What languages ​​are used in Carnatic music

Beyond Bollywood soundtracksHow India is changing pop

The sound of the sitar fades into infinity, the kick drum stomps a techno beat: a Beatles classic in a remix as an euphoric dance floor track. The original sounds more like a psychedelic puzzle game from time windows of yesterday, today, tomorrow. "Tomorrow Never Knows."

"... Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream / It is not dying, it is not dying / Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, / It is shining, it is shining ..."

The Fab Four's spiritual search for sound becomes a transcendental composition: cut up, layered and looped into a soaking sample track. The end of the legendary Beatles album "Revolver" from 1966 and the beginning of intercultural pop music - Indian sounds in Western pop.

Brit pop and techno mantra

In the 1990s, Kula Shaker made Indian music in its form of Brit-Pop a trademark. Or Cornershop with "Brimful of Asha", in the big beat remix by Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim: Number one in the UK singles charts in February 1998. And almost half a century after the Beatles, the London DJ and producer with Indian roots releases Kieren Hebden alias Four Tet 2015 the 20-minute techno mantra "Morning Side" with a sample from a Bollywood soundtrack - borrowings from Indian music become the distinctive timbre of a beguiling pop number. The original sample can be found on a Bollywood soundtrack from 1982, sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

So what is it that fascinates us in the West about Indian music? Is it the allure of the exotic? Or is it a kind of transcendence set to music as a pop music phenomenon? And what is that anyway: "Indian music"?



"Indian music has its very own character and is also very complex and large. There is a huge universe of music, which may be a nice journey for someone who is more influenced by western music: Once you discover that, you can travel deep in there, "says Keshav Purushotham. "At the same time we learn from each other how to count, that they like to count through. So: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven."

Monotony in music, repetition as a principle, mesmerizing and repetitive, endless cycle - like rebirth after death. A sound experience that we know in the western world from minimal music.

Yashas Shetty: "Terry Riley or La Monte Young, also the more famous ones like Philip Glass and John Cage. They all spent a lot of time in India. You can hear that in their music. In my opinion, it has influenced western pop music. "

"In India, the focus is on the melody"

You can get in touch with the essence of Indian music in the southern Indian metropolis of Bangalore.

"I'm Manasi Prasad, the director of the 'Indian Music Experience' museum. The museum's vision is to bring everyone - but especially young people - closer to the diversity of Indian music. From the traditional to the contemporary."

The Indian Music Experience (IME) museum offers the opportunity to explore the cosmos of Indian music. Manasi Prasad (left) and Suma Sudhindra run the museum (Deutschlandradio / Andi Hörmann)

The museum IME - Indian Music Experience opened in 2018, which it claims to be the first interactive music museum in the entire country. The visitors can and should actively immerse themselves in the Indian music world. But what is it anyway, "Indian music"?

Manasi Prasad: "It is very difficult to define. Of course there are certain elements that are fundamental to all music from India: That it is, for example, a melodic form of music compared to Western harmonic. In India the melody is in The center and the instruments follow it. In principle, we differentiate here between classical and folk music. All the other genres, such as Bollywood music and the varieties of modern bands, make use of these two original areas and make something of their own. But we'll get to that find out more when we walk through the museum. "

Street noise and music

In the shade of mango trees. In the central square in front of the museum entrance, we stroll through the so-called Soundgarden. Various sculptures illustrate musical principles. At the entrance to the museum itself, we first have to go through a metal detector security check. The architecture of the building is winding, held in simple, gray exposed concrete.

"The museum is divided into different areas. The first, entitled 'Contemporary Expression': The room is designed as a kind of Indian street, with auto rickshaws and street noise. We want the visitor to discover all the new musical styles from India which are Indian in that they have Indian lyrics or are played with Indian instruments. But they are also combined with influences from all over the world. This is an amalgam of East and West. Let's explore a little. "

Violin meets sitar

"West meets East" is the title of the groundbreaking album by the US violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar. It was released in 1967 and one year later it won a Grammy for best chamber music album. The first time that a musician from Asia has received this award. A pioneering work in intercultural composing. Violin meets sitar, a crossover of western classical music and Indian spirituality. Door opener for the fusion movement. The British jazz and rock guitarist John McLaughlin founded the band Shakti in 1974. For the first time ever, such a formation is being created with exclusively South Indian musicians - groundbreaking for the world music movement.

Manasi Prasad: "In the 1960s and 70s the West discovered Indian music because many came here for spiritual experiences. It goes back to the Beatles who traveled to Rishikesh to see a Swami, a spiritual master "Seeking enlightenment. There was also an interest in Indian music. Some of the musicians, such as Ravi Shankar, became real ambassadors of Indian music in the West by collaborating with many musicians. This has influenced the sound of Western music - like." for example with the Beatles with Ravi Shankar, then suddenly the sitar appears in their compositions. In this area we learn something about it. You can see George Harrison being taught the sitar by Ravi Shankar. "

Shruti, Raga and Tala

A fundamental distinction is made in India between music from the north of the country and that from the south. In the north: Hindustan music. In the south: Carnatic music. This goes back to armed conflicts towards the end of the 12th century. Due to the Islamic influence, which was stronger in the north of India than in the south, music developed differently in north and south India, which can be seen in the distinction between Hindustan and Carnatic music that has existed since the 16th century.

"Regardless of whether it is Hindustan or Carnatic music, the theoretical principles are the same. And there are three: They are called Shruti, Raga and Tala. Shruti refers to the pitches, raga is the melody and tala is the rhythm."

In the IME museum, children practice shruti, raga and tala. Sampagodu Vighnaraja (r.) Teaches children traditional Indian singing (Deutschlandradio / Andi Hörmann)

Shruti, Raga, Tala - tone, melody and rhythm. Even the children receive early musical education with their mother's milk. Classes are held daily at the Indian Music Experience Museum in Bangalore. The pupils are between six and twelve years old. The classrooms are laid out with colorful carpets. Sitting cross-legged, the kids clap the beat. One: palm on back of hand. Two: palm in palm.

"I'm Sampagodu Vighnaraja, I teach Carnatic singing here. I'm a professional singer of South Indian songs. The difference to Hindustan singing from North India is the way we handle the notes. I'm not a Hindustan singer, but I know the basics of the other system. I can demonstrate that ... "

Sampagodu Vighnaraja sings in the style of Carnatic music

"The semitones are crucial here. There are a lot of them."

In Hindustan singing that sounds, well, a bit more edgy.

Sampagodu Vighnaraja sings in the style of Hindustan music

"Both systems are unique. But there are differences. Each is beautiful in itself."

Music? Do it yourself!

The IT industry is booming in Bangalore, South India. In the media, the metropolis is repeatedly referred to as the "Silicon Valley of India", in the technology centers of newly developed districts on the outskirts, life is urban and almost sterile. On the other hand, the road traffic is chaotic, loud, dirty. A hopeless mess, seemingly structureless - depending on the perspective of the beholder.

"It's not a mess here for me," says Yashas Shetty, musician and producer, from Bangalore: born in 1978, gray streaks in his shoulder-length, tousled hair. "For example, I don't really feel at home in Germany. Because there is the idea of ​​an orderly system."

Yashas Shetty feels at home where DIY and music come together (Deutschlandradio / Andi Hörmann)

The music in everyday life - on the streets, in the bars, in the multi-storey residential areas - is shaped by traditional Indian sounds through to modern Bollywood-esque chart pop. But there is also an experimental DIY scene: The Indian Sonic Research Organization, or ISRO for short. A music collective that uses new and old, analog and digital technologies to screw together obscure instruments.

"It started as a collective of performers in 2006. We made our own instruments, played with them and held workshops."

A palm-sized electronic circuit board with soldered, colorful capacitors. A 9-volt battery dangles from a wire. Without touching the circuit board, Yashas Shetty controls the pitch of the self-made sound machine via a sensor - a kind of theremin.

"Yes, but ultra-cheap. Third-world style. This is more for children."

Beckett in Bangalore

Ultra-cheap, third-world style, lo-fi and DIY, a simple self-made instrument with a trashy sound in the middle of the south Indian megacity Bangalore. The sound collective ISRO has its music laboratory on the campus of the Srishti Art School in the northern district of Yelahanka. Fans on the ceiling defy the humid heat. In the middle is a table with laptops and a soldering iron. Dusty instruments pile up on the walls - from modular synthesizers and oscillators to completely analog harmoniums. Sure: this box with integrated bellows, very important in the spiritual music of India. Yashas Shetty is currently working on a MIDI connection for the harmonium in order to network it with the computer.

The splashing of a waterhole or the sound of barbed wire when you strike it like the side of a guitar: After editing it on the laptop, it becomes a kind of Far Eastern Musique concrète. As a sound engineer, 32-year-old Sudhir Tatavarti actually works on functional productions, in the ISRO workshop he appreciates the artistic experiment:

"Imagine that someone is waiting for something and is bored of waiting and always looks at the clock and hears the ticking."

Got something from Beckett in Bangalore. In general: The Indian Sonic Research Organization makes the absurdity of this Indian megacity audible. From the chaotic system of road traffic to the natural noises of the metropolis - through the microphone and processing in music software, soundscapes experience an almost cinematic quality, beyond the beautiful appearance of Bollywood. Here completely different sounds merge into something new, like back then with the Beatles. Yashas Shetty already has the moving images in his mind:

"Some kind of zombie apocalypse, sci-fi."

By bus to India

Change of location: Back to Europe, back to the past, back to music with analog instruments. An immersion in the fascination of Indian music for western musicians, which continues to this day.

"I'm Marja Burchard, I was born into the Embryo group in 1985, so the band already existed, so to speak - it was founded in 1969 - 16 years. And I was born into a time when Embryo was very into world music Because Embryo started with jazz, then became famous as a Krautrock band, but I was born into this world music era. "

A good ten years after the Beatles, a Munich music pioneer set off for India: in 1978 Christian Burchard and his band Embryo took the bus to India. The result is the documentary "Vagabond Caravan". In the late 1970s, filmmaker Werner Penzel accompanied the Embryo group on their eight-month bus journey from Munich to Calcutta. Embryo was one of the most famous German Krautrock bands at the time and became one of the pioneers of global pop.

"My father was a pioneer like the Beatles"

During their musical adventure journey overland, the music collective around Christian Burchard, who died in 2018, was inspired by foreign cultures and their music.

Marja Burchard: "My father was just as much a pioneer as the Beatles because he was the first to show people something like that in the 1970s - or Embryo."

Much of what the bands imported themselves is Indian folklore. An appropriation from the Far East, kitsched up in the mainstream of the major labels. The sound to dream of the magic of the Far East.

Marja Burchard was born into world music. The band leader is here at a jam session in the intercultural meeting center Köşk in Munich (Deutschlandradio / Andi Hörmann)

Since the death of her father, Marja Burchard has continued to lead Embryo as a band leader. A visit to Munich, shortly before a jam session in the intercultural meeting center Köşk. Embryo rehearse here with a constantly changing line-up: Most of the musicians have a migration background. Whoever has time comes. On this day, the Afghan musician Abdul Samad is a guest with his rubab, a bowl-neck lute. Marja Burchard accompanies him on a drum, they play an Indian piece:

"When I was a child, there were always a lot of musicians visiting us, especially Indian musicians, and I learned the scale from an early age, how to name it, so sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha and ni, from a tabla player from South India. "

Compositions without style limits

Marja's father Christian Burchard and his band Embryo have also brought musicians from India to Germany over the past 50 years. One of them is Ramesh Shotham from Chennai. He lives and works in Cologne and released the album "Here It Is!" In 2018. released. It was released on the indie label Papercup Records. His son, born in 1983, runs it.

"I'm Keshav Purushotham, artist name Keshavara, and we are in Cologne, in the northern part of the city, in my apartment in the Agnesviertel. My father is an Indian percussionist, makes a lot of jazz and world music. He was back then ... Well, there was Embryo that Band, from Munich. And they met my father in India, among other things, and started their first musical crossover projects together. In the course of that, my father came to Europe. Then it just started with world music, there There were huge festivals in Europe. Then he played a lot here and also got to know my mother and then stayed here as a musician. "

Keshavara calls himself Keshav Purushotham as a musician. You can see his Indian roots by looking at him: neatly trimmed mustache, black wool hat turned up. There are no stylistic limits in his compositions: herbaceous and psychedelic and funky. Pop music with an Indian touch in the broadest sense.

From music to the cabinet of imagination

Purushotham: "Exactly, so I use a lot of samples. Or, for example, I travel through India with my field recorder and record atmospheres, or even street musicians. For me, it's a bit of a search for the roots: Where do I come from? I wanted to process that musically too. "

Hörmann: "I can see there are some Indian ..."

Purushotham: "Yeah, I don't have a lot here at home, more stuff in the studio. But here's such an obscure instrument. It's a tabla machine that electronically imitates the tabla. I can plug it in."

Hörmann: "Looks like a toaster."

Musical tinkerer: Keshav Purushotham alias Keshavara with his tabla machine (Deutschlandradio / Andi Hörmann)

Purushotham: "Yes, or some kind of physical, scientific device. There are different rhythms on it. You can change the tempo and the pitch, the key. This machine is of course more built to accompany classical instruments. And then I like to use it somehow, record it and sample it and muddle it to a hip-hop beat, or something else entirely. "

Purushotham: "I have a singing effect that alienates the voice, and I'm currently planning a kind of show: 'Cabinet of Fantasy'."

And it runs once a month on the Internet radio "Dublab". Here, too, he alienates his voice as a moderator with all sorts of comic sound effects. "Cabinet of Fantasy": a peep show through the pop kaleidoscope.

"This is such an imaginary place that I'm creating right now, where different characters appear in it. There is, for example, my fantasy rap alias Lil Walter. He always has a very high-pitched voice and raps in fantasy language. There I'm just experimenting a bit. "

Creativity grows out of chaos

Experimenting with Indian roots in the sound laboratory as a panopticon of pop music: Keshavara makes songs that sound like the shimmering mirage of a strolling through an Indian metropolis. The sound creates images: dry dust in the shaky neon light, kitsched silk shirts with pastel-colored patterns. A music hybrid, a transcultural search for sound full of imaginary soap bubbles, iridescent and bubbling, in a fantasized Bollywood aesthetic. World music 2.0 from the synthesizer!

"I was inspired by it and I use certain elements and try to create something new out of them. It's more like a chemical reaction. Not at all that I replay it or try to make Indian music."

This is what makes Indian music - whether traditional or modern, whether Hindustan or Carnatic, whether in the 60s or today - so appealing: creativity emerges from sound fragments in chaos. The land is polyphonic, it expands consciousness and creates its own sound.