Posts Tagged ‘World Music’

Afro Celt Founder Takes Beatles Global

February 10, 2014

Hear the Fresh Handmade Sound Collective live tonight on Echoes

Fresh Handmade Sound Collective on Echoes

Fresh Handmade Sound Collective on Echoes

The name Fresh Handmade Sound Collective probably means nothing to you unless you’ve been to one of the Lush Cosmetic stores or Spas, but you should know the name of Simon Emmerson, a founding member of Afro Celt Sound System, still the defining exponents of 21st century world fusion.  Recently, Emmerson connected with Lush to make Spa music that wasn’t spa music.  sYNAETHESIAGathering a host of English, Indian, Irish and other musicians, including people in his Imagined Village project, he’s created a series of eclectic albums under the Fresh Handmade Sound moniker including the forthcoming A Hard Day’s Night Treatment, which takes Beatles songs from across their career and spins them into dreamy folk and  global improvisations.  We got a trio version of the collective in the Echoes living room with Simon Emmerson on guitar,  sitarist Sheema Mukherjee and keyboardist Simon Richmond.   They rework some Beatles tunes and play some original compositions live tonight on Echoes.  So light some candles, lay down and drift off the the Fresh Handmade Sound Collective tonight on Echoes.

John Diliberto (((echoes)))

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Ravi Shankar’s Last Raga Ride

December 12, 2012

or I Dropped My Microphone on Ravi Shankar’s Sitar.

121212054903-ravi-shankar-horizontal-galleryThe word “icon” is tossed around pretty freely these days, and I probably fling it out there more than most.  But put the name Ravi Shankar next to “icon” and you reset that bar to stratospheric heights. There are only a few musicians who stand out as icons when you think of a particular music or instrument. For Be-Bop it’s Charlie Parker; for the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix; for classical music, Beethoven.  Add to that list Ravi Shankar, the first name you think of when Indian music and the sitar come up. And now, like those musicians, Ravi Shankar is gone.

When Ravi Shankar plays an alap, the slow, improvised introduction to a raga, he closes his eyes as if lost to the world.“Somehow I don’t know my eyes become closed especially those parts which are slow and serene,” said Shankar during one of my two interviews with the artist.  “That’s when I cannot keep my eyes open and watch my listener or watch everything like one can do later on when one plays faster pieces. And that’s one place where I completely lose contact with the outside world.”

Ravi Shankar didn’t start out playing sitar.  Born on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, India, he began as a dancer in an international performance troupe led by his brother, Uday. Shankar traveled the world in his teenage years living a cosmopolitan life.  Opening up the booklet of his 75th anniversary CD, In Celebration, I pointed out a photo of a young handsome man, his long black hair is slick backed and strings of beads crisscross his bare chest as he strikes a seductive pose that wouldn’t be out of place in a Prince video.

John Diliberto & Ravi Shankar, New York 1996

John Diliberto & Ravi Shankar, New York 1996

“Who is that young man?” I asked facetiously

“That’s me dancing,” laughed Shankar, looking at a picture of his teenage self.  “This is my solo I choreographed myself.”

“How is this person different from the person sitting in front of me right now?” I probed.

“Well this person about 16 to 17 going 17, 19,” he answered. “And now I am going 76 almost. So there has to be a lot of difference, but I still have him inside me. I cannot get rid of him.

“What parts of him do you like?” I asked.

“Well that sometime I really feel like very young and very childish, especially after the sensation of coming to New York,” he said wistfully.  “All my memories become so alive. My first sensation is the San Moritz Hotel in front of Central Park. That’s where we stayed. And New York was my first love, it’s very special. The whole Times Square, seeing 3 films a day, going to the Cotton Club, hearing Cab Calloway and all the famous people, seeing them on stage, Ed Wynn, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor.”

That’s not the frame of reference that comes to mind when you think of Ravi Shankar.  Even 16 years ago, Shankar was a frail man with a cloudy yellow ring around the irises of his eyes.  But as he embraced his sitar, you couldn’t  forget his stature as a master musician who seduced the world with an ancient sound and spirit.  But before he attained a status of musical sainthood, he had to leave the world behind.  In the midst of traveling the globe with his brother’s troupe, he decided to return to India with Master Baba Allaudin Khan and studied the sitar.

1313275438_ravi-shankar-yehudi-menuhin-west-meets-east“I covered my eyes to all my near past and went to a very distant past,” reflected Shankar. “So it was a difficult job to do but I so wanted to acquire and learn music from this great man that I tried to live exactly the way he wanted: Old fashioned the old guru-disciple system. You become a celibate, you give up everything, you live a very simple life and nothing else but just work, you know.”

In fact, Shankar experienced the chilla, a forty day period of isolation and virtually non-stop playing.  “That sort of thing is not possible today,” he conceded. He emerged from this stark period with formidable technique and a music whose spirit would suffuse several generations.

Almost from the beginning, Ravi Shankar reached out to other musicians, finding a common ground between Indian music and the jazz, rock and classical worlds.

“Imagine my background of those 8 years in Europe and America, listening to so much of world music at that time” he asked.  “So it was very natural for me when I matured as a performing artist, that apart from keeping all the pure things there was something in my head going on to do new things, new expressions.”

One of the first western musicians to embrace Shankar was classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin.  They began paying together in the 1950s and in the late 60s recorded West Meets East.

And then came the 60s revolution when Indian music was embraced by psychedelic rock.  It was this movement and Shankar’s association with George Harrison of The Beatles that really launched the sitarist towards global renown.  But he has always been disparaging of the times even though he made notorious appearances at the Woodstock and  Monterey Festivals as well as The Concert For Bangladesh, where the audience mistook his tuning for an actual piece music.

“And many times I had to walk off with my sitar really because I couldn’t take it anymore,” he ruefully recalled, “because our music is so sacred to us. But they took it for granted because George happened to be my student.  So they took it for granted they come with the same spirit to hear our music, whistling and shrieking and doing all sort of things.”

Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane dialed into Indian modalities in the mid-60s through Shankar..

“I taught him the rudiments of our ragas and the way we improvise,” remembered Shankar. “He was so interested to know how we can create such peace, the feeling of tranquility in music. I used to tell him, ‘John, I’m amazed.’ Because when I saw him he had become a vegetarian, he had left drugs, drink, everything. He was studying Rama Krishna. So I asked him ‘Why do I find so much disturbance in your discordant in your music?’ So he said, ‘That’s what I want to find out, if you can help me, Ravi.’

Philip Glass tuned up his minimalist concepts while arranging Ravi Shankar compositions for orchestra.  Space music bands like Popol Vuh dialed in to Shankar’s raga excursions and countless guitarists like Terje Rypdal and John McLaughlin brought Indian phrasing into their playing.  World fusion was born in Shankar-influenced groups like Oregon, Shakti, and Ancient Future, all of whom ingested Indian music through Shankar.

Ravi Shankar & George Harrison

Ravi Shankar & George Harrison

Despite his misgivings, the 1960s and early 70s were times of feverish collaborations by Shankar, especially working with George Harrison. It’s something he picked up on again in the late 1980s when he made three albums for the Private Music label, including collaboration with Philip Glass, the minimalist who has cited Shankar as a primary influence.  But no matter what the combination, Shankar says he’s still bringing the same spirit to the music which he learned from his guru, Baba Alaudin Khan.

“We always had oral tradition,” reflected Shankar.  So the guru taught the disciple and along with the music it was not just the technique of some of the compositions but it was the whole spirit the whole way of life the whole religious aspect. The deep introspective feeling brought tears to the eyes, made you feel like you were near the god. That still exists in our music. And that’s something which I have been trying in many of my compositions.  If you hear pieces like “Shanti Mantra,” you’ll see I have utilized western musicians, western choir and also things I tried to bring that feeling.”

He taught that oral tradition to his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar.  I first met Anoushka at her father’s home in Southern California.  She was 19 then and just on the precipice of her own musical career.  Sitting in their practice room, Ravi Shankar sang melodies and Anoushka played them back.  As he played improvised lines on his sitar, fresh in the moment, Anoushka shook her head from side to side, acknowledging the mastery of his melodies even as she replicated them herself.

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar

“It’s very much a call and response type of situation,” she explained. “When he is teaching me, he’s either playing a composition that he is teaching me or he’s improvising.  I watch him and listen and repeat, and it’s that sort of repetitive process of just playing it over and over again.  It sinks in after a while.”

“We always had oral tradition,” her father concurred. “But it was also the whole spirit, the whole way of life, the religious aspect, to make you feel being near the god. That still exists in our music.”

For all his spiritualism, Shankar was a man of the world.  He laughed easily and I can still remember him opening his fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant.  “You will have a happy life,” read the fortune, to which Shankar added, laughing hysterically, “in bed.”

And he was gracious.  In our first interview in 1996, Shankar had demonstrated his sitar for me and was still holding it in his lap as we talked.  For some reason, my microphone slipped out of my hand and crashed into his sitar.  I stood frozen, as did his entourage around me.  Before I could utter an apology, Shankar reached out and said, “It’s okay.  It’s only a practice sitar.”

Ravi Shankar Towards the End

Ravi Shankar Towards the End

It didn’t matter what kind of sitar Shankar played, the logic and invention of his solos was extraordinary and his quicksilver interplay with tabla players like Alla Rahka is the stuff that would inspire jazz and rock musicians for decades.    The concerts that I  saw him play were always transporting experiences as Shankar wove entire worlds with his ragas.

Shankar was the last of an Indian music triumvirate that including sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and tabla master Alla Rahka.  Ravi Shankar passed away last night, December 11, 2012 at the age of 92.  It truly is the end of an era, but his influence resonates like the sympathetic strings of the sitar.

You’ll find of a list of Five Essential Ravi Shankar CDs that I compiled for his 90th birthday.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Carmen Rizzo & Huun Huur Tu: Electronica Throat Singing

October 15, 2009

HuunHuurTu-Rizzo_cvrTuvan throat Singers Huun Huur Tu get electrified by Carmen Rizzo.

You can hear an audio version of this blog, with music, here.

In a New York hotel room,  Bapa Sayan is singing in a low guttural moan that sounds like gorillas gargling.  He does this in a group called Huun Huur Tu from the Tuvan region of Siberia. Employing  a technique called throat singing or overtone singing that’s similar to Tibetan monks, they can split a sound in their mouth into multiple overtones, yielding 2 or three separate melodies. Shifting up into a higher pitch range, Bapa Sayan creates multiple and ethereal shifting melodies, all from just his own voice.

Of all the overtone singing styles in the world, Tuvan throat singing is like the heavy metal of the technique.

Carmen Rizzo: Yes. [laughs] I was like, I was like, just petrified.

Carmen Rizzo is a producer and programmer who has worked with artists like Niyaz and Lal Meri.  Walking through his lounge and meeting room in Hollywood, walls that aren’t covered with tapestries are hung with photos, gold records and posters of projects he’s worked on like Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and Seal.   On Eternal, his approach to Huun Huur Tu is part electronica, part ambient and part textural soundscaping. And that gutteral Tuvan style wasn’t quite what he wanted to highlight when he agreed to soup up some recordings they had made.

Carmen Rizzo: Yeah.  I purposely, in this record, steered away from the Tuvan style singing, and if you know their past records it was more of that.  On this, I tried to feature them more as singers, as opposed to just the throat singing, because I was a little turned off by that, in the beginning because I thought, “I’ve got to be able to play this record, for my fans and for anyone.” and I know, this sort of Tuvan singing can sort of turn people off.

In his studio, Rizzo took the Tuvan’s music, put it into his computer and began working with it the way he’d work with a pop song.

Carmen Rizzo: I had to pick certain songs, and chop them down and rearrange them, which was not easy, because there was no click, some songs were not to a grid, out of time, even the tuning, it was a technical nightmare. I have to say. [laughs]

Purists may grimace at Carmen Rizzo’s manipulations, but Bapa Sayan says he was happy with the outcome.

Bapa Sayan: It was a good space around our music, with our music, not around it, with it.

Since the recording, Carmen and Huun Huur Tu have performed concerts in Russia and America combining Carmen’s electronics and live orchestra with Huun Huur Tu.  Their album is called Eternal on Electrofone Music.  This has been an Echo Location.

You can hear an audio version of this blog, with music, here.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echoes Top 25 for November: Bombay Dub Tops

December 1, 2008

World music fusions bookend the Echoes Top 25 for November as electronic artists and acoustic revisionists dominate the list.  Bombay Dub Orchestra, our November CD of the Month, tops the list, (read a full review)  followed closely by the independent release from Vic Hennegan, Aqua Vista his homage to space music.  You can find out more about that CD in Hennegan’s Echo Location.   Fernwood’s global Americana chamber music came in high based on their wonderful live performance for Thanksgiving.   You can hear and read more about them in an Echo Location.   Expect to hear more about John Gregorius, whose #5 CD will be number one in December as our Echoes CD of the Month (read review and Echo Location).   Sumner McKane remains strong as does General Fuzz.  Check out the Echoes Blog for profiles, music and Echo Locations on many of these artists.




1. Bombay Dub Orchestra 3 Cities Six Degrees Records
2. Vic Hennegan Aqua Vista Alien Tribe Records
3. Fernwood Almeria Self Released
4. Anja Lechner and Vasillis Tsabropoulos Melos ECM Records

5. John Gregorius Heaven and Earth Spotted Peccary
6. Sumner McKane What A Great Place to Be Don’t Hit Your Sister Records
7. Solas For Love and Laughter Compass Records
8. Ronn McFarlane Indigo Road Dorian
9. General Fuzz Soulful Filling Self Released
10. Peter Kater & Dominic Miller In a Dream Point of Light Records
11. Sundad The Journey Continues Sundad Records
12. The Glimmer Room Home Without the Journey Neu Harmony and A-Frame Media

13. Jeff Pearce Rainshadow Sky Jeff Pearce Music
14. Saul Stokes Villa Galaxia Binary/Stokesmusic
15. Johann Johannsson Fordlandia 4AD/Touch

16. Jenny Scheinman Crossing the Field Koch/Cryptogramophone/Tzadik
17. Digitonal Save Your Light for Darker Days Just Music
18. Jesse Cook Frontiers Koch Records
19. Alu Lobotomy Sessions Alu Music
20. Spirits in Ambience Sahara Aurora Blue

21. Karda Estra The Last of the Libertine  Cyclops Records
22. Goddamn Electric Bill Topics for Gossip 99x/10
23. The Imagined Village The Imagined Village Real World
24. Doug Smith Guitar Parts Solid Air Records
25. Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze Sira ObliqSound
Sumner McKane‘s
What A Great Place to Be
was the
Echoes CD of the Month for October 2008
Read the Review!

Echo Location: Suzanne Teng & Mystic Journey

October 13, 2008

Suzanne Teng & Mystic Journey play live on Echoes,  Weds, 10/15/08

You can hear an Audio Version of this blog, with music.

Suzanne Teng & Mystic Journey Echoes Session

Suzanne Teng & Mystic Journey Echoes Session

If you were among the 15 million or so viewers who watched the finale of Survivor: China, you may have caught Suzanne Teng fronting the on-camera band that played out into commercials.  (See Video)

Suzanne was supposed to just play flute, but she sang as well.

Suzanne Teng: I was talking to the composer about when I was a kid I used to run around doing Chinese opera imitations, because my dad loved Peking opera, and he said, “Oh, let’s hear it.” So I just messed around and the producers were watching and they loved it so they actually featured my singing on the 20 second spot that was the biggest spot for the musicians, so that’s my claim to fame as a fake Peking opera singer, faking my Chinese and all I have to admit.

Miles Beyond Suzanne Teng may have been faking her singing, but there’s nothing false in the music she’s been making for a decade with her group, Mystic Journey.  Teng has created a world fusion sound centered on percussion from Gilbert Levy and her vast array of flutes.   Chinese dizi, Turkish ney, Indian bansuri, and Indonesian suling are only a few of the flutes that seem to be growing like plants out of walls and on the shelves of her Topanga Canyon home. You can hear Suzanne playing them everywhere from Kleenex commercials to film soundtracks, but they’re heard to best effect on her own CDs like Miles Beyond.

Suzanne Teng

Suzanne Teng

Willowy with long straight black hair, Suzanne Teng is a child of Chinese parents, but was born and raised in America where she became an orchestral classical flutist. But after playing with an African drummer, Suzanne was entranced by world music which became her driving force.  Gilbert Levy  plays a conventional drumset but he’s just as likely to pick up a dumbek, djembe or tabla. You won’t find much four on the floor rhythm in the music they compose together.

From meditations with Tibetan singing bowls to exotic Middle Eastern dances and Chinese evocations, Suzanne Teng finds herself creating a music between worlds, or perhaps something entirely new.

Suzanne is currently working on new music. We just did a great session with her in Los Angeles at Broken Wave Music where she brought in cellist Peter Walden and oud player Dann Torres.  Dan has a cool album of his own called Knossos that we’ve been playing.  You can get a sneak peak into the new music of Suzanne Teng and Mystic Journey when they perform live on Echoes Wednesday night 10/15/08. This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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