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In this episode:
And: The Vermont-raised, London-based musician
The India-born, New York-based vocalist and songwriter Falu has made a name for herself blending Hindustani classical music with pop -- both on her own and with collaborators like Yo Yo Ma, Phillip Glass and Wyclef Jean. In the past she's called her genre-blending sound "indie Hindi," and the sound that she makes is a hybridized one with a multitude of influences. But perhaps the most important influence on her work is one that she began learning from the age of three: the tradition of Indian classical music.
"It was a golden period in my life -- I was immersed in music and nothing else for years," Falu says of a time when she would practice scales for hours on end. "My throat used to hurt and sometimes bleed -- but it was not agony -- it was bliss."
Now, she's turned to another tradition for her sophomore album, Foras Road (out May 28) -- that of courtesan culture. The story of India's courtesans is a long one, full of cultural customs and complicated transactional histories. It is also a story which includes a very rich musical practice -- one that is in some ways endangered.
"Originally courtesans were court singers and entertainers for kings and nobles -- in fact much of this music was immortalized in this way over centuries," says Falu. "During this time the women entertainers were called baijis -- with the coming of British rule they went underground and the movement continued for decades in the back alleys of cultural centers such as Lucknow, Benares, Calcutta and Bombay, where they can still be found."
Foras Road takes its name from one place where they can be found today -- the road that runs through the oldest red light district in the city of Mumbai, and a place Falu visited before beginning work on the album.
The style most often heard in places like Foras Road, and which Falu sings, is the thumri style -- a style of Indian semi-classical music that Falu says "takes more liberty with ragas than formal Indian classical music styles such as Khayal. The themes are centered around an intense love and longing for the 'beloved' who can represent either a person or a divine spirit. What draws me personally to thumri is the different passions and emotions evoked -- thumri awakens in me a thirst to be in love forever."
I asked Falu to tell me a bit more about the making of Foras Road:
You've mentioned that you inherited some of this music from your teacher who was a disciple of a courtesan – was she a courtesan herself?
My teacher was not one, but her teacher was a true courtesan, the legendary Siddheshwari Devi (a baiji from Benares). I’m the seventh generation successor of her thumri style.
One of the songs you say you inherited was “Savan”? Can you describe the song a bit?
This Hindi song is a thumri in which a woman’s beloved has been away in a foreign land for years. She really misses him and wants him to come home and be with her, in a romantic and sensuous way. Savan and Badra are the best representative types of songs that are traditionally performed at Foras Road.
The album has seven languages. What are they?
The languages are Hindi, Gujarati, Awadhi, Urdu, Rajasthani, Sanskrit and Persian-derived syllables in the song Tarana. My co-singer, Gaurav Shah, and I speak Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu and know Sanskrit. The languages were not planned - we simply chose these songs from a larger repertoire of songs we love and added some original songs – and they happened to be in seven different languages.
Did any songs on the album present a challenge? If so, what happened?
The song Bahaar is a classical song I wrote with string arrangement written by Mark Tewarson. It is set in a 13-beat rhythm cycle – not easy to improvise in especially since it was recorded live -- but I’m fortunate to have worked with amazing musicians on this album such as John Medeski and Chris Wood (from Medeski, Martin and Wood). So with the help of our brilliant producer Danny Blume, the challenge was no obstacle..
Quick! Without thinking too much…what are the last three songs that you listened to?
Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, Emmylou Harris’s “Michelangelo” and a Raga by Ustad Amir Khan called “Yaman”
ARTIST: Shooter Jennings
DOWNLOAD: "Wild and Lonesome"
SHOW: Tuesday at the Bowery Ballroom ($25)
Like his dad, the late Waylon Jennings, Shooter Jennings is a country singer who is isn’t afraid to be a little bit -- or a lot -- outlaw. The opinionated singer has, in recent years, called out his genre for blandness. But, he can also write a darn good ballad, like this duet with Patty Griffin, “Wild and Lonesome.”
Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist and founding member of the legendary rock band The Doors died today at 74 after a long battle with bile duct cancer. The Chicago-born musician co-founded The Doors after meeting then-poet Jim Morrison while film students at UCLA in 1965. And the group -- along with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger -- went on to become one of the 1960s' most successful and enduring rock 'n' roll bands, thanks to hits such as "Break On Through" and the Manzarek-centric "Light My Fire."
Soundcheck host John Schaefer has this remembrance.
Ray Manzarek may have played in the considerable shadow cast by singer Jim Morrison, but fans of The Doors knew that the band’s unique sound was a two-part invention. This is not to slight guitarist Robbie Krieger or drummer John Densmore, but let's face it, every band had a guitarist and a drummer. The Doors had Morrison's dark and moody voice, and the kaleidoscope of keyboards that Manzarek played.
I always thought that the first time I ever heard a harpsichord was on The Doors’ version of Kurt Weill’s "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)." But it turns out Manzarek was even more inventive -- that's actually a weird zither-mandolin-keyboard thing called a Marxophone. I am quite sure that the first time most of us ever heard a tack piano -- a saloon-style piano with a distinctly tinny, plunky sound -- was on their song "Love Her Madly." And the textures of songs like "The Crystal Ship," "L.A. Woman," and "People Are Strange" were so distinctive largely because of Manzarek's keyboard playing.
It wasn’t just that he played all the bass parts on the left-hand side of the keyboard; or that on, say, "People Are Strange," he weaves in with Krieger's guitar so brilliantly that I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought there was just a wall of electric guitars leading the way. The electric organ was widely used and nowadays can sound pretty dated, but in his hands it somehow ended up sounding both surprising and, in the next instant, inevitable.
I did not know Manzarek well enough to make a blanket statement about his long post-Doors career -- we spoke a couple of times, though never on the air -- but he seemed to have made his peace with the fact that his career was likely to always be defined by The Doors' eight-year run from 1965-73.
In the early 1980s he and Philip Glass had done a rock version of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the stomping piece of choral music now used in so many horror movies and over-the-top TV ads; it was neither musician’s finest hour. On paper, it was a good idea, but they seemed so intent on rockin’ what was already a pretty rockin’ orchestral work that it sounded, to me at least, strained and cheesy.
But when I interviewed him in 2002 with the pianist George Winston, he had agreed to do a show of two-piano arrangements of The Doors' catalog. On paper, this could’ve been a disastrous idea. The two-piano Doors tunes, though, were pretty neat, mostly because they didn’t try to do "piano rock" and instead just presented the songs for what they were: namely, well-constructed pieces of pop music with a genuine melodic flair.
In this episode: Director Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel features a soundtrack packed with rap and hip hop. Wall Street Journal contributor
And: Hip hop mixes with funk and punk when the Oakland, California-based group
ARTIST: Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys
DOWNLOAD: "My Side of the Mountain."
SHOW: Monday at St. Mazie (no cover)
First came the traditional sounds of American bluegrass. Then there was the punky, uptempo sounds of new-grass. Now the Michigan band known as Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys would like to bring you something they've called 'Lou Grass.' It’s their blend of expert picking, country swing and pop.
In this episode: We spin some of our favorite recent performances recorded in the Soundcheck studio -- including those from the folk-pop band Ivan and Alyosha, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, rapper Talib Kweli, and electro-pop musician Jamie Lidell.
Hear something you like? Check out the full sessions with each artist or band by clicking on the links below.
DOWNLOAD: "Warm Spell"
SHOW: Friday at Bowery Ballroom ($18)
Sinkane is the musical project of the Sudan-born, Ohio-bred musician Ahmed Gallab. He got his start drumming for bands like Yeasayer and Of Montreal, but last year, he struck out on his own. His 2012 debut as Sinkane is a hooky blend of East African soul, bright indie pop and dance-ready electronic grooves.
Summer may not officially begin until June 20th, but the race is officially on for song of the season. A great summer jam should be hooky, escapist, and also great for blasting and belting along to -- all qualities that turn up in this new song from the Brooklyn-based synth-pop duo of Paul Hammer and Deidre Muro as Savoir Adore.
Since 2007, Savoir Adore have poured their fantastical themes into dreamy beds of sound. Their latest, "Beating Hearts," is a fizzy, wistfully catchy gem of a song that will accompany the re-release of the band's most recent full length, Our Nature, on June 4th...just in time for summer.
ARTIST: Charles Bradley
DOWNLOAD: "Strictly Reserved For You"
SHOW: Thursday at The Apollo ($32.25)
When Charles Bradley released his debut album in 2011, the story was about the Brooklyn singer’s perseverance through a life of poverty and struggle -- and his against-all-odds success at the age of 62. Now, the so-called Screaming Eagle of Soul has released a slow burning, and at times introspective follow-up called “Victim of Love.”