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Ananda Shankar - Ananda Shankar CD (album) cover


Ananda Shankar


Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.69 | 39 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars ANANDA SHANKAR has a recognizable name if you are familiar with the extended family tree of the great Indian musician Ravi Shankar. ANANDA was the son of the famous dancer and choreographer Uday Shankar and the nephew of the great Ravi Shankar himself. During the latter part of the 60s, the world music cross-pollination effect was en vogue with extra interest in the exotic sitar ragas of the ancient land of India. ANANDA followed the family tradition and became classically trained on the sitar and left his native Bombay (now Mumbai) and headed to California in the USA to hop on the bandwagon of the craze of ethnic rock fusion that was initiated by the sounds he heard from The Beatles on their 1965 track "Norwegian Wood." While the West, particularly The Beatles had begun to flirt with adding Indian sitar to rock sounds, ANANDA SHANKAR would become one of the first Indian musicians to reciprocate this process and one of the very first Indian musicians to start shmoozing with the greats of the time like Jimi Hendrix.

All of this Western exposure ultimately led ANANDA to create the very first rock (well loosely speaking) album by an Indian sitarist which was released in 1970 when he hoped to capitalize on the increasing popularity of the raga rock trend of the era. On his eponymously titled debut release, ANANDA created a mix of rock music with moog synthesizers and Indian Hindustani classical music with instruments such as the sitar and tabla. The album starts off with a couple of instant attention grabbing covers of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones and "Light My Fire" by the Doors which while admittedly are a tad gimmicky are quite excellent performances. However, despite the obvious temptation of just making an album of covers, ANANDA performs six other original tracks which admittedly sound closer to the Indian side of the equation than the rock with tracks like "Metamorphosis" completely dependent on sitar and tabla interactions albeit with a strong bass line and an infused burst of rock energy.

While the majority of the tracks are kept short and well within the attention span of the average pop rock listener, the track "Sagar (The Ocean)" sprawls out to over 13 minutes and 13 seconds and is a whole different league of psychedelia as it has the time to slowly unravel a mysterious and atmospheric sitar and moog collaboration into a Hindustani classical music experience wrapped around a simple organ scale that repeats as the sitar grows more restless and performs ever increasingly more dynamic finger gymnastics. Although the track creeps along, it gains strength towards the end with a heavy percussive drive and a fully caffeinated sitar. While the album is almost entirely instrumental, the beginning "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and final track "Raghupati" is chock full of vocals which includes a full chorus. The latter also has different styles of traditional Indian chanting as well as perhaps the most rock sounding compositional style of any track except for the two covers.

While the term rock attached to this may be hard to swallow for Western ears, it should be remembered that this is the exact opposite approach of bands such as the Beatles who dressed up rock songs with Indian instruments. This is at its heart Hindustani traditional classical ragas that have flavors of rock, not necessarily in the instrumentation per se but rather in light touches of compositional approach and energetic drive especially in the Moog organ department. While i was always in the opinion that this was a cheesy attempt of 60s pop rock fusion only by having sampled the two covers, this is in face a fairly sophisticated and stylistic display of Indian music crafted with eerie electronics and a rock infused work ethic.

While this doesn't quite reach the heights of John McLaughlin's works with his Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti for complexity, it is a beautiful mix and an interesting snapshot of the time and era when the Indo-raga rock trend was at its peak. While much raga rock of the day seems to be grounded in a droning technique, the debut release of ANANDA SHANKAR is a brilliant mix of traditional Hindustani classical raga techniques and Western pop rock which makes this a lot more accessible upon first listen for the majority of listeners. This one straddles the line between secular and transcendental and is quite the compelling listen.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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