Monday, June 20, 2005

The Original Asian Connection - 2003

The Asian Connection

By Geetha AKA Ashanti OMkar ( - 2003

Vankkam, Namaste, Ekaaro and Ete Sen to all the Music Lovin' Masses! Geetha sends a big up to the Asian beats hittin’ the streets, keep it real and educate yourselves.....

So, you ask me, what's this whole Bhangra/Desi thing all about, it seems to be everywhere at the moment – first it was the Asian food with all that Hot Masala, now it’s the music! Well, a breakdown of the word usage is in order, so here goes; Desi: Person of Indian roots, or more generally, person of Indian subcontinent roots; Bhangra: This is a lively form of folk music and dance which started around 300 BC, traditionally it was used to celebrate the harvest. Punjabi (North Indian) Boliyaan lyrics are sung, at least one person plays the Dhol drum and other instruments.

Firstly, a little history into the massive world of South Asian Music - this form of music is so vast; it breaks down from Classical to Pop to Fusion! In India, the Classical forms, Carnatic and Hindustani are on parallel with the Western Classics of Bach and Mozart. Those systems are so complex; one can only learn a drop in the ocean in their lifetime. The sheer variety of scales (Ragas) and rhythms (Taalams) are enough to baffle anyone; however, all the contemporary forms preceding the Classics borrow those elements from these styles. In order to appeal to the masses, fusion and the film songs came about. Over the years, the emergence of World Music materialised, alongside the Bollywood Film Music – this is not the only form of film music in India, there are films from all the regions, the biggest from Mumbai and the others being the huge Tamil Film Music industry, then followed by the Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi and Malayalam industries, all with their own distinctive styles of music and instrumentation. Current major players in the film music area are AR Rahman (of Oscar nominated, Lagaan fame), Ilayaraja, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Ismail Darbar and Anu Malik.

In the recent years, the Asians known as NRI’s (Non Resident Indians) have formed their own styles of music, taken from their multi-cultural backgrounds, feeding from the Hip Hop and R & B beats, fusing those with Bollywood tunes, remixing these to be fit for clubs and using traditional music, like Bhangra, the beats & the instruments to create a new wave of music, which after being on the underground scene for years, has emerged into the mainstream uniting the ‘shades of brown’ as I like to call it, harmoniously!

The World music scene is another massive scene with artistes such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Grammy Winners: Ravi Shankar, Vikku Vinayakaram & Zakir Hussain. The Ravi Shankar Sisters, Anoushka and Norah Jones are also hitting the scene with their own styles, the former with the Classical and the latter who won 8 Grammy’s for her Jazz album, “Come Away With Me”. Ravi Shankar’s, Concert for George the tribute concert which honoured late George Harrison (another proponent of Asian music since the Sixties) at London's Royal Albert Hall is in Cinemas now, featuring Eric Clapton and performances by 43-musicians playing Indian and Western instruments. One of those youngsters should be commended for his dedication to music, Pirashanna Thevarajan, the young percussion genius from Hounslow! The Fusion scene is vast and major players are bands like Shakthi & Silk, and brilliant artistes like Shankar Mahadevan, U Srinivas and Guitar Prasanna.

Moving on from the charts, Theatre Mogul, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber with his fascination for all things Indian, was stunned by the young music director, now known to all as the Asian Mozart, who has sold more records than Britney Spears and Madonna put together – who, you may ask? It is, of course AR Rahman, the man who is behind the music of the hit musical Bombay Dreams, which has stormed the West End Theatre and is on it’s way to New York Broadway in 2004. With the making of the Bombay Dreams music, came a new, fresh talent, the mesmerising tones of Karen David, born at the foothills of the Himalayas, 1999’s BMI unsigned artiste of the year, having had many a hit in Germany and one of the few privileged ones to have recorded with AR Rahman, she is set to bring her amazing cross-over vocal stylings to the UK – watch this space! All this has spawned an interest for Bollywood style music and all things Indian, including fashion and led to the Top 40 single, Shakalaka Baby, performed by Preeya Kalidas (first Asian Female to hit the UK pop charts) and Raza Jaffrey. Listen out for Preeya’s new single, Butterfly, from the movie Bollywood Queen, created by the people behind Holly Valance’s Indian infused Kiss Kiss.

So, how did Asian music reach the mainstream, you ask. It all started with Apache Indian, the man who brought Ragga music to the ears of the Asian masses with a mix of Desi flava – his tracks like Arranged Marriage and Ragamuffin Girl have been hits all round the world.

10 years following Apache, a different sort of Asian comeback happened with Missy Elliot and hot producer Timberland; sampling the traditional one stringed instrument, the Tumbi and using the percussion instrument, the Tabla for the track, Get Your Freak On – this hit the airwaves massively and it’s infectious flavour stayed in the ears of listeners everywhere and introduced them to the Desi scene. Speaking of Timberland, his new find, Rajé Shwari is hitting hard, with her smooth vocals in the company of Nas, Pharell and Magoo.

Before this of course, the Asian Underground scene was extremely vibrant, with acts like Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and the Asian Dub Foundation, Bally Sagoo, Badmarsh and Shri, Junoon and Joi. These acts carved the way, especially with the awards they won and live performances. Other acts to watch out for are Gunjan, the American Desi singer and Kenz Desai, who has scored the music for the “New York International Film and Video Festival” film Alchera - by Rohit Karn Batra.

The charts were then hit with the Addictive track, which Dr Dre got sued for, as he sampled a Bollywood tune without asking! Dre’s protégé, Truth Hurts sings over it, with Rakim’s magnificent rapping, creating an amazing and surely captivating track which was major. This song somewhat carved a niche for Hip Hop with Bollywood film music.

Hot on the tracks of Asian music from America in the mainstream, Panjabi MC won the MOBO UK Act of the Year! Major achievement! His huge hit record, Beware of the Boys, followed the true Bhangra vocals, with the Knight Rider bass line on funky Bhangra beats. This track also had a Jay Z remix. Another huge Bhangra mix I must mention is Bhangra Knights Vs Husan, more known as “that track from the Peugeot advert”. Their new single features the King Of Bhangra himself – Malkit Singh – the biggest selling Bhangra artist in the world (source: Millennium Edition Guinness Book of World Records, 2000).

The last few months have surely been essential to the Asian Mainstream, the main man behind this is Rishi Rich, his name synonymous with Bhangra remixes for acts like Misteeq, Craig David, Mary J Blige, Wayne Wonder, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin and more. The producer with the magic touch for Bhangra, hitting the charts with the song Dance With Me, sung by in-demand singers, Jay Sean and Juggy D (Juggy’s new single Soniye and album will be out very soon). The 2point9 crew also has upcoming projects like female singer, Aysha whose music can be classified as Urban Edge and, a national talent contest to put together an Urban Band. Speaking of Urban bands, watch out for NRG from Walthamstow and DeVoteD, with their exciting music, combining Asian styles.

The DJ’s who play the music and shape the tastes of the masses also deserve a mention. My main big ups go to fellow Lankan Nihal and his co-DJ, Bobby; DJ Ritu and Adil Ray who publicize Asian music to the listeners.

The Punjabi Hit Squad, Dee, Rav, Markie Mark and Amo, from Southall have blown up in the scene, with their own radio show and their major release, Desi Beats from Def Jam UK. This special compilation is the cutting edge of Bhangra tracks, with some remixed Reggae in form of Wayne Wonder and Garage with Dizee Rascal, R & B by Ashanti and plenty more. Enjoy.

Next is the track Shake What Ya Mamma Gave Ya (East West Records), which featured on the urban Explosion Album. This is by the mighty General Levy, featuring Bally Jagpal and Dr Zeus. Their performance at the MegaMela 2003 was off the hook, with Levy’s gruff vocals commanding the attention of the crowds. The single has special Ragga mixes, so get it!

Now that the Asian underground has made its way out in the open, Anjali Bhatia, has released the album, the World of Lady A, a sophisticated sound in comparison to her sample-based debut, Anjali. It may get her a Mercury Music Prize nomination.

Heard of Sri Lankan Gospel? Well, multi talented Joel Algandara has just dropped a wicked album fusing styles of Rock with Indian, called Tell Me Why! Buy it and be impressed!

Before I close, a huge mention goes to Master Percussionist, Sivamani, who has played for Nelson Mandela and has just done a jam session with Wyclef Jean and is hoping to drop an album featuring Sean Paul. To sample his work, check out Drums on Fire, the amazing album with James Asher, which features percussion instruments of African and Asian nature.

To quote Nitin Sawhney, "The whole thing I'm trying to do is show there are no barriers, it's just about checking other cultures and finding where they meet up,” – Again checking out with, Nandri, Vanakkam, Odabo and love da music! See you in the next issue. Peace & Love...