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A Poet's Progress, Features, Randy Roark

A Poet’s Progress: I Find My Beatrice Outside the Red Fort, Old Delhi, India, April 2011


23-01 Untouchable Temple Cleaner, Red Fort, Old Delhi, IndiaUntouchable Temple Cleaner, Red Fort, Old Delhi, India

April 16, 2011: Old Delhi, India, The Red Fort

Today in front of the Red Fort, a young girl tried to sell me some postcards I didn’t want. I told her that I didn’t have any rupees on me (which was true) and she said I could have them for one American dollar. I smiled but said no again, firmly. But she persevered which I thought was rude, so I turned my back and tried to ignore her. But she persisted. I turned my back to her again and walked a short distance away, waiting for the others in my group to gather so we could return to the bus. But she followed me and now I was unhappy and showed my unhappiness by frowning and turning my back on her again. Then I felt a breeze on the back of my neck, and I turned around and she was using one of her postcard books as a fan to cool me off. “Are you okay?” she asked, genuinely concerned. “Are you overheating?” I couldn’t help it, I smiled and looked down into her eyes for the first time and saw that she was smiling up at me, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head to the left with a puzzled look. I apologized for my rudeness but explained that I was tired and hot and didn’t need any postcards and then wished her luck and said goodbye and headed in the direction I thought the bus was waiting. But she said, “No, mister, this way,” and grabbed my hand and pulled me down into a sidestreet. She walked beside me with her other hand on my hip, steering me through the crowd, pointing out poop and broken glass in the street, mostly without saying anything other than encouraging me to hurry. I tried to pull my hand free and told her I thought we were walking in the wrong direction—that the bus was actually back the way we’d come, but she wouldn’t listen and said “Hurry!” and pulling at me to follow her and I couldn’t see the bus and this part of town didn’t look at all familiar to me. Where was she taking me? Then we came out onto a busy city street and I saw it—my bus—and still walking I got out my wallet and pulled out two dollar bills and handed them to her discretely as I shook her hand before getting on the bus. I said, “Thank you” and half-bowed and smiled at her and she smiled back at me. Then she grabbed my belt and pulled me off the bus. She went through her postcard collections and chose one that was labeled “Indian Culture and Life” and smiled up at me and said, “I think you will like this one.” It was filled with photos of women harvesting wheat, boys on donkeys on their way to market, old men smoking in cafes. I looked at every photo and smiled at her and said, “Yes, this is the right one.” Then she smiled, her face for a moment filled with light, and she was gone.

23-02 Untouchable Temple Cleaner Posing for Me Red Fort Old DelhiUntouchable Temple Cleaner Posing for Me at the Red Ford, Old Delhi, India

Note: I found out later that this is a very provocative pose for a woman to show to a man, especially what her fingers are saying to me about her availability as a sex partner.

Non-Classical Music of India: Part 1

Asian Dub Foundation: Rebel Warrior

Asian Dub Foundation is a British electronica band.  “Rebel Warrior” was their breakthrough 45, from 1995. The lyrics are inspired by the 1920s poem “Bidrohi” by Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, written in favor of the Indian independence movement. Their second album Rafi’s Revenge (1999) was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The single “Naxalite” was sung in support of the militant Naxalite communist movement in India that has since been declared a terrorist organization. Asian Dub Foundation toured the United and Japan with the Beastie Boys in 2000, and founding member Pandit G was awarded and MBE in 2002 for “services to the music industry” for his work with Community Music, which he refused to accept (asking them to use the money involved to support the organization instead). In 2003, they worked with Chuck D of Public and released “1000 Mirrors,” a collaboration with Sinead O’Connor about the true story of a woman serving life in prison for killing her abusive husband. In 2007, they were the only Western band to perform at the Festival of Gnawa music in Essaouira, Morocco, and jammed with the traditional Gnawa musicians at the festival. Their album “Punkara” was produced by Gareth Parton, producer of The Go! Team. In 2009, they joined the Indigenous Resistance Project after having met up with the Atenco resistance movement in Mexico.

Black Beats: The Mod Trade

Black Beats were an Indian rock band included on the Simla Beat 1970-1971 anthology. From the allmusic.com review of this release:

In the early 70s, the India Tobacco Company sponsored an annual “All-India Simla Beat Contest.” These events sparked compilations of Indian rock bands, Simla Beat 70 and Simla Beat 71, that have been combined into one package on this double-CD reissue. Very, very little Indian rock from this era has been heard in the West, and the sounds are both surprising and, in some ways, disappointing. Surprising in that it’s uncanny how much this sounds like the garage bands that could have been playing in any country, although it actually sounds more like bands from Europe and South America that spoke English as a second language than it does like American or British groups. Surprising, also, in that it sounds much more like 1965-1968 rock than it does like early ’70s rock, although that’s understandable given that it can take years for Western trends to make their impact on the other side of the globe. Disappointing in that, like much reissued obscure garage rock, it’s not that great. The playing and singing (in English) is extremely raw for the most part, and there isn’t much of an influence that most listeners would identify as Indian. No sitars, certainly, and though there are some ragga-ish droning rave-ups, again these are barely different from what you’d hear done by a band, say, from Holland in 1967. Indeed, the guitar style is often of the furiously staccato, strangled sort heard on some of the wildest early Velvet Underground recordings, although it’s doubtful that any of the bands could have been aware of those albums. Sometimes this mines a basic surf, British Invasion, or R&B feel that would be more at home in 1965 than 1970. Often the songs are insubstantial, very basic derivations from those prototypes, usually leaning toward a not-too-melodic, mordant vibe. This is odd stuff, make no mistake about it, but not that odd in the context of the numerous global garage reissues that are now available.

The Supersonics: 170

The Supersonics are a rock band formed in 2006 in Kolkata, West Bengal. They broke up in 2010 and reformed in 2012.

Advaita: Durga

Advaita is an Indian fusion band based in New Delhi, formed in 2004, releasing their first album—Grounded in Space—with EMI. They won the Best Rock Album award for their second album “The Silent Sea” at the Global Indian Music Awards in 2012.

 Rabbi Shergill: Bilkis

Rabbi Shergill (born Gurpreet Singh Shergill in 1973) is an Indian musician whose father was a Sikh preacher. His mother is a college principal and a Punjabi poet. Rabbi began composing jingles for Yamaha motorcycles and Times FM after his failure to make a living in rock and roll. Several years of this and he was ready to record his first album, and signed with Sony Music, but Sony backed out before the album could be released. He then gave the tapes to one of the most successful Indian record labels, Tehelka, but before the album could be released, Tehelka ran into financial problems and canceled the contract. Then Magnasound offered him a contract, but the company went into bankruptcy before the album could be released. It was finally released by Phat Phish records in 2004 and became an instant hit. Many of his songs feature lyrics from Muslim Sufis such as Baba Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, and Shiv Kumar Batalvi, set to music inspired—Rabbi claims—by Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.

According to his Wikipedia profile:

Shergill’s principal contribution to music lies in the use of Punjabi — which previously had a reputation similar to that of either Bhangra or traditional folk — to create acoustic rock-based ballads, providing a new musical perspective to this language. And with his poetic, socially relevant lyrics and an adult alternative sound, Shergill instantly connected with an urban crowd who loved him for his genuine and original approach to his songs. His songs are deeply philosophical and blend archaic, almost lost, Punjabi phrases into far more recent Indian rock music.

Kailash Kher: Dilruba

Kailash Kher is an Indian folkpoprock singer born on the 7th of July, 1973, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. His father was a Hindu priest who sang traditional Indian folksongs to him as a child. At the age of 14 he left home to try to find a guru or an institution that would give him a musical training, which he insisted must be suited to his need to remain in isolation. He eventually began attending music classes at a local university, making money to pay for his lodging and food and his tuition and expenses by teaching music to his fellow students. Unable to find a guru who suited him, he taught him music by listening to records by classical Indian musicians such as Pandit Kumar Gandharv, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Gokulotsav Maharaj, and more modern singers like Nusrat Fetah Ali Khan and Lata Mangeshkar. He eventually gave up on music and ran an export business, which failed in 1999. He experienced such deep depression over the business’s failure that he went into seclusion in Singapore and Thailand for six months. When he returned to Delhi he moved in with his family and attended Delhi University via its correspondence program. After graduation he struggled to make a living making music, and he ended up in hostels, doing whatever he could to make money. He drifted to Mumbai where he began singing commercial jingles, including Coca Cola, Citibank, Pepsi, and Honda Motor Cycles, and later gained commercial success through his recordings of many popular Bollywood songs. He has to date sung in 18 different dialects, and has sung in over 300 Bollywood films.

Mo’horizons: Remember Tomorrow

No information available other than this track appears on a cassette collection of Indian pop music I picked up on the streets of Delhi.

 Umberloid: Neon Tetra

Umberloid is a studio project involving producer Ott and the bass player Chris Barker. “Neon Tetra” is from their first release in 2003.

Ravi Shankar: Hari Om

Ravi Shankar was an Indian sitarist and composer who was born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury in Veranasi, on April 7, 1920. He died in San Diego, California on December 11th 2012. He was the youngest of seven brothers in a Bengali Brahmin family. His father divorced his mother while practicing law abroad, and Ravi did not meet his father until he was eight years old. Shankar shortened the Sanskrit version of his first name—Ravindra—to Ravi, or sun. At the age of ten he left home to travel with his brother Uday’s dance group, joining them as a dancer when he was 13. In the mid-1930s, the group toured Europe (where Ravi taught himself French) and then the United States, where he discovered Western classical music, jazz, and cinema. Shankar left the troupe when he was 18 to study sitar with Allauddin Khan, which is where he met Khan’s son, Ali Akbar Khan, and his future first wife, Khan’s daughter Annapurna Devi. From 1949 to 1956 he was the musical director of All India Radio, and in the mid-1950s he began to score Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, which made him internationally famous, along with his work with Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s which led to an American tour, where he signed with Angel Records. The Byrds recorded at the same studio and began to incorporate some of his sounds into their music, and they introduced their friend George Harrison of the Beatles to Shankar’s music. Harrison (who produced the track included here) bought a sitar and used it in recording of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” in 1965, and later studied the sitar with Shankar in India in 1966. In 1967, Shankar performed at Monterey Pop Festival and won a Grammy Award for West Meets East, a recording with Yehudi Menuhin.  In 1969 he scored the film Charly (making him the first Indian musician to score a western film) and performed at Woodstock. In 1970, Shankar became chairman of the department of Indian Music at California Institute of Arts, and he performed at the Concert for Bangladesh organized by George Harrison in 1971. Shankar suffered a heart attack while on tour in 1974. In 1982 he received an Oscar nomination for his score of the film Gandhi. From 1986 to 1992 he served as a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India, and in 1999 he was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna. He performed into his nineties, often appearing with his daughter Anoushka Shankar, whom he taught to play sitar. He performed his final concert, accompanied by Anoushka, on the 4th of November 2012 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California. He died 38 days later in a hospital in southern California.

Ananda Shankar: Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Ananda Shankar (11 December 1942 – 26 March 1999) was a Bengali musician born in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, India. He was the son of Uday Shankar, and thus a nephew of Ravi Shankar’s, but he did not learn how to play the sitar from his uncle. In the late 1960s, Shankar traveled to Los Angeles, where he played with Jimi Hendrix and other rock acts and was signed to Reprise Records. In the 1990s, he worked with the British DJ State of Bengal and others, recording Walking On, an album that mixed his sitar with breakbeat and hiphop music, which was released a year after his death from heart failure in 1999.

Article written by Randy Roark

Newtopia staff writer RANDY ROARK worked with Allen Ginsberg for the last 17 years of his life, first as an apprentice, then as his teaching assistant, and finally transcribing and editing 28,000 pages of Ginsberg’s poetry lectures, currently available on-line through the Ginsberg trust. Following Ginsberg’s death, he worked with artist Stan Brakhage, producing art events featuring his films until his death. Since 1998 he has worked with Sounds True as a producer, where he has edited artists such as Alex Grey, writers including William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and a wide variety of spiritual teachers, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Lakota Elder Joseph Marshall.


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