various artists,
World Library of Folk
& Primitive Music: India

(Rounder, 2002)

Though appearing under the Alan Lomax colophon, this disc is actually the work of ethnomusicologist Alain Danielou, recorded in and around Benares and Madras in the 1950s and released originally as Indian Folk Music. As such, it is hampered by the state of field recording technology of the day, and the sound quality, though digitally cleaned up, is variable.

This disc was the first exposure many had in the West to the music of India, before Ravi Shankar's work was heard in our corner of the audiosphere. One interesting dimension of the music on the disc is the virtual absence of what most Westerners consider to be "Indian" music: the Carnatic and Hindustani Ragas and similar forms, which are represented here only by the "Raga Kamavandhani," rendered on vina.

The music found on this disc sorts into four basic types: 1) archaic forms, best represented by "Viraha," a chant, and the "Ahir Dance," a somewhat hypnotic drum piece; 2) religious and devotional music, shown to best advantage on "Qawwali," a vocal whose structure should be familiar to fans of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (though the Indian tempo is quicker than in most Pakistani examples); 3) instrumental, including the delightful flute piece "Thumri" and the spirited "Svaramandala" on zither; and 4) dramatic music, captured nicely by "Kathakali," a Malabar dance cycle.

Capping off the musical delights is the usual exhaustive notes that are a Rounder hallmark, this time supplied by Nazir Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin, who supplement Danielou's original song-by-song notes.

Though not for every taste, those who wish to have a fuller understanding of the folk underpinnings of Indian music should find this disc essential. It is, in short, an ethnomusicological delight!

[ by Gilbert Head ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002

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