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Her Majesty’s Voice: Susheela Raman – Queen Between Album Review

Susheela Raman calls in Qawwals and Rajasthani folk musicians to add a spin on psychedelic bhakti rock

Lalitha Suhasini Mar 06, 2014
Susheela Rama at RIFF in Jodhpur in 2010.

Susheela Raman at RIFF in Jodhpur in 2010.

[easyreview cat1title = “Queen Between” cat1rating = 4 cat1detail = “Times Music”]

Susheela Raman - Queen Between

‘Queen Between’ album art

Having led a new, feisty aesthetic in the country’s music scene ”“ bhakti rock ”“ UK-based vocalist Susheela Raman and her guitarist partner Sam Mills are ready for a new dance movement. No laptops needed though. Raman and Mills continue their quest to adapt music across continents for a modern stage in their sixth album Queen Between.

Of course, it’s not just fusion with Raman. It never has been. Right from the start, when she did a jazzy Carnatic take on Maha Ganapatim for her Mercury prize nominated debut album Salt Rain to her latest collaboration with Lahore-based Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwals, nephews of the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Raman has immersed herself in the music. Don’t go by its live rendition as we did, though. We watched Raman perform “Sajana” on stage without the visceral tumult that is the accompaniment of the Lahori Qawwals and were let down.  But on the album, the track is a raging call of love and as its lyrics go, is “unhinged by the weather within.”

When Raman sings in English, a more familiar tongue, her throaty vocals peak on tracks such as “North Star” paired with Mills’ guitar virtuosity. The dynamic cast of singers and musicians such as Nathoo Lal Solanki, Kutle Khan and Rana Ram Bhil from Rajasthan heighten the drama on songs like “Corn Maiden,” but at the centre of it all is Raman. While those who loved her last album Vel will most relate to “Karunei,” a Tamil devotional song, it is the psychedelic brilliance of tracks such as “Taboo,” with lines from Sufi poet saint Bulleh Shah, that defines Raman’s arc as a singer, songwriter and collaborator (she’s very generous), and Mills’ journey as a producer. Again, Raman is all fire, and delivers a blistering album in Queen Between.         

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Key Tracks: “Taboo,” “Sajana”

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