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Synthesizing ten Ragas to a Disco beat

by Indrani Talukdar
(Dehradun, India)

When erstwhile musician Charanjeet Singh launched his original disco composition of Indian classical ragas in 1982, he found that he had no takers. But then his album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, re-released some two-and-a-half decades later caught the attention of listeners, particularly critics, some of whom hailed it as the precursor to the Chicago acid house revolution of the 80s.

For the non-initiate the exuberant electronic arrangement of synthesizers can be quite overcoming. The slow Madhuvanti, known for its soft romanticism with its flat Gandhar and sharp Madhyam, sounds bewilderingly high-spirited. Structurally similar to Raga Multani, Madhuvanti is believed to have been inducted into Hindustani classical through Carnatic music. Under Singh’s treatment this Kalyan thaat-based melody takes on a semi orgiastic mien.

Raga Bhairav, the melody of early dawn, has a brilliant applause-like opening, or what traditionalists refer to as the mukhda, with Shaivaite mantras sounding like Gregorian chants. Just on an interesting aside: Bhairav is considered to be one of the most belligerent forms of Shiva by mythological experts, almost belying the raga’s calm temperament. The Sampoorna raga (one that has all seven notes of the Hindustani musical scale) with two flat notes or swaras and steeped in the Bhakti sentiment is represented in an ati drut or super-fast tempo, something that might not go down too well with purists.

Raga Todi, one of the most challenging melodies in the Hindustani pantheon with its entire panoply of vikrit swaras, too has been depicted with synthesized aplomb by Singh. The raga, visualized with glee by miniature painters, is among the most delicate and temperamental throwing up a unique symbiosis between the rishabh and gandhar swaras. The Pancham is minimal in this otherwise Sampoorna raga.

The modern pentatonic raga Kalavati is trilled perfectly with a weak Nishad and the non presence of the second (Rishabh) and fourth (Madhyam) notes. A derivative of the Carnatic Valachi the raga was mainstreamed into the Hindustani classical fold by Roshan Ara Begum, the Kirana doyenne Gangubai Hangal, and Pt. Rao Nagarkar. The synthesized rendition of the midnight raga brings to mind, somehow, the Sahir Ludhianvi penned and Roshan composed Bollywood number Kahe tarsaye jiyara...

My favourite in the entire offering happens to be Megh Malhar, the monsoon melody signifying the summit of the rainy season. The pentatonic melody is considered by many to be the twin derivative of the rather sombre Madhmat Sarang and the Malhar flagship Miyan ki Malhar.

The album concludes with the renunciatory Raga Bairagi.


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