Mondo India

Mondo India

Various Artists

Mondo Melodia / Ark 21

Henry Ford lives! Sure, his surname may now be Patel or Singh, and he hails from Madras instead of Motown. But he does live and, instead of producing cars, movies are his thing. Bollywood, baby. Where singers are locked up in sweatshops, belting out thousands of songs a day and new movies deluge the subcontinent like monsoon rain. But in this maelstrom of activity where conformity is king (tons of music, tons of action, boatloads of dancing, and heaps of love scenes — with no kissing!), truly artistic jewels do emerge. After all, the company that gave us the Model T did also deliver the ’68 ‘Stang.

A.R. Rahman is just such a jewel, and Mondo India is a tribute to his artistry. This film composer has a nice, subtle touch, able to mix Western sensibilities with Indian tradition that can satisfy both East and West alike (which is a difficult task, since Indian music can grate on Western ears). But, who would expect anything less from Deepa Mehta’s (Fire and Earth) personal composer?

“Narumugaiye” is a sweet ballad that combines classic raga percussion with a peculiar symphonic quality that is charming. There’s the slow-crawling, funk bass in “Pachaikiligal.” And “Aiyaiyo Kanavaa” is a true culture clash that sounds like it’s been mixed by a minimalist DJ, whose been strongly influenced by Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, and an R&B diva who wails as though she’s back in the Church.

One can tell that the producers of this compilation specially hand-picked each track with an American audience in mind. Each song contains elements with which we can identify and enjoy. It makes one wonder if this is truly representative of Rahman’s work. However, the disc works quite well. The only problem is that they should’ve just made this a Rahman disc. In an attempt to give the composer some kind of historical context, they picked one song each by his mentor, R.D. Burman, and his disciple, Vishal. While both are good songs, they add nothing to the compilation (since most of us don’t know the history of Bollywood composers, what kind of context do we get from one guy we don’t know being influenced by another guy we don’t know and a guy we don’t know who is strongly influenced by the first guy we don’t know?) and distract from an otherwise excellent overview of Rahman’s work (or Rahman’s work we’re sure to like).

Mondo Melodia: www.mondomelodia.com Ark 21: www.ark21.com

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