Monthly Archives: July 2013

Rãga that can colour the mind with emotions!

Raga is one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music. Raga is a Sanskrit word, which literally means “colour” or “passion.” Ragas are meant to colour the mind with emotion. The raga is not a scale or a tune or a mode. It is more like a framework that binds all these things together. In the broad sense a rãga is a set of rules or constraints that binds the performance of a singer or a musician in such a way that it induces a certain emotion or mood in the minds of the listeners. Although the raga is governed by certain rules, not every set of notes that follows those rules becomes a rãga. This is because the rãga has to ‘induce an emotion’ and that is what makes this concept abstract and intriguing.

Think of the twelve basic notes in an octave as twelve basic colors. Now, what if you limited yourself to a select few out of these twelve colors for a painting? That would be like giving yourself a theme. A palette comprising blue, green, violet, gray, white, black and yellow colors, for instance, would produce a very cool picture. The possibilities of mixing and matching are endless. And even though you could create any number of paintings using a given color scheme, they would all share an easily-recognizable underlying quality that is distinct from paintings based on other color schemes. That is how it works with raga.

The idea of a raga is actually quite fundamental to all music. The music of ancient Greece, for instance, was based on modes, which are essentially like raga scales. Major scales, minor scales, pentatonic scales, jazz or blues scales, any other scale you might be able to think of are all raga scales in a manner of speaking. The difference between a scale and a raga is that a raga has a stronger personality because it is defined in somewhat greater detail. Scales do evoke distinct moods – the major scale, for instance, is associated with a bright, cheerful mood while minor scales are associated with darker moods. Human emotions, however, are more nuanced, and it is at this level that a raga works.

A raga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. However, the way the notes are approached and rendered in musical phrases and the mood they convey are more important in defining a raga than the notes themselves. In the Indian musical tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a rāga. Non-classical music such as popular Indian film songs and ghazals sometimes use rāgas in their compositions. A raga has rules specifying which notes are used in ascent and which in descent, down to the level of microtones. There are also norms as to how the notes in the raga are combined and how they relate to each other. For instance, ragas have prescribed dominant (vaadi), subdominant (samvaadi) and dissonant (vivaadi) notes, landing/resting notes (nyaasa) and so on.

For a raga there exist several compositions or songs which obey the rules of the raga. The words generally relate to the mood being conveyed by that raga. A singer or musician sings or plays the notes in various combinations playing the static compositions and embellishing them and adding improvised parts in between. A typical performance could go on for an hour or even two. The success of the performance depends on how effectively the musician builds up the desired mood. To continue with the color-scheme analogy, imagine how we can fine-tune the blue-green-gray-white-yellow color scheme. An emphasis on blue and green with sparing use of yellow, for instance, will produce an effect that is dramatically different from a liberal use of yellow and white with only a touch of blue and green.

“In this world, I am powerless. The melodies engulf my person and dispel all feeling of earthly existence. It is here that I discover a new being in me. With rhythm to my feet, I walk in a trance in the gardens of this heaven.”


“All Things Must Pass”…in memory of George Harrison!!

A master musician, a film producer and actor, best known as the lead guitarist and occasionally lead vocalist of The Beatles, George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. He was also the youngest of four children, born to Harold and Louise Harrison. Harrison’s earliest musical influences included Big Bill Broonzy, George Formby and Django Reinhardt; Chet Atkins, Chuck Berry and Ry Cooderwere significant later influences. By 1965 he had begun to lead the Beatles into folk rock through his interest in the Byrds and Bob Dylan, and towards Indian classical music through his use of the sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. He developed an interest in the Hare Krishna movement and became an admirer of Indian culture and mysticism, introducing them to the other members of the Beatles and their Western audience by incorporating Indian instrumentation in their music.

Following the breakup of The Beatles, Harrison had a successful career as a solo artist and later as part of the Traveling Wilburys. George was the youngest member of The Beatles (16 when he joined), and went on to release the acclaimed triple album, “All Things Must Pass”, in 1970, from which came the worldwide No.1 single “My Sweet Lord. The album was co-produced by Phil Spector using his “Wall of Sound” approach, and the musicians included Starr, Clapton, Gary Wright, Preston, Klaus Voormann, the whole of Delaney and Bonnie’s Friends band and the Apple group Badfinger. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner described Harrison as “a guitarist who was never showy but who had an innate, eloquent melodic sense. He played exquisitely in the service of the song”.Harrison’s friend and former bandmate Tom Petty agreed: “He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play.”The guitar picking style of Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins influenced Harrison, giving a country music feel to many of the Beatles’ recordings.He identified Chuck Berry as an early influence and Ry Cooder as an important later influence.

During the Beatles’ American tour in August 1965, Harrison’s friend David Crosby of the Byrds introduced him to Indian classical music and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.Harrison described Shankar as “the first person who ever impressed me in my life … and he was the only person who didn’t try to impress me.” Harrison became fascinated with the sitar and immersed himself in Indian music.According to Lavezzoli, Harrison’s introduction of the instrument on the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” “opened the floodgates for Indian instrumentation in rock music, triggering what Shankar would call ‘The Great Sitar Explosion’ of 1966–67.”

By the end of The Beatles, George had accumulated hundreds of songs, many of which found a home on All Things Must Pass. He went on to make another eight solo albums during his career.  Harrison had formed a close friendship with Eric Clapton in the late 1960s, and they co-wrote the song “Badge” which was released on Cream’s Goodbye album in 1969. Harrison also played rhythm guitar on the song. For contractual reasons, Harrison was required to use the pseudonym “L’Angelo Misterioso,” meaning “The Mysterious Angel” in Italian.

On November 29th 2001, George Harrison died at his ex-bandmates’ Paul McCartney’s house in Los Angeles, California, at aged 58, with his wife and son at his side. There was lung surgery, but doctors soon discovered the cancer had spread to his brain. Olivia Harrison said of her late husband, “There was a quote by the Indian poet Tagore that George read to me one day that said, ‘Blessed is he whose fame does not outshine his truth.’ And I think it’s safe to say, that, despite his immense fame, his truth will never be out-shined or forgotten.”

Eric Clapton said of Harrison, “He was just a magical guy. He would show up with his guitar and come in and you’d start playing. He started to sing, would start to sing ‘Here Comes the Sun.” I could be wrong, but in another world, where John Lennon wasn’t murdered and George didn’t die, would The Beatles have ever got back together? Lennon and McCartney had become friends again, but George was still the dark horse. You know the multi-million dollar offers would’ve been on the table, but you know what? I don’t think George would’ve done it. And I think that would’ve been the right decision. Let it be, as all things must pass!!