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V/A - Sitar Beat! Indian Style Heavy Funk, Vol. 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Sitar Beat! Indian Style Heavy Funk, Vol. 2

Label: Guerilla Reissues

Review date: Feb. 1, 2008

To recap why Bollywood has cornered the market on "awesome": Special things can happen when musicians from out East hold a (funhouse) mirror to Western traditions. As would be the case with the confounding, weird and aggressive takes on punk and hardcore that would rebound from Japan decades later, music directors from India in the 1970s offered wonderfully skewed compositions rife with elements exaggerated to extremes, perhaps beyond western tastes.

A big pranam is due to Guerilla Reissues for compiling and releasing such sonically clean versions of these tracks from Bollywood's second golden era of the 1970s and early 1980s, most of which, as the title implies, graft funky guitars and psychedelia with indigenous sounds and rhythms. Ironically, only two tracks feature sitars prominently (and that's a veena on the cover, not a sitar!), and the absence of any liner notes whatsoever leaves the inquisitive listener with some independent research to conduct.

But when it gets adventuresome, it really gets out there, with examples of Bollywood's 1970s embrace of synthesizers and the often bizarre effects that resulted from the music directors' evident freedom to run unencumbered by past convention. Run they do: Babla & his Orchestra's "The Witness" and Kalyanji Anandji's "Awara Sadiyon Se" are back to back versions of a remarkably similar composition, the former instrumental and the latter voiced by legend Asha Bhosle. S.D. Narang's "Everybody Dance With Me" joyously mashes Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" riff with the Troggs' "Wild Thing,” the uncredited female vamp delivering a chorus in a lascivious purr. Kalyanji Anandji and Bhosle return for "Nigahon Ka Adaon Ka,” whose Persio-Arabic melodies are marked by a funky, double time chorus and a pair of searing sitar solos.

An answer to the prayers of anyone excited by the possibility that composer R.D. Burman may have been exposed to Sun Ra, "Freak Out Music" delivers quite the shock. A cyclical rhythm heavy on the toms and congas braces the free-jazz melee of guitar, saxophone, and squalling organ before the ensemble busts momentarily into what could be a brassy, big-band overture for some hard-boiled 1940s spy flick. The overarching theatrics continue with of "Dushman Titale Music" by Laxmiant Pyarelal, which suggests an Eastern take on Morricone, with strings, santoor (an instrument similar to hammered dulcimer) and flute quoting the melody on top of a plaintively strummed guitar.

The breathy, vaguely threatening spoken intro of "Pyar Zindagi Hai" and mischievous, girlish giggles of either Bhosle or her sister Lata Mangeshkar may be jarring from the outset, but the eastern disco/funk guitar riff, Bernie Worrell synth patches and floor-crushing groove ensures one's continued attention. A swooshing synth intros "Phir Tera Yaad's" straight-up disco, driven along by rolling toms and a chorded bassline. Notable in this vocal duet is Bhosle's rare lower-register performance. Ajit Singh's "Main Akeli Raat Jawan" and Laximant-Pyarelal's "Bekaraar Bekaraar Bekaraar Kiya,” again heap on the Saturday Night Fever stomp, with Singh's contribution augmented with nasally wah/fuzz guitar and a sci-fi synth breakdown.

There's a word in hindi, “masti,” that translates roughly to mischief, fun, an intoxication with life. Sitar Beat Vol. II's tracks ooze “masti.” Overall, the feel is bouncier, much more fun and less sentimental than similar recent compilations – after all, they don't call it heavy funk for nothin'.

By Adam MacGregor

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