I’ve never been too fond of fusion music. I’ve listened to my share of Shakti and John McLaughlin, and in school I discovered two lesser-known fusion albums: Divya’s Madras CafÃ© and Prakash Shetty’s Hard Notes, Loose Change. I did my time, then got out. I’ve never been convinced of the idea that one can take […]
I’ve never been too fond of fusion music. I’ve listened to my share of Shakti and John McLaughlin, and in school I discovered two lesser-known fusion albums: Divya’s Madras CafÃ© and Prakash Shetty’s Hard Notes, Loose Change. I did my time, then got out.
I’ve never been convinced of the idea that one can take instruments from various continents, throw them into the magician’s hat and pull out a brand new sound-rabbit. Too often, the disparate elements don’t sit well next to each other – no, they don’t exactly fuse – and after the novelty wears off, one is not left with anything of lasting value. Much is made of the fact that music is a universal language, a celebration of unity in diversity. It’s a romantic idea this, which, after a point, begins to sound too much like the tripe about world peace that Miss Universe contestants are so good at.
My other, more serious, gripe with fusion is the lack of lyrics. Fusion bands often do away with words altogether. They seem to be saying: there’s bliss and joy in the music and that’s the only thing that should matter. Words only get in the way. Curiously, fusion bands that take their lyrics seriously, like Indian Ocean, tend to stick to social themes. Where they do incorporate lyrics in their music, fusion acts always sing about rivers, dams and AIDS. The desire to have Indian sounds in your music is understandable, but I’ve never been able to fathom why fusion bands also feel the obligation to take on the burden of Indian society on their shoulders. Why can’t a band sound Indian and yet sing about the self or matters of the heart, like rock bands singing in English do? The need for words in songs, no matter how silly they might be, is universal. Popular music (be it rock, rap, country or pop), as opposed to classical, has always given centrestage to words; the front man of the band is, usually, also the songwriter.
This is where Amit Chaudhuri fits in even though, like many fusion musicians, he is not comfortable being labelled as one – his first album was emphatically called This is Not Fusion. The follow-up, Found Music, was released recently to rave reviews in the UK and Europe.
Chaudhuri is a trained Hindustani classical musician, who is also well-versed in the grammar of Western music. He plays with the two idioms with breathtaking ease and felicity, and in both albums surprises us with the aural connections he makes between these seemingly disparate traditions.
Chaudhuri also puts the lyrics back into “fusion” music. He deftly avoids the trap of social activism that other fusion acts have fallen into, choosing to sing about everyday things that we see or hear around us – the OK Tata sign on the backs of Indian buses and trucks, the All India Radio theme, the Adarsh Balak posters we grew up with in socialist times (“Eat your breakfast happily/To your grandparents, say haaji/To your parents, do namastey”). In their plays of high and low, East and West, words and scales, the two Chaudhuri albums transcend genres and defy categorisation, establishing him as a one-off musician occupying a space entirely his own.
(The writer is the author of Eunuch Park)