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Music Review: Various Artists – Putumayo Presents: India

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With the popularity of Slumdog Millionaire, India’s rich musical heritage and incredible variety has once again been rightly brought to the attention of the masses.

India has long had a vivacious musical tradition, with Bollywood, pop, acoustic folk, and even lounge music coming out of the diverse country.

The popular music scene, reflected in the astounding colours and vigorous tones of musicians like Kailash Kher, meshes seamlessly with the Indian classical music of Deepak Ram. Spiritual Indian music, made popular ever since The Beatles hauled out the sitar and started talking about transcendentalism, has also come to the forefront with the likes of Uma Mohan leading the way.

Putumayo World Music, a New York based record label grown out of a clothing company, has put together a collection of superb Indian music to serve as a sampler of some of the country’s most marvellous, inspiring artists.

Putumayo Presents India features an extensive, vivid set of Jim Bessman-penned liner notes with pics by Robert Holmes. There’s also a recipe from Suvir Saran for zarda pulao, a sweet saffron pilaf with currants and nuts.

The collection opens with Carnatic artist Bombay Jayashri’s “Zara Zara.” Featuring a magnificent, adamant flute solo, the vocals are lovely and splendidly textured. “Zara Zara” was one of Jayashri’s biggest film song hits and was featured in the 2001 romance Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein.

Another Carnatic vocalist, Uma Mohan, brings some absorbing spiritual music to the throng with “Shiva Panchakshara Stotram/Shiva Shadakshara Stotram.”

Switching gears, the “Mozart of Madras” A.R. Rahman and award-winning playback singer Chinmayee join forces for “Tere Bina.” Rahman, whose work on Slumdog Millionaire scooped him a pair of Oscars, has been racking up international applause since the mid-90s. A lyrical, stirring love song, “Tere Bina” is a stellar model of his work.

With more than one billion people speaking 23 major languages in 28 states, it’s no wonder that India would be a hotbed of melodious multiplicity. Using instruments like the sitar, tabla, and santoor, Indian music is habitually stunning, thrilling, energetic, and fiercely fun.

Putumayo Presents India showcases the work of celebrated santoor master Satish Vyas as he fuses the instrument with the American hammered dulcimer.

This is an impressive compilation from Putumayo. Also featuring the hypnotizing bansuri of Deepak Ram, the time-honoured ghazal vocals of Kiran Ahluwalia, and the enthralling guitar of LA fixture Sanjay Divecha, this set serves as a succinct and elegant dash through India’s enchanting musical masala.

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