Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A brief history about Indo-Western Fusion

If you go back to a dictionary or, fusion is explained as the act or process of fusing; the state of being fused. But we’re talking about music here and when its about music there are no set rules or straight definitions. Everything here is and can be viewed with your own perspective because it’s this perspective that makes each musical piece so different, so unique from the others. The artist’s personal touch is of supreme importance in music. We could talk about how artists have helped develop Hindustani Classical music through the ages but today let’s stick to fusion; and how western influence has added a new leaf to this music: the indo-western fusion.

The Beginning and Early Success:
Ravi Shankar

Like in other genres of music, fusion is not a very old trend in Indian music. It is said to have begun with Ali Akbar Khan's sarod performance in the United States in 1955. Indian fusion music came into being with collaborations with Rock n Roll music in the 1960s and 1970s. Limited to Europe and North America in its nascent age, the Indian fusion music scene then was run by one central figure, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

In the years to follow, Ravi Shankar began experimenting by fusing jazz with Indian traditions along with Bud Shank and others. The popularity of this genre was pretty instantaneous and hit quite a high with his performances along with Allah Rakha at musical extravaganzas like the Woodstock Festival and the Monterey Pop Festival in the 1960s.

New Experiments:

Soon the trend was imitated, developed and refurbished by many popular European and American music exponents including John McLauhghlin. During this time, Ravi’s nephew Ananda Shankar too hit the top charts with his Indo-western compositions. Tracks like Jungle Symphony and Streets of Calcutta are popular even today. 

Ravi Shankar with George Harrison

In 1965, Ravi Shankar’s most famous disciple, George Harrison played the song, ‘Norwegian wood’ on the Sitar for their album Rubber Soul and this created ripples of popularity across the globe helping Indian Music gain further attractiveness in the international music circuit. Another famous Jazz expert, Miles Davis recorded and performed extensively with the likes of Khalil Bal Krishna, Bihari Sharma, and Badal Roy. Some other prominent Western artists like the Grateful Dead, Incredible String Band, the Rolling Stones, the Move and Traffic soon integrated Indian influences and instruments and developed the trend of fusion.

Another major influence during mid-1970s was The Mahavishnu Orchestra of John McLaughlin. It was during this time that he joined forces with L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakam to form the group ‘Shakti’. Their albums, A Handful of Beauty and Natural Elements are still available under the popular section in music stores.

Beginning of the downhill:

The Indian fusion trend was growing and the coming years saw many more successful collaborations from Indian and Western traditions like Jan Garbarek (Sax), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Philip Glass, Sultan Khan, Marco Guinar (Spanish guitar), Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan Veena),  Ry Cooder and more. Some of them also went on to win few of the most prestigious music awards in the world. But suddenly it was felt, this wasn’t going anywhere; there was a certain lax of novelty here.

Though dust began settling over the Indian fusion craze among mainstream audiences by the late 1980s, diehard fans and immigrants continued the fusion movement. One of the chief reasons for this was the per se monotony of this genre.
Trilok Gurtu at a live performance

Efforts to revive the same were duly undertaken no doubt. Like, Trilok Gurtu launched his first solo recording ‘Usfret’ in 1987 featuring artists like Don Cherry, L Shankar, Pat Metheny, Shobha Gurtu and more. The album in more ways than one launched the new sound of the Indo-Western fusion. This eventually gave way to Indian-British artists like Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney to fuse Indian and Western traditions to establish the Asian Underground in the early 1990s. Advanced technologies in sound, new recording techniques giving way to new and never-heard-before sounds were the chief elements in this movement.

These musical movements helped introduce World Music as a musical genre in itself, gain extreme popularity in a relatively small amount of time, so much so that it seems today this kind of music was always present in our lives. I would like to talk in detail about the rise and success of World Music but not here, maybe in another post.

1 comment:

novfox said...

I've been listening to this genre of music for so long now, without knowing its place and part in history. Very informative and interesting!