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Late Nights With YouTube

Finding video gold

Arun Katiyar Feb 11, 2013
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I am looking for the Bitter Funeral Beer Band. Free jazz with a panoramic sound, sweeping across Europe, Africa, entire continents of despair, and oceans of anguish before it finds India.  If you look for them, you will find their searching, searing lament from the north of Ghana easily enough. But I am looking for their performance at the Jazz Yatra, an eclectic festival of music from the forgotten Bombay of the Eighties: 15 men and women with Don Cherry, lost in exuberant abstraction. Then, I find it. Not the Mumbai performance. This one is Frankfurt, 1982, featuring Don Cherry and K Sridhar. It is inexplicably high spirited, manic from the word go. It has the power to cauterize my soul.

I need to calm myself. Some warm, comforting toddy of rum with Earl Grey and cinnamon will do just fine. Veena Gokhale, a one-time colleague from Mumbai, now living in distant Canada, is about to have her book of short stories, Bombay Wali and other stories [Gurenica Editions] published later this April. I have suddenly stumbled across an excerpt from the book [Middle Age Jazz and Blues] that is ripping away my heart. Veena’s story is anchored in the Jazz Yatra. I think I know the people in her story. It’s not a story.

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The discovery has the effect of rot gut poured over a gash. That’s how I begin to look for the Bitter Funeral Beer Band in the first place. As Band Aid against Veena’s narrative.

It works.

Don’t you love YouTube’s ability to keep churning memories? Or is it just me? Suddenly, without asking, I stumble across a link that draws out a yellowing moment from the late Seventies and early Eighties: Before the first Jazz Yatra in 1978, I met L. Shankar at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai. He agreed to an interview for All India Radio. It was the first interview I ever did for a radio station [and the last]. Jazz Yatra and people like L Shankar, Braz Gonzalves, Louis Banks and Yusuf Gandhi were changing the music scene in Bombay. A documentary, Music of the World ”“ Bombay and Jazz [part 2 from the 6 part series below], captures the era. In today’s argot, the documentary is “awesome”. I could settle down to an hour and a half of it with that toddy.

Music of the World ”“ Bombay and Jazz is from a time when L. Shankar was moving from Frank Zappa on Touch Me There [here is a link to Windy Morning from the same album] towards the technically hair-raising Who’s to Know. I ultimately turn to Shankar’s live performance with Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu and Jan Garbarek that does it for me.

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Veena is back where she belongs. A safe, yellowing memory. 

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