GANGA: The Music of the Ganges

COMPOSERS: Traditional
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: World
PERFORMER: Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 61532 2

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The Indian blockbuster set GANGA is the product of several years’ collecting, superbly engineered and recorded in villages and towns the length of the river. The concept brings together a vast range of mainly folk traditions that have not made it on to disc before, and although a few items are of minimal musical interest the total impact is overwhelming. Wedding and monsoon songs, chants, dances, are treated to intensely expressive voices and virtuoso instrumental solos.

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Tracks are linked by environmental sounds – water, birds, weather, work – which may strike you as romantic Indo-kitsch. Indian film music has a kitschier image than it deserves. The much-derided Bollywood industry has stayed ahead of the game in merging Indian and world pop strands into a distinctive language, though many listeners feel it has gone into terminal decline. Naushad Ali, the veteran music director, does too. I can’t share his pessimism, but certainly his own mid-century soundtracks found a golden-age balance between popular and classical elements, just as American musicals did.