(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

World music - on location

I recently got the chance to travel for my day job. My flight to India routed through Germany, giving me a chance to take some vacation time to visit old friends and favorite cities. One of my important stops was Bamberg, a beautiful city with a rich heritage. Aside from the fine rauchbier and comfortable atmosphere, I looked forward to visiting my favorite music shop on the Grüner Markt. My mission was to buy Die Ärzte's latest album, Auch (2012). I've been a fan for a long time, appreciating their humor and catchy songs. I could just buy their albums online, but the packaging is often a special treat. For example, Auch comes in a small box and the liner notes unfold into a board game where the CD is the spinner.

While I was there, I decided to discover some new bands. Otto, the shopkeeper, served as my guide. Given that I liked the pop-punk flair of  Die Ärzte, he suggested Wizo and Troopers. Wizo had a good punk sound and flashes of humor while Troopers had more of a metallic punch. Even though they lacked the polish of Die Ärzte, I enjoyed them enough to bring home. The only downside is that these were older albums from the '90s. Still, they'll serve me well for my German practice.

Continuing on to India, I spent the bulk of my time in Mumbai. While I know a fair amount about German music, my knowledge of Indian artists is limited to Ravi Shankar, although I am familiar with the instrumentation. Rather than trying to immerse myself in the roots of Indian classical music, though, I looked for cultural bridges. I found Get Recharged!!! by Anuradha Pal. Pal is a renowned tabla player and her band on this project merges Western elements of jazz and classical into her traditional sounds. "Energy" (a live version is linked below) begins with a lush keyboard and piano intro before bringing in a rhythmic chant of bol or solkattu syllables. The hybrid sound juxtaposes the familiar and the exotic, creating a heady groove.

Pianist Rohhan Patel comes from the other direction. His album, Aseem (Boundless), seems more rooted in a rock foundation, using sitar and tabla to broaden the sound. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any samples to reference below. Finally, I picked up Naviin Gandharv's album, Silver Lining. This album features a unique instrument, the belabaharr, which is something like a violin with droning sympathetic strings. Gandharv's music is distinctly Indian, but offers a hint of new age exploration.

All of these albums reflect the shrinking size of our world. Influences ignore borders and extend local expression. They bridge cultures and, regardless of whether we speak the same language, give both sides a path to appreciation.

Die Ärzte - "Ist das noch Punkrock"

Wizo - "Geisterfahrer"

Troopers - "Kopf hoch"

Anuradha Pal - "Energy"

Naviin Gandharv - "The Royal Touch"

Naviin Gandharv - "Raag Megh" (not from the album, but it shows the belabaharr in a traditional setting)

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