Live events in India promote world music

Following the end of the pandemic, music has returned to Indian shores with vengeance with almost an event, across genres, occurring every night. In that, so too is world music with Malian singer and guitarist Boureima “Vieux” Farka Touré building fusion trends with an appearance at the Echoes Of Earth Music festival at Kuduragere (located near Bengaluru) on December 4, followed by two performances in Mumbai on December 7 and 8, and one in New Delhi on December 11, culminating at the Orange festival in Dāmbuk, Arunachal Pradesh.

The treat for listeners of world music continues in January as Shakti takes centre stage on January 20 in Bangalore, followed by Mumbai on the 22nd, Kolkata on the 24th, and New Delhi on January 28 to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

 

An unprecedented transcontinental collaboration when floated, Shakti united Eastern and Western musicians and, in the process, forged a template for what was once called fusion, but what is now popularly categorized as World Music. While the line-up has changed through the years, original members guitarist John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain, on tabla, are now accompanied by Shankar Mahadevan (vocals), Ganesh Rajagopalan (violin), and Selvaganesh Vinayakram (ghatam) in completing the current line-up of Shakti.

But in all this, let us not forget an act that first opened world music proceedings in December 2022, on the 3rd to be precise at the open-air Sky Lounge (part of the Indus Club, in Vibgyor Towers at Mumbai’s commercial hub, Bandra-Kurla Complex), was a band called Namo Fusion which, contrary to its name, is apolitical and the brainchild of Dr. Narayan Raman [violin]. For the curious-minded, “namo” means “venerated” or “homage” in Sanskrit and in Pali, and is often used during Buddhism and Jainism chanting. Further, as Dr. Raman has previously announced, “Namo” also happens to be an acronym for Narayan’s Musical Orchestra.

For the evening’s live show, Dr. Raman was present with a backing band consisting of guitar (Abhishek), keyboards (George), drums (Ramesh), mridangam (Sriram), tabla (Bhushan), and bass (Schubert). The 8.45pm start to proceedings to a largely invitee-only audience started with the face-paced and commanding “Namo”, adapted from raga Saramati, the opening song of the band’s 2019 debut album, immediately followed by a funky rendition of the All-India Radio theme song. What followed next was as a surprise as a vocalist by the name of Vidya arrived; perhaps, more in light of broadening the band’s fan base from merely those who preferred listening to instrumentals. With no reflection to Vidya’s talent, it was probably her initial nervousness or compromised audio (courtesy sound console engineer Smitesh) or, then again, it was a combination of both – but, undoubtedly, her arrival dropped the proceedings by a notch. Then, again, part of the reason could well be that there was no accompanying violin which, throughout the set list, proved itself to be the common thread towards searching of musical excellence. A male vocalist, Shiva Prasad, next joined on stage, immediately leaning into a rock-flavoured melody in duet with Vidya, and music soon returned to par.

The next song could safely be described as intriguing. For Pink Floyd listeners and, it was obvious that there were at least two present who, besides this writer, also had a gentleman seating alongside, who immediately identified the guitar opening of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a song that soon merged into the vocals of bhajan “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram”. A little outrageous, a bit gimmicky but, hey, the name of the band does have fusion in it!

Dr. Raman

While there were interludes when the musicians were provided an opportunity of showcasing their respective talents, it was obvious that the forte for Namo Fusion remains its instrumental base with the violin holding the rhythmic section together, much like on another melodic song from the band’s debut album, called “Freedom” [adapted from raga Karnarajini], which apparently was composed in 2001. In moving towards the set’s inevitable end was a medley of popular Bollywood, across the years (“Dam Maro Dam”, “Duniya Mein, Logon Ko”, “It’s The Time To Disco”), along with international  selections “Mamma Mia” and “Rasputin”, featuring a confident live debut of a young talent from the Namo Music Academy, Priyanshi Shah. The gig ended with a rendition of “Motherland”, a fine music composition by legendary violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam who, for the trivia-minded, is the brother of L. Shankar, a founder-member of Shakti!

After an hour, 40-minutes of a, no doubt, consistently imaginative set, it concluded and, while the repertoire will always be debatable for Hindustani/Carnatic purists, nothing changes the fact that Namo Fusion is a band that is constantly adventurous, supported by Dr. Narayan Raman’s wit and amusing anecdotes interspersed between songs.

Nevertheless, there is no denying the Namo Fusion – the band – is inspired and needs to be witnessed live, not merely heard, and full credit for this musical initiative goes to Dr. Narayan Raman in taking sounds from India and merging them into music for the world.

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