In a splurge of glittering but garish display of wealth by India’s nouveau riche elites, corporate and political, many having become obscenely rich via 2-G, CWG, Nrega , criminal land grab and a host of other scams , there are spectacles for the enjoyment of the rich like Formula One Race, followed by a performance by one Lady Gaga ( the more outlandish, the more appreciated ), the current generation avatar of the Material Girl Madona but without the latter’s raw and almost vulgar overt sexuality, India’s ruling minority joined the international fraternity of the exclusive elite when the Buddha (poor Gautam Buddha) International Circuit, costing $ 250 million, Formula One racing circuit in Greater Noida, near Delhi was inaugurated by India’s tallest Dalit leader Mayawati, while the milling and toiling masses cross poverty line at Rs 32 (less than a dollar) per day in urban India (while we slipped down to 134 among 187 countries in human development index, based on long-term progress in health, education and other indicators, from 119 out of 169 in 2010 )
While fans from Delhi and elsewhere including my nephew Vaibhav, creative director with an Ad company and his wife Nancy were greatly disappointed, when the Metallica performance in Gurgaon, near Delhi was cancelled on Saturday, 29 October, but close to 40,000 fans were treated to head-banging metal music by the American heavy metal group in Bangalore, even as liquor and drugs flowed freely while a heavily outnumbered police force looked on helplessly.
During my posts and travels around the world, as part of learning and education, I savored local music, say In Cairo, my first post in early 1960s, where modified instruments from the Pharaonic days are still employed .The traditional Sufi dhikr rituals, are the closest contemporary music genre to ancient Egyptian music, having preserved many of its features, rhythms and instruments. Real Arabic music began in the 7th century in Syria during the Umayyad dynasty and was influenced by Byzantine, Indian and Persian forms, which were themselves heavily influenced by earlier Greek, Semitic, and ancient Egyptian music. Of course now days the western bands are copied in Egypt as elsewhere.
But I found the Belly dancing in Egypt initially troubling because of body exposure and undulations but it was nothing compared to what was dished out in Paris , where most visitors wanted to spend an evening at Lido or Moulin Rouge if not Crazy Horse or Follies Bergere .As for suggestive and vulgar gyrations and almost copulatory motions, without baring the mammary glands ,the Indian films have crossed all limits in erotic exhibitionism, with its acme in a new Bollywood avatar, Item girl and item number , by which all top actresses want to exhibit their assets and expertise.
Whether it is music or food, Turkey the successor state of the Ottoman Empire which stretched from Morocco to Oman and from Azerbaijan to Austria, happily claims the music and cuisine of its conquered people, since the population of those who now inhabit Turkey and migrated from central Asia is less than 15%. The nomad Turks could roast meat or boil it with rice but their strong point was expertise in warfare. Thus the music of Turkey includes diverse elements, ranging from Central Asian folk music with influence of Greek music, Ottoman music, Persian music, Balkan music, as well as more modern European and American popular music. Much of its current popular music can trace its roots to the emergence of modern secular republic of Turkey and modernization and westernization in the early 1930s. With the assimilation of immigrants from various regions of the empire, the diversity of musical genres and musical instrumentation was expanded.
In late 1960s and early 1970s, the night clubs in Turkey mostly featured Turkish folkloric and assimilated music with Anatolian and Arabic base by the likes of Neshe Karabuchek with modern singers like Calypso King Metin Ersoy, while the secular establishment patronized western modern and classical music. But in 1990s the place to hangout became Bars, where mostly the young generation sipped liquor, with Jazz, Turkish rock, electronica, hip-hop, rap taking over with the slow decline of old grass root arabesque style music in which the audience participated.
Scenic and medium sized Romania in East Europe has a multicultural music environment including active ethnic music from its many regions. Classical and traditional Romanian folk music was encouraged during the Communist era and remains popular. Some folk musicians like Gheorghe Zamfir became world famous throughout the world with traditional Romanian folk instrument, the panpipes. Zubin Mehta, the Indian Music Conductor I met in 1984 found Romania’s music tradition rich and varied which he used to visit while learning his craft in Vienna .Since the demise of the socialist state, as everywhere else, it is now a thriving scene of pop music, hip hop, heavy metal and rock and roll with many groups achieving success abroad. Romania used to be highly advanced in theatre, ballet and opera too.
During my short stay in Algeria in mid 1960s, soon after a bloody war of independence from France the Algerian music and folk dance scene was just recovering and developing. But it has now become virtually synonymous with raï among foreigners which achieved great popularity in France, Spain and other parts of Europe. For several centuries, Algerian music was dominated by styles inherited from Al-Andalus, eventually forming a unique North African twist on poetic forms. Algerian music came to include suites called nuubaat (singular nuuba). Lately, derivatives include rabaab and hawzii. Algeria in general offers a rich diversity of genre; popular music (Shaabi), Arabo-Andalusian music (Malouf San'aa, Gharnati, etc...) music classical Arabic, Bedouin, Berber music (Kabyle, Shawi, Tuareg, Etc...), Rai...
Senegal's musical heritage is better known than of other African countries, because of the popularity of Wolof percussive music; popularized by Youssou N'Dour and others. Senegalese folk music is distinct from ancient Mande music or its purer expression in modern Malian music, by the influence of Serer polyphony. Generally the Senegalese folk music is livelier than the sedate, classical sounds of Malian griots. In 1970s, Faye and N'Dour were Senegal's first pop stars, and could be seen strumming on TV channels or at night clubs Modern Senegalese hip hop is mostly in Wolof, alongside some in English and French.
During my stay in Dakar (1978-81) there used to be cultural activities galore (apart from majority cinema halls showing Bollywood films) under Senegal president Léopold Sédar Senghor, a poet, politician, and cultural theorist. He was the first African elected as a member of the Académie Française. A graduate of the University of Paris, where he received the Agrégation in French Grammar, he was professor at the universities of Tours and Paris, 1935-45.
There were many cultural festivals and troupes from Europe and elsewhere but those from African countries specially Mali, Guineas and others were just astounding and spell binding .What colors, rhythm, spiritual joy and ecstasy, moving the audience to be part of the performance.
I will leave it to Vaibhav and his generation to explain the nuances of modern music and the evolution of heavy metal music from Rock, Blues and Jazz, but here is something about the origins of this soul affecting music from my notes.
In classic neo- Orleans style Jazz, it is the duty of the trumpets to state and embellish the theme.
A few miles from Senegal‘s capital Dakar in west Africa, lies the island of Goree, which long served as a thriving entrepot for European slavers to herd Africans from the hinterland, mostly helped by rival tribes, to be sorted out like cattle for export to the new continent of Americas, to Labour there as domestics or in plantations.
When posted at Dakar in late 1970s I went over to Goree many times, now a small, picturesque town and a UNESCO heritage site with museums including ’ The Maison des Esclaves ‘(“Slave House”), which was constructed in1786, which displays slavery artifacts, and the Fort d'Estrées built in the 1850s.
Once I chanced on a jazz festival there to which some well known and rising young talents, mostly from USA had come over to participate. Many others also came to West Africa in search of their roots. A few hundred miles south of Dakar is river Gambia, the locale for the book ‘The Roots’.
There were colorful and lively Jazz bands vying with each other. But there was one young girl whose singing left a searing imprint on my soul, as if after visiting the museum and the dungeons below, where Black Africans were chained like animals ,she had transmuted into music the bruising of their souls, tortures and suffering of centuries - free human beings turned into animals, sold and bartered like any other commodity. Even now a flash of that wailing music, the cry of a caged soul pierces down my spine.
All that Jazz
The enslaved from West Africa, isolated both socially and geographically from their native environment created the jazz music as an expression of their culture, borrowing from European harmonic structure, Christian religious hymns but based on African rhythms. The white hunter, forbidden to enslave other Christians invented the lie that he was enslaving a savage, converting him into a Christian to save his soul (as now a days, under the charade of globalization, US led West is saving the world’s poor in Asia and Africa from poverty!) This allowed the enslaved to invent a music which diverged widely, even violently from all previous canons of musical composition and performance, as if in defiance to grab at the opportunity and the freedom. In the only domain he was his own master, improvisation ran riot as it still does. Indian classical music too is rooted in improvisation, which respects all religions, with performers though respected, used to be poor. The Indian and black musicians soon discover many affinities when they come together.
From the very beginnings and at the turn of the 20th century Jazz has been a constantly evolving, expanding and changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development. A definition that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—is not applicable to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz. It has used both creative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. It is not—and never has been—an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one.
Early definition of jazz music with its chief characteristic improvisation, made it too restrictive, since composition, arrangement, and ensemble were also essential components throughout most of its history. Similarly, syncopation and swing, often considered essential and unique to jazz, are in fact lacking in much authentic jazz. But despite diverse terminological confusions, jazz seems to be instantly recognized and distinguished as something separate from all other forms of musical expression. To repeat Armstrong's famous reply when asked what swing meant: “If you have to ask, you'll never know.”
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|Timothy V. Gatto|