26/04/2005

Fusion: Confusing the Genre from the Jargon

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The absence of any good reading material in Bangladesh on music is one that I really find inexcusable, and probably explains why I spend so much time with music forums on the Net. The truth is in the Bengali language, there is nothing worth a read, and all you get is a cocktail of ‘stars’ letting the world know how ‘important’ and ‘great’ they are, which the dutiful and dumb journalist then proceeds to write out without cross checking, only to eke out a subsistence existence as a contributor to this or that local magazine or newspaper.

Having said that, the above may be termed a generalized and sweeping statement, for once in a while one does come across some very well written stuff on the local scene in English, and one such was the Star Weekend Magazine of 16th April 2005 titled ‘Jazzing Up a Storm.

What made it more important for me was one of the writers was Elita Karim, the lead vocalist for the fusion band ‘Raaga’, and whilst I have yet to hear the bands album, I have heard rave reviews of the same. I feel all the more encouraged that somebody like Elita who is not only an accomplished vocalist, is also venturing out into writing her thoughts on fusion, and it will certainly go a long way in educating people about Music, when most have sort of made up their mind that this art form is best suited for ‘illiterates’!

In very many ways, I felt more than a little elated that the write-up didn’t fail to identify the first jazz-rock fusion renegades in the music business. It was thus a small surprise that in the third paragraph of the write-up I was able to read something that would surely be ‘music’ to anybody’s ears – by that I of course mean the conceited ears of this obnoxious character called Mac!


“One of the pioneers of the folk music fusion scene was Maqsoodul Haque, who, with his band Feedback in 1996 came out with the album Bauliana, which incorporates Baul music with keyboard and drums.”


Slapping my own back, I said ‘Shabaash’ – dude your ‘moment in history’ now recorded in the ‘great’ Daily Star, a newspaper I have never had much respect for ever, and that’s a very long and old story, which would blacken the mood of this writing should I get into the details.

But wait a minute, yes, we did use a whole lot of keyboards in Bauliana – but did we use the drums?

In fact one of the reasons I quit Feedback in 1997 was we were no longer playing live instruments but were relying on rhythm machines and sequencers!

I thought if machines could run the whole band – why the hell do they need me? ‘Go get a machine that sings’ – and there are machines that sing by the way, Michael Jackson for one is notorious in its (mis) use. Cost’s you a packet too.

What has become apparent is in discussions on ‘fusion’ there appears to be more confusion, and understandably it comes from not knowing the background and history of the genre. It thus becomes copious belittling when the general perception of fusion whittles down to just about ‘blending’ two or more music influences, instruments and calling it ‘fusion’.

To be simple and precise – it appears to me that this ‘new in thing’ is compared to drinking a concocted mix of tea and coffee – teacoe- perhaps? Nah. Worse, some people even believe that by so doing we are doing our music a ‘great favor’?

If there is at all history of fusion, the ideal time to benchmark it, would be the Beatles last album “Sergeant Pepper’s lonely Heart Club Band” in 1967 and the song ‘Within you, Without you’ incredibly marking the Fab 4’s inroad into understanding and performing Indian music, after having trained with none less than Ravi Shankar:

“George Harrison wrote this song after studying with Ravi Shankar in 1965. This was a new philosophy pumped into Pop Culture and an Eastern flavored song. About giving up ego and closing the ‘space between us all’, George was writing a way of thinking into Rock and Roll. Embellished by groaning sounds of sitars and strange instruments the song caught on with the Hippies of the late sixties. Many musicians and people who consider this album a pinnacle for the love generation point to this song as the Beatles understanding what was happening.”


The idea that I am trying to convey here: it wasn’t as if the East was seeking out the West in trying to incorporate a music that we call fusion today, indeed it was quite the reverse and there were very many reasons for that.

By the end sixties the Beatles made it quite clear that Indian music (classical or otherwise) is not something worth fooling around with, and with that, greats in the classical tradition like Ali Akbar Khan, Alla Rakhha, and Zakir Hussain from India made their Europe and later the US their homes – literally to ‘preach’ music.

Thus, ‘fusion’ as we know it today moved from the East to the West, and lets not be ‘confused’ about it again.

An then in 1975 we had the legendary John McLaughlin with his band Shakti – turning the world upside down as this Innerviews review would indicate:

“Formed in 1975, Shakti pioneered a groundbreaking and highly influential east-meets-west collaborative approach. The group, whose name means creative intelligence, beauty and power, consisted of legendary British jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, North Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and violinist L. Shankar and ghatam [percussion] player T.H. "Vikku" Vinayakram, both of whom hail from South India. Together, they created a fluid and organic sound that managed to successfully combine seemingly incompatible traditions. Hussain and McLaughlin, along with rotating co-conspirators, recently launched a successful reunion tour and self-titled album under the name Remember Shakti. But upon the original group's debut, Westerners weren't quite ready to dance to the worldbeat of these very different drummers.”


Fusion as we know it today started from this point onward and it was just not going out and picking tones and tonality, rearranging them, ‘re-mixing’ them – there was more to it:


“McLaughlin believes the almost complete lack of mainstream knowledge, appreciation and availability of world music at the time of Shakti’s introduction also hampered its initial acceptance. "When I formed Shakti, it was dimly viewed, I should say!" said McLaughlin, a key member of several Miles Davis line-ups and one of the most renowned guitarists in history. "After coming out of Mahavishnu—a very powerful electric band—here I was sitting on a carpet with Indian musicians. Everyone thought I flipped out. It was not well-received at all by the record company or my agent and manager. Artistically, I thought it was wonderful, but they all thought I was a little loopy."


And then comes the chemistry part of fusion, the real hard part:

"Things went the natural Indian way," said McLaughlin. "This, of course, included the introduction of the raga, the various ways of collective playing and the principal improvisations from the soloists. As musicians, we are playing notes, music and rhythms and we hope to play the right melody in the correct way, but this is only part of the process. The other side that is important is the communication of the musicians and the playing and playfulness that comes from that interaction. You can put a piece of music in front of somebody and he may play it perfectly. So what? Interplay and interaction are the integral parts of music—they're as important as the notes. Without them, I don't think I'd be here. You can't just play over someone. There are many examples in jazz fusion in which you have a soloist playing over a steady drumbeat and I find this terribly boring, because I want to hear the interaction between two people. I want to know what kind of imagination and spontaneity they have. Only in spontaneity can we be who we truly are."


Mark the word 'spontaneity' and what we have in the Bangladesh version of ‘fusion’ is rather very dim and insipid mind makeups:

“There are a few songs which have been played from the keyboard with the intention of sounding like traditional instruments," says Habib. "I think my favourite instrument to use is the flute. The sound and the way it's played really touches me. The sound of flute makes you very emotional, sad and romantic. All these instruments -- sarod, sarangi, flutes -- have very emotional sounds. So far, I have mixed them with arrangements that are still on the more traditional side but eventually, I would like to introduce these instruments on 'groovy' and modern tracks."


If fusion is only going to be about sounds sampled from any numbers of keyboards and sequencers, and beats taken out of thousands of loop CD’s available anywhere in the world, its fair to call it a ‘musical wallpaper’ – not fusion.

If it is going to be sound and sound alone from sources other than its own i.e. sarod, sitar and flute, 'sampled' as it were from a keyboards and ‘not the real thing’ – the highway of fusion in Bangladesh has far too many STOP than GO signs than one would imagine.

Remember Bob Marley when he said “You can fool some people some time, but not All the people all the time”.

The other sordid term being used is ‘remix’ – which for all practical purpose is a marketing jargon and NOT a musical genre, a point not missed out by Renaissance when they said :

"What we are doing is not remixing music," says Naquib. "We compose our own original folk music. We have our own lyrics, our own tunes but we keep the basis of folk music within our compositions. At the same time we also try to blend western instruments with traditional instruments." he band defines the true meaning of fusion by incorporating instruments such as saxophones and trumpets to add a jazzy feel while still managing to stay true to the roots of folk Bangali music. They also bring in different artists to play some of the traditional instruments such as bashi, dhol, khomok, khonjoni, mondira, dootara, ektaara and naal. “


Note again the chemistry of music in question here.

No one man can conceivably produce fusion music using his own sense of judgment or taste. It has to accommodate quite a few parameters, a large spectrum, one of the most important being the nuances of each and every instrument in question as also an ability to blend in the respective playing style of individual musicians from diverse backgrounds and orientations.

Together with it the most important element in fusion, spontaneity and improvisation:


"When we do not have a dotara, I have to make do with a guitar," says Buno. "Instead of the dhol, we use the drums to produce the same kind of rhythm. We like to use a lot of traditional instruments ourselves. Even in our album, we have worked with flutes, dotara, tabla, mondira and many more. These instruments are actually intermingled with western instruments and concepts like, trumpets choir music and even the blues.”


There are intrinsically three categories of music in South Asia.

The Northern Indian music, rich with their gharanas, the exclusive preserve of the Maharajas and the landed elite of yore, the more complex and difficult category from South India, representative of Carnatic Music, with innumerable beats and percussive delights that very few in the world seems to have mastered other than the South Indian greats, followed by Eastern Indian music, which is basically the fusion of all the Indian and so called 'western' forms, together with Sufi, Tantric and Buddhist influences that is so much our proud musical heritage as of today.

Last if not the least – is there any instrument above that we can call indigenously Bengali or from Bangladesh?

As far as I know, other than the good old ‘dug-dugi’, our part of the world has not produced any instruments, thus the harmonium, dotara, tabla, ektaara etc, have all come in from regions other that 56,126 square kilometer we call our ‘motherland’ our great “Bangla-Land”!

Bottom line, call it folk music or whatever, Bangladesh ‘country music’ has traditionally been fusion music and it would be a shame to think of it any other way.

Fusion is in our inherent bloodstream, that's the way it was and that's the way it is going to be.

Mac

[Cosmetic Edit done on 27/04/2005]

Comments

Mac

What I believe about fusion is, there must be a reference or original version of a song from where you can take and adopt your imagination or creativity to make it much more affluent. I have very serious complexity with the word “ INVENTION”. I believe that no one can ever invent anything, they only can DISCOVER. Because everything has already been existed in the world. You just need to put your thoughts or adding your imagination with the existing component.

To make fusion you have to know what is the original version. If you take reference from a fusion version then there is a probability that you might not come up with expected result. You could have do mush more better things than the existed version but only for reluctant to giving some extra efforts to collect original one, you just waste your talent. Nothing else.

The fusion version of “ na chaile jare paua jay” did not meet up expectation that much as I expected from you. But yes I am desperately believe that if you do this song again it would be definitely mush more better than first one. it is not necessary that the outcome from a fusion would be a mind blowing. But before doing fusion the experimenter must need to understand that if you put type A music in X axis and type B music in Y axis and draw a graph in order to find out a feasible point, you will be required of so many things; your knowledge about the graph, the shortcoming and strength of the input and what you are really trying to find out under given circumstances.

Using flute with drums does not mean you are doing fusion but “ na chaile jare paua jay” is a fusion; because this song contained lot of your passion, memory and respect that never targeted any market mechanism.

Posted by: shipul | 27/04/2005

A good analysis indeed. Wish to read more on few other current issues.
Shumon
http://www.BanglaMusic.com

Posted by: Shumon | 27/04/2005

thanks mac mama.. few minutes taken to read this out and it was wroth it. learnt a whole lot..

elita
*****

Posted by: Elita | 28/04/2005

I completely agree with all that you have said here. The only thing that I felt while reading it, is something that has bothered me regarding almost everything, that is, why do we need to analyse so much? Music is, because it is, because it is one of the forms of expressions human beings use to set his soul free (or make some moolah or whatever), and why are these people who have established a patent right over such and such kind of sound or such and such instrument?

Posted by: Mubin | 28/04/2005

mac

sorry for late response..i am now in sylhet the town i love than any other city in the world..

yes i said " na chahile jare paua jay" did not meet up my expectation... but again i said if you do it once again than u can do it much more better way than the previous one. thats why i said to put type A in one axis and type B in on other Axis.. when you draw a graph you always ask to find out a feasible region.. there are more than hundred way u can identify the new region... whatever u like i might not like...or whatever i like u might not agree with me..than u can wipe out the whole graph and draw another one with diffrent measurment.. fusion is the continious process.....it is dynamic... yes the song was absolutely fusion ... but what i believe is that u can do it much more better way. and u will do it if u get any chance ... and that is a fusion...

yes fusion need passion, anxiety... just for cutting market share fusion never ever can take place... i know how many days and nights u passed without sleeping just for one single line and SHUR...

about invention and discovery my poisnt was ,, ppl just gave a name of " discovery" .its something like that " amar jonmer 20 bochor por amake nam deua holo SHIPUL"

by adressing anyone name means ur just calling someone
-thanx

shipul

Posted by: shipul | 29/04/2005

Shipul,

Thanks for your spirited response - but NO I personally do not think re-doing what I have already done would in any way make it 'better'.

That is a subjective analysis and one I am not keen to accept. I am also not in the habit of repeating anything I have created a second time. It is just not in my musical character.

The A and B axis and looking for a 'feasible region' as explained is a very mathematical equation and irrelevant in this discussion.

While perfection is always mathematical - INSPIRATION is something totally divine. Inspiration in music - specially if you listen to jazz is a one time thing - it simply cannot or should not be repeated. No two performance of a fusion or jazz band is ever the same.

There have been moments in my life where I have chosen to rub out total compositions after recording them, yet that was before it reached the public domain.

Doing post facto corrections will only point out that I have succumbed to the 'intellectual prerssure' when the song I did was equated to blasphemy. Remember the Rabindra Mullahs!

I liked your explanation of Discovery!

Thik jemon opaach bochor boyoshey amee nijer naam dilaam Mac, are tirish bochor poray amar naam amee nijaiyee abar dilam Kushum. Sheta kee shanghatik ekta abishkar chilo!!!!

Mac

Posted by: Mac | 29/04/2005

Hi Mac,

"Fusion music" - a concept misconstrued by so-called musicians, who like to sample different sounds using a synthesizer, really needed this essay to make a few things apparent.

I'm glad to see references to McLaughlin and his seminal work with Shakti and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I'm sure you'll agree that one can start with Mahavishnu's "Birds of Fire" to get a taste of some seriously energetic fusion music.

The interested listener must also get Bitches Brew by Miles Davis to experience what happens when McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea et al - each of them astonishing musicians in their own right - team up with Miles Davis and break every possible jazz trend and make something so completely different that the jazz dinosaurs throw up in disgust. But what it does is inspires a whole lotta new artists to be brave enough to be - as you aptly stressed - spontaneous. Now thats fusion, not what our deshi musicians are producing as of late.

Gops

Posted by: Gops | 02/05/2005

Gops,

Now that you mentioned, Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew" was actually the last music Rajiv Gandhi was listening to in his limousine before he stepped out and got blown away by a terrorist bomb in May 1991.

Fusion has always been connoisseur music!

Regards

Mac

Posted by: Mac | 02/05/2005

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Posted by: world cup 2006 | 03/07/2006

i had heard about rabindranath 2010 and i'm very interested to listen that song. but i could not get it for anywhere. could you please share the song with us? i will be greatly oblige

rikdeb_in_utopia@hotmail.com

Posted by: rik | 02/05/2008

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