Rhythm House India

The ‘Layla’ Riff to Todiclick here for audio clip
This piece is a musical exploration of the intersection between the riff to Clapton’s ‘Layla’ and the raga Todi. I heard the ‘Layla’ riff suddenly one morning as I was practising Todi sargams (‘sargam’ refers to the notes in Indian music - sa, re, ga, ma etc – and are constantly used in these compositions).

Dotaraclick here for audio clip >>
A song in raga Brindabani Sarang emerging from the similarity, to my ears, between a hillbilly phrase played on a guitar and the sound of the dotara, the musical instrument used by Bauls, or wandering mendicant singers in Bengal, devotees of Krishna. The dhunuri, an implement used to fluff up cotton for quilts and pillows, was a last-minute addition to the song. On one of the final days of mixing, I spotted a dhunuri-man, Mohammad Shoaib, outside the studio, and rented it to play the constant twang you hear on the song, a sound once familiar in Calcutta’s lanes

Summertimeclick here for audio clip
My original title for this was ‘Malkauns in Summertime.’ The pentatonic blues scale, which resembles, or is identical to, ragas like Malkauns and Jog, is in this instance used to enter the raga Malkauns via Gershwin, and vice versa. The only element alien to Malkauns here is the introduction of the fifth (pancham).

Shree in Two Keysclick here for audio clip
A twilight raga of some complexity, rendered in two keys, taking advantage of the clusters of chromatic notes around the tonic (sa) in the raga, and the emphasis given to the re flat as a sort of competitor with the tonic.

Moral Educationclick here for audio clip
A song that is based on, and refers to, the illustrated English-language charts sold on pavements and sometimes hung up in classrooms in municipal schools for the instruction of children. The song attempts to be true to the content, the intent, and the grammatical peculiarities of the charts.

Freewheeling Jogclick here for audio clip
A raga, Jog, which is basically a pentatonic with an extra chromatic note, and which closely matches and is deeply related to the blues scale, sung here, using sargams or the names of Indian notes, in a freewheeling blues context without deviating from the classical norms of the raga.

Truckerclick here for audio clip
This song borrows lines found on the backs of trucks in India – ‘Buri nazar wale tera muh kala’, which is a curse directed to competing drivers and potential overtakers meaning, ‘You with the evil eye, may your face be blackened’; and ‘OK – Ta Ta’ to vehicles legitimately going past. To which I’ve added a couple of lines, ‘Bhali nazar wale tera muh ujala’; or ‘You with the benign eye, may your face be radiant.’ The other line’s in English.

All India Radioclick here for audio clip
Early on during this project, the tune of the All India Radio theme came back to me, but redrawn in the raga Marwa. So it was not so much the original tune but my reinvention of it that was echoing in my head; and I’d set it instinctively to Marwa perhaps because this beautiful raga is sung in the early evening - and early evening, at six o’ clock, is when I usually used to hear, from childhood onward, that mysterious theme tune, announcing that radio services were to resume once more.

Berlinclick here for audio clip
The idea for this song came to me soon after I moved to Berlin to live there for a few months. What set it off were the sounds the underground train, the U-bahn, made when I got on to it. There was a hum when the train stopped, then a voice said ‘Einsteigen bitte’, or ‘Please enter’; then there was a warning signal comprising two notes, a red light flashing before the doors closed, and the voice saying ‘Zuruckbleiben bitte,’ or ‘Please stand back.’ Once the train resumed its journey, there was a hum that covered a whole octave, from sa to sa (the tonic in Indian music). The two notes of the warning signal, in relation to this tonic, were, I realised, ma and pa (the fourth and fifth of Indian music). I decided to put this into the song, as well as the name ‘Krumme Lanke’, the last stop on my line.

Motzclick here for audio clip
This is the name of a paper sold in Berlin by unemployed and homeless people; something like the Big Issue in Britain. Motz itself is named after a street called Motzstrasse, once a centre of left-wing activity in Berlin. One day during my three months in that city, a man, as usual, got on the U-bah train I was on, and made a little speech in a sing-song voice before approaching the commuters to sell the paper. That speech, and especially the detached, rehearsed sing-song in which it was rendered, reminded me of the tune of a disco song I’d overheard a while ago; later, I found out the sort of things these people said in their speeches from a German friend. This little song is a reimagining and reconstruction of that speech and plea, as well as an attempt to recapture that unexpected association in my mind, upon hearing it, with disco music.

Rhythm House India