And the Grammy Goes To India

by Viral Bhayani (October 2000) - Times Of India

Indian music is going global with a vengeance.

Chicago-based jazz sitarist Anand Bhatt, no relation to 1994 Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, has been nominated for 10 Grammys by the National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences. Talvin Singh's been working in India for four months on his next, eagerly-awaited album. Apache Indian is about to release his fourth album, Karma, with help from Boy George. Flautist Ronu Majumdar's composition with jazz guitarist Ry Cooder landed up on the soundtrack to Mike Nichols' Primary Colours. Sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan has just collaborated with Madonna on her new album, Music. And, of course, there's Tony Kanal, No Doubt's bassist.

Forget the Indian invasion of Hollywood. Forget also the Latin explosion. Listen instead to Tina of the Sugandh Family, the star female tabla player who's performed in over 500 shows in the US: "If the Latin explosion could become mainstream, I believe it is time for the 'Indian explosion' too. Just as everyone in the US is familiar with the congas, soon everyone will be familiar with the dhol."

And why not? No longer does a Farookh Bulsara have to masquerade as Freddie Mercury of Queen. Indians are up-front and sometimes, like lead vocalist Tjinder Singh of Cornershop, in your face enough to be adopted by David Byrne's Louka Bop label. And no longer are sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and conductor Zubin Mehta the only big Indian names on the music firmament. Take Nitin Sawhney. He's had a veritable who's who (from Sinead O'Connor to Jeff Beck to Sting) beating a path to his south-of-the-river London door. But it's his own music he's most proud of. His big project after Beyond Skin: The Fireman for Sir Paul McCartney.

It's been a long time since the West went overboard on Indian music. Although Indian-influenced music exploded from the time George Harrison of the Beatles studied with Ravi Shankar in the Sixties, avant garde musicians and jazz performers had already discovered its versatility. And now, the world is only too happy to borrow from India. As Majumdar puts it: "The way we can improvise within the framework of a raga, and the kind of emotions that we put in our creations, reflecting our culture and folk music are really appreciated abroad."

Everywhere. In Britain, Cornershop's 1996 single Brimful Of Asha was remixed by hot DJ, Fatboy Slim. It's not just Indian-born Anglos. Look at Jaipur Maha-Swab. This first of its kind alternative qawalli band, they call themselves Thrasher Qawall, blending rock and dance music. Among the band members is tabla player Pandit Vivek Chandra Shukla, who performs as a DJ under the name Numinoid.

Then there's Los Angeles-based violin virtuoso Dr L. Shankar, who after leaving India in 1969, has worked with Michael Jackson, written 13 tracks with Peter Gabriel for Last Temptation of Christ, and made even Madonna a fan.

But it is perhaps Technics Mercury Music Award winner Talvin Singh whose influence is currently all-pervasive. He's worked with Bjork, Massive Attack and Indigo Girls. Even Ustad Sultan Khan has performed with him in London. As the Ustad puts it: "To work with people of international repute you have to understand the beauty of music. It's not just cultural exchange or the fact that the people I work with like my music, it's much more than that. Western influences have given a different dimension to my music."

But wherever they are, the inspiration is Indian. As it is for Chicago's Anand Bhatt, who after a lifetime of classical Western music training, switched to a sitar -- a gift from his father and grandfather -- at the age of 18. Now he can't stop playing it.

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