Sunday, March 31, 2013

Songs for Her Lover: Afroz Bano

Gopis (cow herdesses) and Lord Krishna

Thumri,  a semi-classical genre of Hindustani music, arose out of the love/erotic Bhakti/sufi poetry that described an intimate direct relationship between Divinity and Individual. In particular, the ultimate subject of the thumri is the devotion and love felt for Lord Krishna.

Most thumris are composed and sung in the medieval dialect of Hindi, Braj Bhasa, spoken around Mathura, the northern Indian city associated with Lord Krishna.  It was in the area around Mathura that the Krishna legends and tradition especially captured the imagination of devotees.  Though thumris have been composed and performed in other regional dialects of Hindi, especially Avadhi and Bhojpuri, centered around the cities of Lucknow and Varanasi, respectively,  Braj Bhasa retains its strong hold on the language of this beautiful genre.Even though many listeners would find Braj difficult to follow compared with other dialects.   Some scholars have claimed that Braj has the most vowels of any form of Hindi, making it far easier to sing. But probably the real reason for the thumri staying so attached to the language is that it was, by the 17th century, the recognised literary dialect of north India.  Though the artistocracy used Persian and later Urdu as the ‘official’ and ‘Court’ language, the lingua franca of most people across that part of India known today as the Cow Belt, was Braj Bhasa.  

Thumris are primarily love songs, or intimate songs of devotional love for Krishna told from the perspective of a woman.  Ghazal, that other great genre of North Indian verse, by contrast, usually takes the man’s voice and speaks of the pain of separation.   This does not mean that men do not sing thumri or women are banned from signing ghazals. Most classical singers (male and female) have a vast repertoire of thumris which they render with as much care as any raga.  And where would we be without the ghazals of Farida Khanum or Iqbal Bano?  But the fact remains that thumris , many of which are filled with erotic and intimate imagery, are the ultimate vehicle for the expression of feminine love in Hindustani classical and semi-classical music.

Though the standard thumri  extols the passions that arise within the (female) heart of the Krishna devotee, a subject matter entirely ‘Hindu’, most thumris were written by Muslim musicians. The bulk of the composers remain anonymous and were likely to have been paid court musicians in the courts of large landlords (zamindars) or petty as well as major aristocratic households.  And indeed, the most acclaimed performers of the thumri are or have been Muslim: Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan, Barkat Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar, Iqbal Bano.  Pakistan, the world’s first confessional state, of course has made demands (overt as well as indirect) on artists to transform the subject matter/lyrics of thumris from Krisha-hymns to reflections on more appropriate Islamic themes. And the lyrics have been de-linked from Braj Bhasa and are usually sung in Punjabi. 

Tonight, it is my great pleasure to share an absolutely fantastically rendered collection of 5 thumris by the Indian artist Afroz Bano. Afroz Bano was initiated by Sadullah Khan of Sikar and subsequently trained with Faiyaz and Niyaz Ahmed Khan of the Kirana gharana. Her wide-ranging repertoire of thumri, dadra, and allied forms includes Rajasthani mand and folk songs. A top-grade artiste of All India Radio, Afroz Bano performs regularly and has several commercial albums to her credit, besides lending playback for commercial films and TV.

Track Listing:
01 Balma Nahin Aaye [Tilak Kamod]
02 Nadiya Kinare Moro gaon [Mishra Pilu]
03 Najariya Laagi rahi [Kaushik Dhwani]
04 Kesariya Balam [Mishra Maand]
05 Ho Gayi beriya [Mishra Bhairavi]

Friday, March 29, 2013

Byron Bay Blues Festival 2013 Sampler

Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

An Indian American Thai Australian friend spends about her time on the gorgeous NSW coast near Byron Bay.  And she has reminded me, and requested me, to commemorate this year’s annual Blues Fest with a Washerman’s Dog sampler.   

As usual its an amazing lineup. Hope many of you made it. If not, here is a double slice of some of the biggest names on the list.

Surf’s up!

Track Listing: Vol 1

01 'Cuz I'm Here [Ruthie Foster]
02 Even in the Quietest Moments [Supertramp]
03 Fujiyama Mama [Wanda Jackson]
04 Lovestruck Baby [Robert Cray]
05 Jealousy [Bettye LaVette]
06 The Car Song [The Cat Empire]
07 Strut [Taj Mahal]
08 Bongo Man [Jimmy Cliff]
09 Rattlesnake Preacher [Chris Smither]
10 Flying [Chris Isaak]
11 Hearts And Bones [Paul Simon]
12 Let The Four Winds Blow [Robert Plant]
13 There's Hope For You [William Elliot Whitmore]
14 Takin' The Midnight Train [Tony Joe White]
15 Since I Fell for You [Mavis Staples]
16 Dear Old Southland [Allen Toussaint]
17 Wichita Skyline [Shawn Colvin]
18 Devil Got My Woman [Bonnie Raitt]
19 El Viento [Manu Chao]
20 St. Judy's Comet [Paul Simon]


Track Listing: Vol 2
01 Jesus Gonna Be Here [Blind Boys of Alabama]
02 Flying [Chris Isaak]
03 Down to Zero [Bettye LaVette]
04 People Grinnin' In Your Face [Ruthie Foster]
05 Funky Buttercup [The Bamboos]
06 Chelsea Hotel No. 2 [Rufus Wainwright]
07 Rattlesnake Preacher [Chris Smither]
08 The Train I'm On [Tony Joe White]
09 Blues On A Holiday [Susan Tedeschi]
10 Me Llaman Calle [Manu Chao]
11 Dreamer [Supertramp]
12 One Four Five [The Cat Empire]
13 The Harder They Come [Jimmy Cliff]
14 99 and 1/2 [Mavis Staples]
15 Slippin' & Slidin' [Wanda Jackson]
16 Swinging Doors [Wanda Jackson] 
17 Senor Blues [Taj Mahal]
18 American Music [Violent Femmes]
19 Tenderness [Paul Simon]
20 On Your Way Down (feat. Allen Toussaint) [Trombone Shorty]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Time: 22 Gargantuan Gospel Pearlers

Dear friends, followers, fans, strangers, well wishers, ladies and gentlemen. I will be away once again for several days so there will be little activity until late next week. 

Tomorrow is Good Friday. Easter is upon us again and to help welcome the Spirit here is a collection of 22 Gargantuan Gospel Pearlers freshly plucked from  the Washerman’s Dog’s watery depths.


Track Listing:
01 I Don't Know Where We're Headed [Sons of Truth]
02 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehova [Kelly Joe Phelps]
03 All Right Now [Heavenly Gates]
04 I Want to Ride That Glory Train [The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir]
05 Move Along Train [The Staple Singers]
06 Listen to the Lambs [The Golden Gate Quartet]
07 Walk to Thee [Rev. Lonnie Farris]
08 Living For My Jesus [The Dixie Nightingales]
09 The World Didn't Give It to Me [Shirley Caesar]
10 Don't You Know The Man? [Chosen Gospel Singers]
11 Life In Heaven Is Free [Cleo Jackson Randle]
12 Standing On The Promises [Zion Harmonizers]
13 I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say [Bishop Bowen and the Combined Gospel Choirs]
14 No Love [Famous Singing Aires]
15 I Shall Not Be Moved [New Orleans Chosen Five]
16 (There's gonna be a) Showdown [Rance Allen Group]
17 Jesus Is My Air-O-Plane [Mother McCollum]
18 In My Home Over There [Mahalia Jackson]
19 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot [B.B. King]
20 Dear Lord, Look Down Upon Me [Angelic Gospel Singers]
21 I Used to Wonder [The Highway Q.C's]
22 Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus [James Cleveland]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hi Ho Stasi and Away!: East German Country Music

East German Music Festival Poster

Much of my life has been lived along borders.  Just a stone’s throw from a border that divided one country from the other and one culture from another. Though an American born in India the real national divide I experienced was not that between the States and India but between India and our mysterious, hated enemy Pakistan.   In the 1960s TIME magazine carried full page ads for Pakistan International Airlines which boasted of its flights to Peking and Shanghai.  This was incredible to me.  India’s other big enemy was China and relations were in the deep freeze throughout the 60s. But here was Pakistan flying into the most isolated country of all! As I did my business on the toilet my fancy would sail wildly across the Himalayas and try to imagine what life was like in Peking.  Did they see movies? What sort of music did they listen to?

 As an adult I’ve lived in a tent along the Iraqi border with Iran, worked on the borders of Afghanistan and Ethiopia.  I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in DPRK (North Korea) and Albania, two of the most isolated nations in the world, and those tantalizing thoughts I had about 1960s China have not disappeared.  Once upon a time Iran had a lively rock scene but in the 1980s you could be arrested for listening to Pink Floyd.  I had a friend in Albania who was arrested for a couple of days because he had a Beatles tape.  We all know what the Taliban think of music, and shudder at the thought of their re-capture of Afghanistan.

Of course, no country is completely isolated.  Kim Jung Un was educated in Switzerland and his dad loved Hollywood movies.  Enver Xhoxa, the Albanian Communist supremo, sent his kids to Sweden and holidayed in the south of France, while he locked the doors of the country to his fellow citizens.  My friends still managed to listen and even dance all night to Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel at the height of Khomeini’s rule.  As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything, where the light gets in”.

And so I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover that there was an audience for American country and western music in East Germany in the 1980s! But surprised I was. 

The Amiga imprint was the record label of the state and its (as yet unwritten) history is surely as significant as Anna Funder’s work on the Stasi or any on the hundreds of books which have explored the counterculture of the DDR, be it political or social. Amiga vinyl itself is a wonder to handle, seeming dust-resistant and impervious to scratching. Lps and singles picked up secondhand over the years still play ‘as new’, where the sleeves demonstrate the ravages of time and the owner’s insistence in playing them post-pub to captive audiences, where cds would’ve perhaps been the more sensible option.
Amiga, was established in 1947 by Ernst Busch, a life long party member who fought in Spain with the International Brigades. Prior to fleeing Germany in 1933, Busch was a well-known actor and singer and he was later a frequent contributor to Radio Madrid, recording two very hard to get albums of Civil War songs. His performance of Peat Bog Soldiers is particularly haunting. The song, covered by the Dubliners on ‘Revolution’ (1970), was written by Nazi political prisoners in the Bögermoor concentration camp and first performed there in 1933. Busch obtained the permission of the Soviet occupation authorities to establish a label to provide music for the masses, however, it took a decade or so before the label realised that the masses were getting tired of an anaemic diet of Brecht, Hans Eisler, bad jazz and Kindermusik. They were now tuning their dials to the American Forces Network stations not subject to the jamming and interference inflicted on Radio Free Europe, the broadcasts of which were unequivocally political. Thus began the golden age of East German pop. (

Country Roads is a collection of American country classics released by Amiga Records in 1985.  With covers of John Denver, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings (often with night-club perfect impersonation of said artists voices) this record is a happy clappy paean to Top 40 Country ca. the mid-70s.  The playing is competent and the singing robust in that communist propaganda film sort of way. 

The cracks in the German Democratic Republic system had obviously widened somewhat to allow such a record to be issued.  In a creepy sort of way this is Stasi-approved country music!  Weird thought. But exactly the sort of thing I used to think about staring at those PIA ads way back decades ago.

For an interesting article on the East German pop scene circa 1968, click here

Enjoy this slice of commie country, comrades!

            Track Listing:
01 Thank God I'm A Country Boy [Achim Wilk]
02 Ring Of Fire [Peter Tschernig]
03 Rocky Mountain Music [Harald Wilk]
04 Foggy Mountain Breakdown
05 Back Home Again [Achim Wilk]
06 Apple Jack [Linda Feller]
07 If You're Gonna Play In Texas [M. Jones Band]
08 Take Me Home, Country Roads [Achim Wilk, Viola Kirsten]
09 Detroit City [Harald Wilk]
10 Broken Down Cowboy [M. Jones Band]
11 Good Hearted Woman [Peter Tschernig]
12 Orange Blossom Special [Various]
13 Waiting For A Train [Harald Wilk]
14 Medley: Wabash Cannon Ball, etc. [Achim Wilk, Harald Wilk]

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Every Kind of Love: John and Joyce Nyirongo

The Zambian encounter with foreign music frequently results in Zambian music losing out.  But does the foreign music portray the experiences and reality of the Zambian situation? This is the question and challenge that John Nyirongo always posed to himself and strove to answer.

Throughout his career, John displayed his skills as a balladeer.  His songs are emotionally potent and entertaining. A mixture that is impossible to  resist, a perfect accompaniment to a good time.  The lyrics talk about basic family worries. These have an immediacy and relevance to the Zambian situation sucha that the image created is almost crystal clear.

His sister Joyce helps sharpen the image with her powerful and versatile vocals. From 1985, Joyce his the limelight with blockbusters which were produced by her brother and proved very popular in Zambia.  In 1986 she released Sala, then Sebe in 1988. Her final work was Succession  in 1990.

(Liner Notes)

A tasty collection of musical songs that explore and extol the many kinds of love that exist between man and woman: drunken love, murderous love, gentle and contented love, love with money problems, married love and adulterous love.  All played with jangling African guitars and all suited for dancing.


            Track Listing:
01 27 Hours Mwa Mutonyo
02 Nikondeni
03 Mwaya Sana Ba Kenny
04 Pokwatilana
05 Charity
06 Mate
07 Dance Disco Lundazi
08 Sebe
09 Memwa Cousin
10 Sala

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Night at the Tropicana: Generoso 'Tojo' Jimenez

Havana, Cuba was Sin City for many Americans for the first half of the 20th century. Sugar barons, gangsters, dancing girls and spies haunted the clubs and bars along the the water front.  They say there were more Cadillacs per capita in Havana then anywhere else on earth. Night spots like Sloppy Joe’s, Floridita and the Tropicana were household names even in small town America.  The good times rolled faster and longer in Cuba than anywhere else in the world. It was a hoot, 24 hours a day.

And when it came to music Cuba gave the world the rumba, the chacha, son and all sorts of jazzy cocktails.  Music was everywhere. In the 5 Stars as well as in the dives. In the churches and in the streets.  Just as America was making Havana into its own little naughty off-shore play land, Generoso Jimenez, was born in Ceinfuegos, a town famous for producing numerous famous musicians.

He studied music with his father as a young boy and chose the slide trombone as his weapon of choice when he joined the local municipal band. He began developing his unique style in those early years because, the touring brass bands he played in had few trumpeters and it was left to the trombonists to do something ‘interesting’ during the breaks.

In Cuba all roads lead to Havana and soon Jimenez was playing the ‘bone in The Tropicana. The top shelf of American crooners--Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway--were regular performers and Generoso was always in the show band.  After hours he was a regular part of the jam sessions that could be found all over the city.  In the early 1950’s he joined a new band which was performing a new crazy rhythm called batanga, in which a new (to Cuba, if not to Latin America) vocalist named Beny More was the lead singer.  The following year, 1953, More, undoubtedly Cuba’s greatest singer, asked Jimenez, to manage his huge band as well as be the main music arranger.  In later years, he led the band for sometime before making his own records, two of which are highlighted tonight.

This release contains two sessions from the orchestra of Generoso Jimenez recorded several years apart. The first album [tracks 13-23] was recorded in 1960. [The record] includes exquisite versions of of such outstanding songs as Tono Fuentes’ Colombian ‘porro’ La mucura, performed the Cuban guaracha style with some tasty grooves from the saxophone section and a magnificent solo by Chocolate Armenteros

Although Ramon Cabrera’s son A la Bahia de Manzanillo, was immortalized by Beny More, this instrumental mambo version gives the singer’s classic interpretation a run for its money with an exciting trumpet, trombone and sax duel.

This release, originally titled as Ritmo, includes first rate versions of La bamba with its typical rhythm from Vera Cruz; the rumba Senorita Luna with a loose arrangement; the Italian song Come prima, heard here in Havana’s cha cha cha style and many others.

The second session [tracks 1-12] was recorded in 1965 with another brilliant band. The first track is non other than the outstanding descarga (improvised jam based on a Cuban song) composed by Generoso and Rolando Baro entitled Trombon majadero. This is followed by the track  Descarga solfeando, another jam by the trombonist,  which contains a humorous interlude imitating a solfege lesson in the middle of the song. (Liner notes)

I’ve always been a sucker for good trombone playing and so commend these two classic Cuban jazz albums to you this Friday evening.

The sound of pre-revolutionary Havana!

Track Listing:
1-01 Trombón Majadero (Descarga)
1-02 Descarga Solfeando (Descarga)
1-03 Jaky Ky (Descarga)
1-04 La Rosa Roja (Chachachá)
1-05 Las Pilanderas (Descarga)
1-06 Ya No Me Quieres (Bolero)
1-07 Garabato (Descarga)
1-08 El Torrente (Mambo Chá)
1-09 La Vieja Rosa (Descarga)
1-10 Uno, Dos y Tres (Conga)
1-11 Llegaron del Otro Mundo (Descarga)
1-12 El Contrabajo Fantasma (Descarga)

2-01 La Bella Cubana (Chachachá) [feat. Cachao]
2-02 Come Prima (Chachachá) [feat. Cachao]
2-03 La Múcura (Guaracha Porro) (Featuring Cachao)
2-04 A la Bahía de Manzanillo (Son Mambo) [feat. Cachao]
2-05 Sueño de Amor (Chachachá) [feat. Cachao]
2-06 Cachita (Rumba) [feat. Cachao]
2-07 La Bamba (Bamba) [feat. Cachao]
2-08 Señorita Luna (Rumba) [feat. Cachao]
2-09 Besitos de Coco (Merengue) [feat. Cachao]
2-10 El Tambor de la Alegría (Tamborito) [feat. Cachao]
2-11 Maracaibo Oriental (Son Montuno) [feat. Cachao]