Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Dec 14th 2010 2:30PM by Steve Hochman
Sonya Mazumdar, the pair's partner at production venture/label EarthSync, talks of it rapturously: "We loved the music so much – and as much as who they were," she says. "It's very moving, of course. Very, very spiritual but economically quite strained. Their whole life is about singing and performing for whoever asks them to perform."
Hearing her, it's impossible not to want to experience it, as well, to hear these singers – Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer – in their natural state, just as Sebag and Agam did when they first encountered the trio.
No problem, says Mazumdar.
"Take a trip to Nagore."
Well, that's easy for her to say. She's in Chennai, not far away. The rest of us? We're pretty much out of luck. The label has the original recordings, but they have no plans to let us hear them. Rather, they've set them in modern contexts with musicians and instruments from a variety of styles and cultures, released as the album 'Nagore Sessions.'
It's all quite good, sonically attractive, some imaginative combinations. And the three singers' devotion comes through strongly in such tracks as the opening 'Bagdad Guru' tribute to the saint:
Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer, 'Bagdad Guru'
But for some of us (OK, at least one of us), it still merely stimulates a craving to hear the source material, stripped of all the external and, to some ears (OK, these ears), extraneous adornments.
"We have considered it and decided not to do it," Mazumdar says. "The concept is about collaboration. All of our productions have the collaborative aspect. That is our signature."
It's a signature that's been applied to such other projects as 'Voice Over the Bridge' (two devotional singers recorded in Myanmar, with Western musical settings added), 'Shoshan' (Rajasthani composer Shye Ben-Tsur's Indo-Western mix) and the 'Business Class Refugees' releases (Sebag and Agam – billed as Kartick & Gotam – fashioning collages and tapestries of a wide array of artists from various cultures). And recently released in India (with a Western issue to come) is a variation on the approach with South Indian veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh layering her playing in many overdubbed tracks to create a unique ambiance giving new spins to classical traditions.
But beyond that, she argues, releasing the raw material would be unfair to the artists and the art. Even as she acknowledges that the new production creates a context far removed from the natural setting, she defends it as something that creates its own, integral context – and posits that merely recording and replaying the singers removes the music from its "true" nature even more dramatically.
"You and I are sitting in another landscape," she says. "And however beautiful the original art form is, there's no reference point to connect to it. It we were in that landscape and hear them singing, in that context it's beautiful."
No question that the site is something special. Built in around 1760, the complex – including a large mosque, the tombs of the saint, his son and daughter – marks the spot where the saint meditated in a cave and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year (especially during an annual two-week festival) seeking miraculous intervention.
By that argument, Delta blues should never have been brought out of the Mississippi Delta. Or Beethoven's music should never be heard outside of Vienna – and outside of the 19th century. But isn't art meant to transcend both place and time? It could be seen as condescending to the artists and audience alike that meaning can't be taken, or at the very least enjoyment had, from music such as this other than in situ. And in any case, even if we were in that landscape, as she puts it, wouldn't the sensibilities we outsiders bring with us color our experience, disturbing the purity?
Purity isn't the issue, she says. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Art, she says, is never pure. And in this case the influences of many cultures is inherent to the singers' approach. Even in ancient times, the Bay of Bengal saw a lot of international traffic, by land and sea, bringing with it ideas and influences from many lands and peoples. With modern communication media it's only more so. Dargah singers routinely incorporate pop melodies and contemporary references into their performances.
"We find that stories of the tsunami are legends now and fairy tales around that get into the folk culture and gets carried down," Mazumdar says, stressing folk as a living, always-evolving tradition. "This generation experienced it."
And it's not as if they always know the full context of the material they're singing, even the most earnest foundations of their songs.
"We heard these singers singing about the saint who came from Baghdad," she says. "And if you gave them a map they probably couldn't find Baghdad. It's part of legend."
So it's not a big leap for EarthSync to add its own elements to the mix. Brought into accompany the singers were Turkish-Israeli frame drum player Zohar Fresco and Indian sarangi artist Murad Ali Khan, while Sebag also added such textures as horns from the Buddhist Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet.
Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer, 'Ya Haja'
"You can't really categorize any kind of creativity; it crossed boundaries and time," Mazumdar says. "The whole idea of the folk tradition is communication, passing along today's stories to the kids who will pass it along to future generations. And as we all know, the telling of the story, there is always the storytellers' perspective that creeps in. That's what creates the richness of any tradition."
And in this case, EarthSync is also a storyteller. But Mazumdar also believes that this musical approach is necessary to get the tales heard by a wider audience.
"What we want to do is find these gems of music, and want them to heard by as many people as possible," she says. "But there is a certain amount of realism, fortunately or unfortunately, that as time goes on the people who are going to listen to this kind of music require an element that grabs their attention in the first place. In our production, all the things you listen to are absolutely untouched. There has been no tweaking or changing of what they're doing. But what we have done is give it a kind of production quality that grabs attention."
Yes, tradition is always fluid, always changing. "It's of the times, whether 2010 or 1910 or 1810," she says.
And it should be – though one could argue that it's condescending, patronizing even, to both the artists and audience not to trust in the power or the raw art to transcend and touch. Making it available would seem to only enhance the communication and experience.
Mazumdar is intractable: "If you really want to hear this in its purest, rawest original sound, then you have to come to the mosque."