Formula One makes its bow in India this weekend and after all the musical inspiration the country has supplied Western pop, it’s about time the country got something in return…
Indian kids are going potty for metal and heavy rock at the moment – especially, it seems, Bruce Dickinson’s Iron Maiden. In the past, however, it's been one-way traffic with Indian music influencing British and American pop, prog, psych-rock, hip hop...
And with the British-born kids of Indian immigrants growing up with both cultures, there’s been some dizzying pairings, such as those peddled by Croydon’s Indo-R&B producer Rishi Rich and Coventry’s Bhangra-hop Punjabi MC, famous for that enormous Mundian To Bach Ke hit that sampled the Theme From Knight Rider.
Add to this Truth Hurts’ Addictive, Peter Gabriel’s world excursions, cosmic folkies such as Six Organs Of Admittance and the UK’s James Blackshaw losing themselves in clouds of ragas, plus more songs than you can shake a sitar at, and it’s clear the influence hasn’t receded.
Here are just a few important adopters…
Jazzers were onto Indian music almost as early as folkies such as Sandy Bull, Robbie Basho and John Fahey. Miles Davis brought Indian musicians into his late-60s ensembles; guitarist John McLaughlin studied music in India and brought his education to bear on The Mahavishnu Orchestra; and John Coltrane composed a piece called India.
But it was Alice Coltrane, John’s wife, who did it best. Her wonderful 1970 album Journey In Satchidananda was inspired by yoga teacher Swami Satchidananda and featured a song about Shiva, another called Stopover Bombay about a trip to India and Sri Lanka, and is driven by the Indian-infused sax play of Pharoah Sanders.
George Harrison and the rest of The Beatles are inextricably linked with India. The story goes that West Coast space cadets The Byrds discovered Ravi Shankar’s sitar playing and showed it to Harrison at a smoke-hazed party in LA. Harrison picked up one of his records, taught himself some sitar and put it to use on Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) from 1965’s Rubber Soul.
From there it snowballed. Shankar took Harrison under his wing and invited him to study in India – and then you couldn’t get The Quiet Beatle to put the damn thing away. It turned up on Tomorrow Never Knows and Within You Without You, he put Rolling Stone Brian Jones on to it on Paint it Black and he made Shankar a global star.
The Incredible String Band
If you thought The Beatles enjoyed a psychedelic period, check out Scotland’s The Incredible String Band. Discovered by Joe Boyd – the man who found Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd and Nick Drake – and influenced by the Indian excursions and tonal experiments of British folk’s Davy Graham, their minds were wide open.
They brought in sounds from all sources (Africa, pagan rituals, traditional folksong…), but ragas were pivotal to nearly everything they did, tethering their flighty songs to a central groove. Like-minded souls included Traffic and America’s Merry Pranksters, The Grateful Dead.
Cornershop are exactly the sort of band you’d think we’d have more of after all that’s gone before. Led by Wolverhampton-born Tjinder Singh, plus his partner in pop Ben Ayres, they funnel into their albums Indian lyrics, tributes to Indian film and pop stars, Bhangra, ragas, plus disco, psych-pop, twee indie and soft rock. And they do it such aplomb that they should, by rights, be the biggest band ever.
They’re most well-known for their Asha Bhosle-referencing Brimful of Asha but this year they released their half-a-decade-in-the-making Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove of… – an album recorded with former launderette worker and unheard-of Punjabi folk singer, Bubbley Kaur. If Topknot, from that album, isn’t a fitting tribute to Indian music, we don’t what is.
- George Harrison: Living in the Material World
- The F1 Indian Grand Prix on RedBull.com
- RBMA World Tour
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