Tag Archives: World Music

What’s Indian at the Grammys?

The Grammys award ceremony this year is scheduled for February 15 and has quite a few India(n) related nominees. Take a read below:

Record of the Year and Producer of the Year (Non Classical)
Uptown Funk
Jeff Bhasker (Producer)musicuptown_funkReleased in November 2014, Uptown Funk has cruised the top positions in music charts in the United States, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Australia and Brazil. It was co-produced by Jeff Bhasker, who was born to an American mother and an Indian-origin father.music_jeff_bhasker

Music producers are typically the unsung heroes of any song: they rarely appear on camera, but are responsible for literally everything to be camera-ready.

Bhasker prefers to maintain a low profile, he has been reported to say, “…A lot of people think you can make a beat and be a producer. But there’s so much more that goes into it: having a vision, knowing how to get a really great performance out of the artist, stuff like that… to get an Adele-like vocal performance out of someone or to write a great song or capture multi-layers and levels of music, it’s an entire tradition of producing…”

Bhasker is a Grammy veteran, before this year, he has been nominated 11 times and won three; namely Best Rap Song for “Run this town”(2009) and “All of the Lights”(2012) and Song of the Year for “We are young”(2013).

He attributes his music-sense in part, to years of playing in a wedding band. In an interview, he said “I would play classical music for the ceremony, jazz for the cocktail reception, and we’d play all the hit music from the 40s until current at dinner. I was spanning 600 years of music in six hours.”

Before forging his own path, Bhasker worked with Kanye West, who he describes as the modern Miles Davis.

Best Music FilmAmy
Asif Kapadia (Video Director)
Amy is a documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, a British songwriter and singer who died in her twenties of alcohol poisoning.
London-born Indian Asif Kapadia directed the film. He bmusic_amyelieves that the art of documentary making begins with questions that one wants answers to. Winehouse was visibly not in control of herself at public appearances leading up to her death. In an interview Kapadia says, “How did it transpire that she was in that state on stage. Every one saw it and yet nobody stopped it. People were making decisions to have her on TV shows … keeping her in the limelight when she was trying to escape.”music_asif

Kapadia is no stranger to awards, having won BAFTA’s (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) 2012 Best Documentary and Best Editing for “Senna,” a movie based on three-time Formula One racing champion, Ayrton Senna.

Best World Music Album
Anoushka Shankarmusic_home
Anoushka Shankar pays tribute to her father and guru Pandit Ravi Shankar in Home. It features Raga Jogeshwari, which is a creation of Ravi Shankars.
Shankar has been nominated for a Grammy four times before this year, and was the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in the World Music category in 2003. Her father won five Grammys between the years of 1967 and 2013, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Incidentally, the Grammy Museum is hosting an exhibit called Ravi Shankar: A Life In Music, which will be on display through April 2016.

Best Instrumental Composition
Confetti Man
David Balakrishnan, composermusic_afrolatin
(Turtle Island Quartet)
Their website best describes them: “Winner of the 2006 and … the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island fuses the classical quartet esthetic with contemporary American musical styles.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of them, “It must have been like this when Beethoven was taking Vienna by storm—the exhilaration of seeing the future of classical music unfold before your eyes and ears.”

The Quartet was formed by violinist David Balakrishnan, who was himself a fan of rock persona Jimi Hendrix growing up. In an interview online, he says, “I remember my mouth falling open, and experiencing a feeling of astounding joy … It’s like falling in love for the first time. That’s what created the first intense love of music for me, not playing classical music … listening to Hendrix, I realized that I could do that on violin.”

Yo-Yo Ma (world renowned cellist) has proclaimed the Quartet to be “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground —authentic and passionate—a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.”

Best Instrumental Composition and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
The Afro Latin Jazz Suitemusic_confettiman
Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
(featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa)
Apparently, the night after the Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra played in U.S. Interest Section in Havana, President Obama announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after 50+ years.

The Grammy nominated track features saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s from the album Cuba: The Conversation Continues, which features compositions by six American and four Cuban composers, played by 24 musicians. Throughout, Mahanthappa moves through several genres, including salsa, cha cha, and jazz.

Two other India(n) related nominations are Seeing; Kabir Padavali by Christopher Rouse/ Labl-Maxos for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album and Bhakti Without Borders by Madi Das for Best New Age Album.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

A New Bird Calls

Rudresh Mahanthappa has been named “Alto Saxophonist of the Year,” many times over, by DownBeat’s International Critics Poll and by the Jazz Journalists Association. He is also the recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.


A great way to get to know him is through his latest album Bird Calls. Though the press release claims that “Rudresh Mahanthappa has explored the music of his South Indian heritage and translated it through the vocabulary of his own distinctive approach to modern jazz,” his album has no discernible South Indian flavor, in a good way. Unlike jazz violinist Arun Ramamoorthy, whose sounds are directly relatable to Karnatik music, Mahanthappa has channeled instead, jazz master Charlie Parker into his sounds.

Most of the 13 tracks are inspired by specific Parker numbers. Mahanthappa’s “Gopuram,” for example, is attributed to Parker’s “Steeplechase.” Both comprise a repeated pattern of notes. However, Mahanthappa has the refrain echoing one instrument following the other, and shadowing the sequence till it settles in to your senses. Parker, on the other hand, had a less subtle approach in “SteepleChase” with all the instruments playing it at once. The album’s “Talin is Thinking” is based on “Parker’s Mood” but is more frenetic. (Incidentally, the entire album is dedicated to Mahanthappa’s toddler son, Talin.)

It is said that Parker’s music was both fluid and harsh but the ethos of Bird Calls is not conflicted. It is simply an ode to Parker’s music. Admits Mahanthappa, “This album is not a tribute to Charlie Parker. It is a blissful devotion to a man who made so much possible.” He is referring to the fact that Parker is considered a father of Bebop, the complex jazz music from the 1940s.

There are parallels to Parker and Mahanthappa’s lives as well. Each was around 12 when they were captivated by the sound of jazz; the former by the “new music” idols of his time such as Louis Armstrong. Of his own first introduction to Parker’s music, Mahanthappa recalls, “I was blown away. I couldn’t believe the way he was playing, gorgeous with so much charisma and flying all over the horn. I think hearing Charlie Parker was what planted the first seeds of wanting to do this for the rest of my life. It was very powerful.”

Bird Calls also features a 20-year-old trumpet prodigy called Adam O’Farrill. The effortless virtuosity reverberating between O’Farrill and Mahanthappa can be heard in “On The DL” inspired by Parker’s “Donna Lee.” The CD is interspersed by a series of shorter birdcalls, solo, duo and group ruminative interpretations of the inspiration music.

You might wonder, “Why the title Bird Calls?” It is a play on Parker’s nickname, “Bird,” or “Yardbird,” and of course the fact that he is calling out to jazz lovers of the world, in his 95th birthday year.

Bird Calls is available on February 10, 2015 on ACT Music. More info on
rudreshm.com and actmusic.com

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.