My Aunt Marg gave me this disc for Christmas a few years ago. She said that she knew it from a spa that she went to. And I can totally tell. I don’t know anything else about the artist, and it’s even hard to find stuff about him online.
The disc has an Indian (Eastern) vibe (which surprises me given the name of the artist and the African-looking person on the cover). It also has a real world music feel.
Overall, I like the music quite a lot. It’s certainly new agey, but not treacly new age or anything. It showcases some cool world music without resorting to clichés. However, I admit to not caring much for the spoken lyrics of the opening track, “Sometimes.” His voice is deep and distracting, especially over such mellow music. Despite the very Indian feel of “Sometimes,” the rest of the disc explores other sounds as well. “Kokou” has a 70s kind of organ and bongos (with more appropriately world musicy chanted vocals). “Raindance” has a cool flute over some bongo beats (all very soothing…with crickets).
I really like “Girl from Orissa” with its cool Eastern instrumentation. There’s a sarod, a veena and a sitar on the disc. (Orissa is located on the eastern side of India). “Khali Gandaki” also features this cool instrumentation. (The Khali Gandaki valley is in Nepal).
“Mswati” opens with some percussion. But this track differs because of the interesting riff that plays throughout the song (whether guitar or keyboard, I can’t tell). “Touba” has a nice bassline, which really stands out on a disc with minimal bass. It also has some neat wah-wahed guitars. And “Preaching of Buddha” has a kind of Dead Can Dance feel to the vocals (they’re my go-to band for world music).
“Katarajama” (a pilgrimage site for Sri Lankans and South Indians) has a great riff to it, and it’s even better when the other instruments play along. “Patan Part 1” also has a cool sitar riff. Although if Part 1 is 8 minutes, how long is the whole song?
The final song, “Sufi Kalaam” has a somewhat more sinister or perhaps just movie soundtracky sound (low bass chords underpin the beginning of the track). There are chanted vocals and lead vocals in another language. I rather like the song, but it doesn’t really fit on the disc.
The whole disc is definitely a background/new agey kind of deal. I can hear it all (except the first and last songs) working well for a relaxing evening of massage. Just don’t listen to it while driving!
[READ: February, 17 2012] “Lorry Raja”
“Lorry Raja” won Narrative magazine’s “30 Below” contest for 2011. After the wonderful stories that came in second and third place I expected something pretty amazing to win. And I was maybe a little disappointed by this story because of it. And I think I have to blame a cultural disconnect for that.
This story is set in Karnataka, India, a poor state in the south of the country. People there are so poor that they live in tents and work in the mines–smashing up rocks to get at the iron ore inside. The children can’t afford to go to school, there’s no electricity and everyone is covered in a red dust from all of the dirt in the mines.
Madhuri Vijay is able to create a compelling story out of this harsh environment. The story concerns one family as they struggle to survive under these conditions. The father (I had a really hard time keeping the names straight, so I’m not going to include them here) had an accident and cannot work to his full capacity, so he is stuck working less lucrative jobs. The mother works smashing up iron ore. The middle son, 12, works and plays around the mine (collecting a few rupees each day). They put some money aside for his eventual education. The older brother has just gotten a job as a lorry driver for the mines–he takes the ore out to the port cities. He is only 14, and, being 14, he takes especial care of his lorry–cleaning it from all the red dust and driving it in a very proud manner. So much so, that everyone starts calling him Lorry Raja. There’s also a baby brother who doesn’t play much of a part except (in the way I read it) to show off how hopeless things are (the boy is playing in the dirt and when it is time to feed him, his mother just takes her breast out in front of everyone).
The story is narrated by the middle son. And we watch as he grows jealous of his brother–the Lorry Raja. We see the narrator break up rocks, spy on his mother, spy on his father (who is lowered by a rope in to a deep mine (!)). And we see him talk to the owner of the mine (who has a car, a generator and drinks Pepsi). And finally we see him spend some time with his brother’s ex-girlfriend (they broke up more or less once he started driving his lorry).
When the girl casually remarks that the narrator should get his lorry license and then he could drive her to China, that sets a new part of his life in motion. (They are thinking about China because the “Lympic Games” (“Whatever they are” he says) are being played there this year).
The narrator is an idealistic boy, especially for such a location. He imagines getting a job in the mines and not needing to go to school so that he can have extra money. He genuinely believes that the girlfriend will choose him. Then his brother sets him straight on how things really are in Karnataka.
The ending holds a brief glimpse of respite for them all even while it gently mocks everything that the narrator believed to be true.
Although I implied I didn’t like the story, I did. My problem with it is that I can’t tell if my heartstrings are being pulled because they live in such utter squalor. It’s hard not to be moved by this story. It’s the narrator’s idealism that is so sad in the story. However, I appreciate that she doesn’t play it maudlin or to play on our sympathies (and I suspect that ‘s what makes it such a good story), but it still makes me feel bad to be reading about their lives.
You can read it here.