be exciting. Confusion: should you tune her out or not? Nothing else to do, but no energy to do anything else, either.

This is the delirium of Dengue Fever. The dreamland of Cambodia, captured in the white man’s gaze in City of Ghosts, and brought to life by the wonderfully anachronistic music of Ethan & Zac Holtzmann and Chhom Nimol. Like Arcade Fire, but twisted in the direction of some rather obscure (to Western ears) pop music, from 60’s Cambodia – how did they even discover this stuff in LA? – Dengue Fever is equal parts throwback and re-invention. It’s definitely an unusual sound to create: the screechy guitars reminiscent of bad tapes & tape players, a harsh, flattened bass (courtesy of tinny amplifiers) and Nimol’s high-pitched vocals all conspire to produce a slightly sad, jangling effect (despite the irony of doing all this on modern sound systems).

The mood is one of loss, kitschy love, lust, and plain heat, but in a nice South-East Asian sort of way (with song titles like Ethanopium, Flowers, I’m Sixteen, Monsoon of Perfume, 22 Nights, We Were Gonna). In one of their rare English-language songs Tiger Phone Card, they declaim:

“You live in Phnom Penh (Zac)
You live in New York City (Chhom)
But I think about you so so so so (together)
So much I forget to eat

If you’re a guy with an Asian chick fetish, grab your feni and listen up.

Dengue Fever - Dengue Fever Hold My Hips from the album Dengue Fever by Dengue Fever

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~posted by arvind

weep of the oboe

27 08 2009

when the Mariamman flame flickers,
from the aging aalamaram’s sigh,
Bring me your unspoken promises,
For we shall dance like the bell
and its tether,
to the tune of wind whistles.

And if the temple flame eventually dies,
our passions will ignite crimson
the rim of the sky.

when I place the
kumkumam on your forehead,
black-red will infuse
into my cold, grey ashes,
that have settled
over five rocks beside a stream
divided by Shiva’s tresses.

[Mariamman = Goddess associated with Durga
Aalamaram = Banyan tree
Maragadham = Emerald. Also a female Tamil name.
Kumkumam = Vermilion]

MoonShinesDG They Took My Love Away from the album Moon Shines At Night by Djivan Gasparyan
Armenian Duduk

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~posted by nithya (all text)

for the love of god

10 06 2009

Emotions can be confusing — they are tied to context, but transgressive. They speak to each of us differently — warmth is betrayal to some, ownership is loss to some others. They appear, and re-appear, in the familiar, and in the foreign. How, then, should one handle multiple emotions stemming from a single experience? By doing nothing. Yes, that’s exactly what you do when you listen to the master of Qawwalis — Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Give in. Just. Listen.

How else can you respond to a voice that feels like rubbing your hands over yards of silk? Smooth, lilting, gentle, yet variational. It feels like a hot air balloon just released. Anti-gravitate and fearless. It feels like divinity has just presented itself to you in an inconceivable way.

Dub Qawwali is a posthumous album of NFAK’s lesser known songs, remixed by French electronica artiste, Gaudi. What’s remarkable is how Reggae meets Sufi, and does not impose its potency over spiritual expression. Instead, we hear an elegant combination, where the Reggae and Dub actually highlight the individual components of Qawwali. This is not your regular remix fare. Dub Qawwali — dreadlocks behind the veil.

Enter Michael Brook. If Dub Qawwali feels like a blend of music cultures,  Night Song feels monolithic. The opening track, My Heart, My Life is pure epiphany. How it gains momentum! Night Song is for the lovers of dusk and melancholy.

NFAKnightsong Bethe bethe kaise kaise from the album Dub Qawwali by Gaudi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Ena akhiyon noo from the album Dub Qawwali by Gaudi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

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My heart, my life from the album Night Song by Michael Brook and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

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More Night Song at

~ posted by nithya

specialists in all styles: orchestra baobab

9 02 2009

When Orchestra Baobab makes that claim, you want to believe them. Not because it is so endearing (it is), or because it reminds you of a particular touching mixture of hope & pride one might encounter elsewhere (one does) – but because once they get jamming, you end up wishing that a lot more music were as ..  content as theirs is.

Orchestra Baobab was formed in the wake of Senegalese independence, and a notion of ‘negritude‘: pride in being African. At the center of a surge in rediscovery & redefinition (Club Baobab belonged to the brother of the then Senegalese president Leopold Senghor), they found themselves being encouraged to incorporate traditional music into the otherwise standard Cuban son and pachanga that nightclubs in Dakar had popularised since the 40’s. Unlike other contemporary bands like Bembeya Jazz National (from Guinea) or the Super Rail Band (Mali) whose work integrated one single regional style, Orchestra Baobab (like the tree) spread their roots wide. Members included Wolof griot singers Laye M’boup and Thione Seck, Mandinka saxophonist Issa Cissoko, guitarist Barthelemy Attisso (Togo), Cassamance vocalist and songwriter Balla Sidibe, and vocalist/songwriter Rudolphe Gomis from Guinea-Bissau with his Latinate compositions.

What is remarkable about Orchestra Baobab is the sheer effortlessness of the fusion of styles they pulled off. You can hear the Cuban influences (what, exactly? figure it out: we’re not musical structure geeks), but you know that the music is its own thing, not a copy. While it might remind you a lot of things (Attisso cites Congolese guitarist Doctor Nico, Ibrahim Ferrer, Django Reinhardt, BB King, Wes Montgomery and Carlos Santana as influences), you know that you’re hearing something that belongs to itself. This music touches you everywhere.

Consider the evening. Tomorrow is on its way. But consider the evening: it is sufficient for now. Do you have something to drink? A comfortable chair? Someone to love? Good. It is sufficient for now.

Épopée de Gilgamesh by Abed Azrié Hommage a Tonton Ferrer (“Tribute to Uncle Ferrer) from the album Specialist in All Styles by Orchestra Baobab

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~ posted by arvind


1 02 2009

Dawn is the sacred hour.
Dawn is the sacred hour,
Saffron and rose-coloured it throws open the doors of the sky.

Mists, like evil spirits, shrink and shrivel,
Vanish into thin air.
The sun pierces them through and through.

It lights the recesses of cavelike shrines,
Flashes on the brass and copper vessels of bathers in the river.
Pure grace.

Once the breath goes out, it’s fit to burn.

Your head,
Your turban, artfully arranged, will adorn it,
With the beaks of crows.

Your bones will burn like tinder,
Your hair will burn like hay.

While Vishnu reclines on a serpent called Endless,
Don’t fear death; welcome it.
Once the breath goes out,
Once the breath goes out, it’s fit to burn.

Dawn is the sacred hour.

Secular or social interests as distinguished from the religious or spiritual.

Here’s the cause of it all —
It’s a house of tricks.

Life has slipped away.
No-one is left on the road,
And in each direction, the evening dark has come

Here’s the cause of it all —
(It’s a house of tricks)
It’s a house of tricks.
Ignore the world.
Ignore the world.
Ignore the world.

Kala from the album City of Light Buy from Amazon

More Bill Laswell at

~posted by nithya

new voices for old stories

1 02 2009

It is evening, just past the setting hour. You are in your room, doors closed. Then it begins: a slow strumming, gentle, fluid. An old sound: the kanun, Wikipedia tells you. Now, almost imperceptibly, a flute joins in. Someone is taking long breaths and releasing them with infinite patience. All this while the kanun has been rising and falling, like a flame flickering, trying to stay alive. This is the beginning of the cold: you know it, it will soon be night. You are in your room, doors closed. You are in a field under an orange sky.

You are in your room, doors closed. A voice begins speaking: it is deep, it comes from the belly, comes from the heart. The words are alternately harsh and entreating, staccato and melodic. It is a slow voice. It knows time: it has seen it pass. Its parents have seen it pass. Passage, a long passage, is at the roots of this voice: it has come a long way and there is no need to hurry. The voice is speaking of something old, so old that it does not now matter how long it takes to finish, because the story it is telling has come so far. Because there is time, there is always time. There has been time for thousands of years since this story happened, and there will certainly be time tonight. Under an orange sky, where the heat of the day hangs reluctant, unwilling to make place for the coolness of the night. In a field, where time bows to the ney and the kanun and the measure of the story and the voice beseeching.

You are in your room, doors closed. You are listening to Abed Azrie tell the story of Gilgamesh. You are under an orange sky, cocooned by the warmth of day in a field of night. The voice stops, and the kanun returns to prominence, joined by a violin. You are in your room, doors closed. The voice starts again, and it is clear that the man and his instruments are playing tag, now one speaking, now the other, but always sounding alike, always carrying the same gravity. You are in an orange field under the warm sky listening to a story that began five thousand years ago, in a field like this one, behind closed doors like these.

This is music from Alep, or Halab to the Arabs and Aleppo to the Italians. Alep is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It was here when Alexander left Macedonia. It was here when the Ismailis and the Mamluks fought for control of Egypt. It was here when Tamerlane ransacked it before deciding to rape India. It was here when the Ottomans were overlords of Turkey and pushing at the borders of Afghanistan. It was here, at the end of the Silk Road, when silk and peony from China terminated their arduous journey at Antioch. It was here when the French gave Antioch to Turkey and Alep to Syria and the Armenians and the Turkish Christians and the Lebanese were drawn to in this century. It might have even been here since Gilgamesh and Enkidu left behind an unforgettable story. And so it has seen emperors pass, religions clash, travelers settle, and it has absorbed all of the musics and the instruments and the sense of continuity.

So when Abed Azrie does the telling, he begins gently and proceeds slowly, building up the tension, always keeping the mystery. He is the narrator, grief pouring from every third syllable. He is Enkidu, and his wild instruments keep pace. He is the narrator, but from another time and age, and a little French sharpens his indignance. But it is a deep story and deserves contemplation. So you contemplate the shape of his words, the import of his drawl, and the accents his instruments provide to tell you you must feel fear, or awe, or empathy or joy. And you contemplate the silence, behind closed doors, unwilling to open them. Now every other story will feel small, too young, too brash. Every other story will seem forgettable.

And it will not matter that this album was released in 1977, shortly after Azrie moved to Paris, and it took you this long to discover it. And that you do not know of his other vast soaring renditions of Omar Khayyam and other Arabic poetry. It will not even matter that you will not understand ‘spoken word’ as a genre in the same way again.

So listen.

Épopée de Gilgamesh by Abed Azrié Gilgamesh from the album Épopée de Gilgamesh by Abed Azrié

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~posted by arvind