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India Music Week (N.Y.): Asia Over America – Syncretic Uses of Eastern Instruments in Western Pop and Rock (Essay)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on October 1, 2013

FIRST DRAFT- Final version will be posted at the beginning of India Music Week Oct 6-13, 2013 and will remain posted indefinitely.
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IMW_logo-newVincent Bell
Pop Goes The Electric Sitar LP Decca DL 74938 196?
Performed on an electric guitar and modified with a sitar bridge and “drone”, i.e., sympathetic strings. Selections performed include such pop warhorses as “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” “Lara’s Theme,” “Eleanor Rigby”, “Somethin’ Stupid,” and “Quiet Village.” Includes photo of instrument, made by Danelectro Corporation in Neptune City, N.J. Purports to change the “Sitar Sound” to the “Electric Sitar Sound.” Liner notes entertainingly overblown, referring on one hand to the extreme difficulty of learning to play the sitar, though Bell “was quickly able to master it–a feat which ordinarily takes the average musician many years to learn.” Also refers to the “primitive Indian Sitar.”

The Beatles
The Beatles – Rarities LP mono Capitol SHAL 12060 1980.
While the first use of sitar in mainstream pop was George’s noodeling in “Norwegian Wood,” his “The Inner Light” on this collection (also released earlier on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” 45 ), is the Beatles’ most sophisticated use of the Indian ‘sound’. Instruments are obviously performed by accomplished Indian studio musicians, probably from Bombay. As in “Within You Without You,” the exotic musical sensibility enhances the quasi-Indian mysticism of the lyrics.

The Weavers
The Weavers On Tour LP* Vanguard VSD 6537 1969
Includes “Ragapati”, the Weaver’s fine rendition of the Indian bhajan (Hindu devotional song) “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram”, said to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite song. The “Indian” sound is provided by Pete Seeger’s modally tuned (and played) twelve-string guitar and the group singing in unison. The group almost certainly based their version on a field recording of the song on Folkways 431, “Religious Music Of India”. The Weavers’ performance has an accelerative effect remisicent of the performance of classical Indian music, and the modal structure of the song resembles the raga Jaijaivanti.

The Devil’s Anvil
Hard Rock From The Middle East LP Columbia CS 9464 197?
Felix Pappalardi’s renditions of Middle Eastern favorites in a quasi-rock style, with lyrics in Arabic, Greek, and Turkish, as well as an English version of the standard “Misirlou.” Instruments include, in addition to guitar, accordian, and drums, the Middle Eastern instruments oud (pear-shaped lute), bouzouki (long necked lute), and dumbek(drum), and somehow, the Indian tamboura (or tanpura) a four-string drone used fairly widely in jazz and folk as well as some pop for it’s distinctive sound.

Charles “Chick” Ganimian
Come With Me To The Casbah LPm Atco 33-107 19??
A Middle-Eastern presentation of some western standards (“Over The Rainbow”, “Swingin’ The Blues”, and “My Funny Valentine”) as well as some Ganimian originals, most notably, “Daddy Lolo”, the lyrics of which conclude with the observation that “This is oriental rock and rolo.” In addition to clarinet, saxophones, guitar, bass, and drums, the instrumentation includes Ganimian’s oud (a pear-shaped lute), as well as kanoun (a plucked zither) and dumbek (hourglass drum).

The Folkswingers
Raga Rock LP World Pacific WPS 21846 196?
Ravi Shankar sitar protege Harihar Rao assembled this collection of such diversities as “Paint It Black” (the original Rolling Stones version of which also featured sitar), “Along Comes Mary’, “Eight Miles High”, “Homeward Bound”, “Grim Reaper of Love”, and of course, “Norwegian Wood.” According to the album notes by The Real Don Steele of KHJ Radio, Los Angeles, “Here it is at last, the first popular LP to really feature the sound of the sitar.” Aside from the sitar, all instrumentation is western. Rao had formed a group called the Hindustani Jazz Sextet, of which I have been unable to find any recordings. Dennis Budimir, the guitarist, had performed previously on record with Ravi Shankar, and according to the liner notes, the group had appeared with the jazz trumpeter Don Ellis

Wendy Waldman
Love Has Got Me LP Warner Brothers BS 2735 1973
One song, “Lee’s Traveling Song”, features a sitar (performed by Andrew Gold) motif consisting of a repeated rhythmic pattern on a single note with drone–simple, but effective in evoking a railroad train effect.

Shanti
Shanti LP Atlantic SD 8302 1971
A group formed by Ashish Khan, son of the eminent Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan, and featuring Ashish on the sarod (see introductory notes) and Zakir Hussain. who was later to work with John McLaughlin in the group Shakti, on tabla (see notes). The group also includes guitar, bass, and drums. Compositions include both instrumental and vocal pieces, and represent some of the most successful early fusions of Indian and western music in the pop/jazz idiom, going far beyond the exploitative novelties of most other recordings of the period.

Peter Walker
Rainy Day Raga LP Vanguard VSD 79238 1967
Walker was musical director for Dr. Timothy Leary’s “Celebrations.” Liner notes quote Leary as saying “Peter Walker plays on the ancient protein strings of the genetic code.” Withi the exception of “Norwegian Mood,” based on the Beatles song, all Walker’s improvisations are original, inspired by Indian music, and performed on an acoustic Flamenco guitar, with tabla-like accompaniment on the first song on tambourine.

The Rolling Stones
Paint it Black [song title] LP London 80031/NPS 3 1966
The Stones’ answer to the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood,” “Paint It Black” has a sitar part which largely follows the melody line of the song, though there is some improvisation. The sitarist is not identified.

The Don Ellis Orchestra
Electric Bath LP Columbia CS 9585 196?
Jazz trumpeter Don Ellis’ first studio recording not only featured the sitar (played by Ray Neapolitan) for its distintive sound, but included unusual rhythmic structures (19/4, 17/4, 7/4, 5/4, 3 1/2/4) and quarter tones. While these effects were not taken directly from the talas(rhythmic structures) and microtones of Indian music, they involve much the same sensibility. The performances are exuberant and highly energized.

Lord Sitar
Lord Sitar LP Capitol ST 2916 1968
One of the great pop sitar exploitation records, featuring unnamed performers rendering pop standards, however unlikely: “Daydream Believer”, “Black is Black”, “Eleanor Rigby”, etc. The brief liner notes by arranger/director/producer John Hawkins, explore new heights of illiteracy and hype, beginning “The introduction of the sitar into pop music by Beatle, George Harrison, is one of those phenomenons of our day and age–but one thing is certain, it is here to stay.” The sitar, the notes go on to say, “has become the very core of psychedelia.” The writer concludes with the haunting question, “WHO IS LORD SITAR?”

Ravi Shankar & Ali Akbar Khan
The Master Musicians of India LP Prestige 7537 1964
While this is a purely traditional recording of classical Indian music by two masters, the liner notes by the erudite Robert Perlongo are themselves a sort of masterpiece. Beginning: “Shankar and Khan: Showdown at Yin-Yang Pass.” He notes helpfully (if incorrectly) that the name Ashish (son of Ali Akbar and founder of the group Shanti) “rhymes with ‘hashish'”. He quotes the art historian Coomaraswamy and the poet Tagore, and gives a brief discourse on Yin and Yang, which to my knowledge had never before been linked directly to Indian music. Commenting on one of the performances, he notes: “The incredible interplay between Shankar and Khan. . . .is some of the finest jazz ever committed to wax–imported or domestic, jazz-jazz or non-jazz-jazz.. . . .Also dig the groovy gat.” The notes include a useful glossary.

Bill Plummer & the Cosmic Brotherhood
B.P. & the Cosmic Brotherhood LP Impulse A 9164 196?
Bass player Bill Plummer, after contact with Ravi Shankar protege Harihar Rao (see The Folkswingers), explores the possibilities of the sitar. The ensemble consists three sitars, a sarod, tabla, and tanpura, as well as piano, vibes, guitars, bass, drums, saxophone, and flute (played by Tom Scott). The album is a true artifact in terms both of its music as well as its liner notes and photos.

(Source: 10/2013 – IMW – India Music Week | Essays)

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