To mark the occasion of World Music Day on June 21, Narendra Kusnur chooses 10 tunes that blend Indian and western sounds. While some of these are collaborations between Indian and international artistes, others blend Indian and western styles.
On June 21 every year, Fete de la Musique is celebrated across the world, and as per the tradition, musicians come out on the streets to perform. Since the last two years have hardly seen any live performances, the action has shifted to online platforms.
First celebrated in Paris in 1982, the day is also called World Music Day, though it has no connection with the genre of ‘World Music’ as one knows it. But to mark the occasion, we chose 10 appropriate tunes that blend Indian and western sounds.
While some of these are collaborations between Indian and international artistes, others blend Indian and western styles. They would be categorised as fusion or crossover music. We cover a span from the mid-1960s to the current day, in chronological order
1 Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin – Prabhati (1967)
The opening track of West Meets East, the 1967 collaboration album between sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and western classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, was composed by Shankar. Based on raag Gunkali, it featured Ustad Allarakha on tabla. The album was released at a time there was an increasing interest in Indian music in the West.
2 Ananda Shankar – Snow Flower (1970)
Ravi Shankar’s nephew Ananda Shankar, who played sitar, was a pioneering figure in fusing popular western tunes with Indian arrangements. Besides Indianised versions of the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumping Jackflash’, he was known for the beautiful and melodious ‘Snow Flower’.
3 Shakti – Mind Ecology (1977)
The group Shakti took the Indo-jazz fusion sound to another level in the 1970s. Comprising British guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L Shankar, tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain and ghatam exponent Vikku Vinayakram, it released three albums in its original avatar. ‘Mind Ecology’ opened the third album Natural Elements, and was known for its brisk improvisations.
4 Louiz Banks with Sangam – Prayanam (1983)
Sangam was a group led by ace keyboardist Louiz Banks and featured vocalist Ramamani, saxophonist Braz Gonsalves and others. The album City Life was successful and Prayanam had some excellent vocals. The group did some well-received shows abroad, and Banks later on did some great work in the Indo-fusion space.
5 L Subramaniam, Stephane Grappelli – Conversation (1984)
Two ace violinists, L Subramaniam from India and French-Italian great Stephane Grappelli, collaborated on the hugely successful album Conversations. The title track, called ‘Conversation’, featured guitarist Jorge Strunz and keyboardist Joe Sample, and became one of the most popular Indo-fusion tunes. The album had other gems like ‘Don’t Leave Me’ and ‘Paganini Caprice 5’.
6 Ry Cooder, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt – A Meeting By The River (1993)
Ry Cooder played guitar and Bhatt played Mohan Veena, the adapted Indian slide guitar, on the 10-minute title track of the album A Meeting ByThe River. It began with a slower alaap and picked up tempo after a while. The album, which had four tunes, won the 1994 Grammy Award in the World Music category.
7 Trilok Gurtu – African Fantasy (1999)
Mumbai drummer Trilok Gurtu settled down in Germany, and became a world-renowned percussionist. After playing with the John McLaughlin Trio, he did a series of World Music albums. African Fantasy explored African sounds and the title track featured the fabulous Angelique Kidjo from Benin.
8 Larry Coryell, Ronu Majumdar – Kowloon Jag (2001)
The great jazz-rock guitarist Larry Coryell teamed up with flautist Ronu Majumdar on the 2001 album Moonlight Whispers. The track Kowloon Jag was known for its brilliant guitar improvisation and bansuri fill-ins. Iranian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani and tabla exponent Abhijit Banerjee joined the duo.
9 Anoushka Shankar, Norah Jones – Traces Of You (2013)
Half sisters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones have established themselves in different genres, as sitar player and singer, respectively. On this song, they paid tribute to their father, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. Joined on tabla by Tanmoy Bose, they blended smooth sitar passages with melodic vocals
10 Joe Walsh, Amjad Ali Khan – Hope/ We Shall Overcome (2021)
Joe Walsh, guitarist of rock band Eagles, and sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan recently released the three-track EP Prayers to pay tribute to doctors and frontline workers. They concluded with an instrumental version of ‘We Shall Overcome’, popularised by Pete Seeger in the 1960s. While that became a civil rights anthem, this version reflects the mood of the current Covid-affected times.
As is obvious from the list, many artistes have experimented with different forms, blending with the global nature of music. Yet, the element of Indian music is very strong, whether it is Hindustani or Carnatic. On a day that celebrates music from across the world, it would be ideal to appreciate some of India’s contributions to the global scenario.