(Various Artists) – “Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!: Seminar: Aesthetic Expressions of Psychedelic Funk Music in India 1970-1983” (2011)
This review comes from Dusted magazine, Feb. 9, 2011 and was written by Adam MacGregor…
It’s been around a decade since the Bombay the Hard Way and Bollywood Breaks compilations helped introduce forward-thinking American audiences to the wild landscape of 1970s and ‘80s music from Indian film (colloquially referred to as “Bollywood”). The scant availability of the original soundtracks stateside (except sometimes in the form of imports from your friendly Little India-neighborhood grocery) confer upon CD compilers a great role — and responsibility — in establishing a sound musical ethnography when tasked with filling up a 79-minute program. When the audience includes those who may be completely unfamiliar with the content presented, one is influencing much more than just potential tastes and trends, but beliefs and first impressions, as well.
Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! provides a fine overview of the influence of western funk and “out” rock over the music of India (drawn not only from Bollywood soundtracks, but from south Indian film and non-filmi rock bands). And the accompanying 50-page (!!!) booklet contains a dizzying array of rare photographs, biographical information on the composers and musicians, and reproductions of the original LP cover art. However, it’s presented in a faux course-syllabus style that tends to reinforce the idea that there was a definitive and unified “Indian Psych Funk Scene” that existed between 1970 and 1983. Given the tendency of all things Indian to defy Western attempts at neat, conceptual encapsulation, this brings us into, at best, presumptuous (and at worst, revisionist) territory. Boundaries become fuzzier both within and among the myriad cultures of the subcontinent, and what a handful of tracks may suggest as a unified front quickly disintegrates once one surveys the vast and varied nature of the aggregate output of these composers — much of which did not fit into the “Psych Funk” canon. That is to say, Bollywood music directors like Kalyandji-Anandji and R.D. Burman likely weren’t thinking in terms of producing music within a particular genre or aligning themselves within a “scene” — they were simply responding to the tastes of their own film-going audiences by blending “exotic” Western ideas with traditional Indian forms, in the process creating arguably the first instances of accessible world-fusion music.
Concerns aside, World Psychedelic Funk Classics (nee Now-Again) has assembled a valuable cache of tracks, some taken from other, long out-of-print compilations (most conspicuously the Sitar Beat and Simla Beat volumes). Two excellent selections from the Simla Beat series start things off, with The Black Beats’ “Mod Trade” plying a droning, mesmerizing garage-raga that hastens its tempo at the end in the style of a filmi tune of its day. The haunting, spidery guitar melody that drives X’Lents “Psychedelia” suggests a meandering electric sarod. As standouts on the original Simla Beat comps, these two tracks are unlike anything you’re likely to hear ever again. A pair of tracks from the aforementioned brotherly duo of Kalyanji-Anandji invoke the swinging ‘60s (the recurring dance-break bit in Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In comes to mind) with go-go beats, blasts of fuzzed out organ and guitar and English lyrics. Kanlanji-Anandji’s “Dharmatma Theme Music” owes more to Ennio Morricone ‘s 1960s soundtrack work than to out-and-out funk, with its steady breakbeat and trumpet-led melody. And oddly enough, the buzzsaw guitar chording might even catch the ear of the odd Xasthur fan. Legendary musical director R.D. Burman (of whom the liner notes take note of a 1980s collaboration with Boy George that begs investigation) is well represented here with five tracks. “Lekar Hum Diwana Dil” underpins the bracing duet of Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar with streaking strings augmented with congas, pitched rhythms from the tabla-tarang, and trebly guitar plinkings. The vaguely afro-cuban styling of “Dance Music” from the film Hare Rama, Hare Krishnarecaps the classic track “Dum Maro Dum” from same, creating a slinky and sinister portrait of the drug-fueled excess of the movie’s Katmandu hippie cult.
Bappi Lahiri’s “Everybody Dance with Me” continues the composer’s own knack for “borrowing” melodies from everyone from Michael Jackson to Walt Disney with a gritty pastiche of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” and “Wild Thing.” Lahiri’s many other works made no bones about his disco affectations (his soundtrack for the 1982 film Disco Dancer, to wit). Evidence of disco’s growing influence abounds on Usha Khanna’s “Tere Jaisa Pyara Koi Nahin,” and Hemant and Asha Bhosle’s “Phir Teri Yaad,” both of which marry stomping kick and hi-hat rhythms to lilting vocal flourishes.
The two more curious entries here come from a German group aping Indian music and the Bombay-based Atomic Forest, who serve up a passable take on Deep Purple replete with white-hot, phased- and fuzzed-out guitar. Atomic Forest leader Keith Kanga (whose backstory per the liner notes is pretty fascinating) appears on his own “Butterfly,” a breezy jam in the style of late-’70s Kool and the Gang. Klaus Doldinger’s “Sitar Beat” from 1969 features a huge, dubbed-out rhythm section anchoring primitively played, scraping sitar. It’s an early example of the influence that Indian sounds began to have on open-minded westerners (other than the Beatles and Stones) in the rock idiom. And that influence is likely to continue with the popularity of compilations like this that make some of the essentials more accessible. With the aforementioned proviso in mind, take this as yet another more-than-adequate jumping-off point into the sometimes perplexing — but always fascinating — universe of vintage Indian music.