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Beyond Bollywood

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Ananda Shankar : Snow Flower and Raghupati
taken from his self-titled album on Reprise (1970)

Ananda Shankar : Streets of Calcutta and Dancing Drums
taken from the album “Ananda Shankar and his Music” on EMI (1975)

Ananda Shankar : The Alien
taken from the album “2001” on Shiva Sounds (1984)

As a fan of Indian music, I’m baffled by the apparent lack of recordings made outside the realm of bollywood film scores. It seems as though adventurous musicians in India, the players who sought to stray from traditional or religious music, basically ended up making soundtracks. While the soundtracks themselves were extremely varied in their content and often gave room for wild experimentation, I wonder why these musicians weren’t able to put out albums separate from epic plots and over-the-top melodrama. I imagine that R.D. Burman, Bappi Lahiri, and the Kalyanji-Anandji duo would all have loved to have their own faces put on the covers of their records (or at least have had some album art) rather than always featuring the pictures of the actors from the movies – pretty-faced Bollywood stars who had absolutely nothing to do with the sounds or singing on the album. No matter how cool the cover designs are, it’s still about the movie more than the music. Even now, when I buy CDs from local bollywood vendors, the greatest hits of Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar show giant pics of today’s Indian movie stars on the cover- and the music is all from the 60’s and 70’s!?!

All this bewildering music industry business only increases the anomoly factor of the one and only Ananda Shankar. The nephew of world renowned sitar ambassador Ravi Shankar, Ananda was more of a rebel soul. After 5 years studying classical sitar in Varanasi, India, he spent a couple years in Los Angeles learning about pop, rock, fusion and funk – even playing alongside Jimi Hendrix at one point. His self-titled debut contains a short manifesto on his revolutionary attitude towards music:

“The combination of the most modern electronic devices with the old traditional Indian instrument, the sitar, shows how in this present age all of us in every corner of the world can find a beautiful medium of getting along together with an open mind, mutual respect and eagerness to learn in any field. I do not want to be linked with the famous Shankars. I am an ordinary representative of the present youth who want peace and harmony in the world through hard work, discipline, love and dedication to one’s work and respect for the past.”

Get your hands on some of his albums to experience this rare melting pot music more fully.

PS- mow much does the intro of “Snow Flower” sound like “Road To Zion” off Damian Marley’s last album? I know it’s not a sample, but a cool connection nonetheless.

PPS- Big shout out to Oleg and Seong aka “FALYNX” who came through the spot to interview me as part of their self-produced/directed documentary about the state of the music industry. In addition to being filmmakers, these cats are making some DOPE and very unclassifiable music of their own. Check out their future funky sounds at www.falynx.com.