Music Review: Raga Rocks (2013)


MUSIC BY Kamran Akhter, Wali Hamid Ali Khan, SaJi Ali, DJ Ali Mustafa & Baqir Abbas
LYRICS BY Traditional, Baba Bulleh Shah, Sohail Haider, SaJi Ali & Wali Hamid Ali Khan
RELEASE DATE 05 July 2013

What a wonder it is to discover new talent without even understanding other sort of connections that you probably already know. I recently picked up the CD Raga Boyz from Rhythmhouse as a Blind (or should I say deaf) buy. I do enjoy Indian and Pakistani Rock music, but what I like about these is that it’s always fueled with classical ornamentation. Sometimes not always true to the classical component but the genre is solid.

Raga Rocks is one such album that caught me by the ears when I seen it online. Neither did I know the singers nor their relation to the more known classical singers. Only after I heard the album was I so overwrought with excitement that I decided to look a bit more into it. Raga Boyz is a band that consist of three brothers: Nayab Ali Khan, Walli Hamid Ali Khan and Inam Ali Khan. Their lineage extends to the pioneers of the Patiala Gharana of singing. Their great Grand uncle is Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan who sand mostly classical with his brother Ustad Amanat Ali. If you have not heard it yet, please do get hold of a copy of ‘Ragas And Sagas’ wherein they collaborate with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. It is a stellar album.

Recently on Pakistan Coke Studio Season 8 Episode 4, there was a lovely classical piece by Ustad Hamid Ali Khan called Piya Dekhan Ko, with a superb Sitar accompanist, only to find out that this is actually the three brothers’ father. Not only does he shine in this song, but it’s evident that the singing style can be heard through the next generation!

Now on to the actual music review; these are the tracks:

1. Nain Se Nain Raga Boyz 3:02
2. Laage Re Nain Raga Boyz Ft. Akritti Kakkar 3:51
3. Hey Mori Lagan Lagi Raga Boyz 4:05
4. Chal Bulleya Raga Boyz 4:02
5. Khush Rahe Sanam Mera Raga Boyz 5:21
6. Piya Nahin Aaye Raga Boyz 3:06
7. Pyar Nahin Hai Sur Se Jisko Raga Boyz 4:38
8. Saawariya Raga Boyz 4:22
9. Heere Ni Ranjha Jogi Ho Gaya Raga Boyz 3:19
10. Kab Aaoge Raga Boyz 5:18
11. Na Janey Kyun Dil Mera Raga Boyz 4:09
Total length: 45:13:00

Raag Darbari is one of my favourites, and its normally slow pace, makes for very emotional – slow paced songs, however when the taal is changed, it lifts the mood of the Raag, and almost changes the melancholic nuances. Nain Se Nain Milaaye Lagan starts off with the guitar and soft Alaaps, that expounds to Madhayalaya taal with Harmonium, bansuri and electric guitar. Throught the song, the alaaps decorate the Antaras. Towards the end, we are treated to a Darbari Tarana in Teentaal; full of vigour!

This song clenched the deal for me; Raag Bhoopali has become the Raag I can understand most clearly, and just because I now understand that Sargam structure slightly better. Guitar and Ghatam open Laage Re Nain with Akriti Kakkar and Inam Ali Khan singish alaaps that can make the winds move. The ghatam is played throughout the song. But hear the singing hear, the way the singers glide through the bandish with precise movements in the meend. Inam Ali Khan provides great playback especially with his gayaki in the bandishes. Akriti kakkar doesn’t fall short either. She performs excellently. Tarana is infused into the track with style, enhancing the soft rock component. There’s a slight hint of drums now and again.

My least favourite song would be Hey Mori Lagan, just because of the rap piece that the song begins with. Had I edited the track, I would have never included such pieces. Now the track minus the rap is stellar; they fuse Raag Jaunpuri with fastidiousness. The vocals by the three brothers very good. The sound and feel of the song is enhanced with the flute, and a sort of dholak embellishment.

Chal Bulleya is a Punjabi folk song that is pleasant and will make for very relaxed listening. The electric guitar pieces in the song are amazing; they add to the trance-like tabla accompaniment. The lyrics are heartfelt.

An emotionally charged electric guitar mixed with Alaap in Raag Puriya Dhanashree begins Khush Rahe Sanam Mera, Pyari Lagti Tori Aan Baan. This track has the darkest feel to it, like twilight happening in the midst. The Flute add to that specter; with the singing taking this track to great heights. Alaap and Tarana full inbetween gives it a Dhrupad-ish sound. The drums keep up with the electric guitar. The concluding Tarana and Electric guitar Jugalbandi is impressive.

Piya Nahin Aaye is based on Raag Kalavati and sung with passion by the brothers. So much so that it’s tough for me to choose between this track and my favourite Kalavati Rendition by Dr. Prabha Atre – Tan Man Dhan Tope Varun. I guess both are excellent but used for entirely different moods.  The embellishments on the track feature Alaap, tarana and sargams fused almost everywhere but with such detail, that it hits you stunned.

Raag Malkauns is generally not an easy one, the notes are seeped with complex taans and alaaps, added to that the gamak on the alaaps where the meend moves faster than you can think. Pyar Nahin Hai Sur Se Jisko has a deep Electrif guitarr riff, with the bansuri getting serious. The brothers create a complex 4-5 minute song that will smack you sideways. The song is in madhayalaya taal, until the piece before the Tarana, you immediately know the pace has changed to Teentaal. The tarana is spectacular. It highlights the complexity and dexterity of this raag. There is an immediate shift back to Madhayalaya Taal for the concluding Tarana. What really caught my attention was the way the electric guitar was played to suit the taal, BRILLIANT!

We have the soft, mandatory love track in the album titled Saawariya. This track is not based on any raag, but it surely has catchy tune that is deft in all senses. However, strikingly close to the Saawariya title track from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie with the same title. I am not going to get into Politics, but let me just say, this one is much more addictive. The guitar riffs create a fresh feel to the song. The slight sargam usage makes it even more lovable.

My second most favourite track comes in the Punjabi Folk song Heere Ni Ranjha Jogi Ho Gaya. The percussion gives this songs its edge; Dholak, Tabla and Kadtal fill this track with beauty. The brothers sing in unison, and that creates an excellent effect. What I like about this track is the conformity between the modern and folk mix. The elements of the traditional Punjabi folk music is there no doubt, however, guitar and drums usage highlights its modern edge.

Strums of the Tanpura, Electric guitar playing the Aarohana of Raag Bhairav with beautiful Alaaps hypnotize the listener in Kab Aaoge. You’d want to be relaxing somewhere with this on full blast to fully understand the musical complexity of this track. Layered in between, the drum percussion plays off with brilliant precision. Tabla and Dafli chime in with Baansuri. But hear the Baansuri, wow! The tempo is kept slow to medium for this ‘longing’ to be realised. The lyrics do get quite deep, and it adds to the experience. Great interpretation of Raag Bhairav.

The final track Na Jaane Kyun Dil Mera is a love ballad is nothing extra-ordinary, but it does have an infectious tune. Singing remains the highlight of this track. The drum beat and guitar will also leave an impression.

Not knowing what to expect when I played the CD, only knowing the genre and that this might be a more ‘Classical’ Rock fusion, I was amazed at the precision of singers. The detail which they give the Raags in these 4-5 minutes is an achievement on its own. Alaaps, Sargams, Tarana together with great music (and meaningful lyrics) and Indianised Western Rock Instruments make for very very pleasurable listening!



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