All entries for Sunday 17 January 2010

January 17, 2010

Niraj Chag in Concert – LSO St. Luke's, 24 October 2009

I wholeheartedly admit that this review is somewhat belated, but I hope I can be forgiven as I was dealing with my thesis corrections and settling into a new job. Niraj, a personal apology for taking so long with this.

That’s disclaimer number 1 – Niraj is a friend. But I’ve tried to review as fairly as possible!

I won’t provide too much preamble regarding Niraj Chag’s musical pedigree, as it’s probably easiest to head over to his website: www.nirajchag.com. What I will say is that this whether his scores for stage and screen or his stunning albums, anything the man touches turns to gold.

That’s disclaimer number 2 – I was already a fan before I went to the concert. But bear with me!

The venue of LSO St. Luke’s was a great choice – the marriage of old and new in the architecture and design was a very apt backdrop for a concert that brought together musical styles with imagination and flair.

The opening track was The Snake Charmer, an instrumental from a bonus CD included in a special edition of Niraj’s second album, The Lost Souls. It was a resounding start: classical violin by Kumar Ragunathan, Raf White and Mike Flynn on guitar and bass, respectively, with a crashing percussion section of Nilz Gulhane on tabla and Max Hallet on drums. I mention all these individually because this relatively small group, together with Niraj himself on keyboard, were the only instrumentalists of the night, yet they created a sound big enough to fill every corner of St. Luke’s. For that alone, they deserve recognition.

I’m sure Niraj won’t mind me mentioning that the first couple of vocal-based tracks which followed were a little shaky. It seemed as though the sound levels weren’t feeding back to the singers properly, something one of them confirmed to me later. It was a shame, as the arrangements of Mori Atariya and Baavaria could have been great.
Once those technical issues were solved, however, the vocal performances were, for me, one of the highlights of the whole evening.

Japjit Kaur will be familiar to anyone who has heard The Lost Souls, and her beautiful, ethereal voice contrasted and complemented Rekha Paunrana’s equally beautiful but more earthy sound. Their jugalbandi on several tracks was mesmerising – I’m sure George Harrison was smiling down at the sweet and charming Govinda Bolo. I do hope we get to hear Japjit and Rekha together on future tracks.

The sole male vocalist was the previously mentioned Kumar Ragunathan, who was quite simply outstanding. Powerful but controlled, his performance in the closing track, Allah Hoo, was particularly moving.

Nothing makes a live show like some imagination, and that was abundant in the collaboration displayed between Niraj and a Western (I use that term in a musical sense) choir called the Wing It Singers, lead by Sally Davies. Their joint track, Monsoon Rain, was outstanding, and I eagerly await the opportunity to hear it again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go to a concert I don’t expect the artist(s) to just give me a re-creation of their recorded work. I like to see something unusual, a twist on known songs or surprise arrangement. Niraj Chag’s concert provided all of these things. Tracks with which I have a personal connection still managed to put a lump in my throat, others had my toes tapping and I think I barely blinked during others.

The concert may have had a wobbly start, but it quickly found its legs and created an atmosphere that swept you away. I hope that Niraj and his whole ensemble are proud of what they achieved, because they definitely deserve to be. And from what I have heard, all the creases were ironed out in Birmingham on the 21st of November, where Niraj and Co. delivered nothing short of a marvel.

I wait with bated breath to see what this imaginative music-maker next has in store for his captive and diverse audience.

V xx


For all lovers of bhangra

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/4p28

Music front cover
Title:
Billo Rani - Malkit Singh
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

To know of Malkit Singh does not require much knowledge of bhangra music. With over 20 studio albums under his belt and over 20 years of touring in countless countries, he is the tour de force who has taken Punjabi music worldwide, and helped to cement bhangra as an internationally recognised sound.

Even those with no experience of bhangra whatsoever may recognise Singh, through the track Jind Mahi. The song was popularised by its use in the immensely successful Bend It Like Beckham soundtrack.

Even with such a colourful catalogue behind him, the opening track of Billo Rani, Nach Billo, is unexpected – it’s a duet between Singh and Mumzy Stranger. But the combination of the former’s traditional Punjabi style and the latter’s RnB leanings works surprisingly well, and the Rishi Rich-produced number is easily a highlight of this set. Things soon progress to a more recognisable bhangra sound, though, with almost all of the remainder of the album reverting to the style Singh’s most loved for. The sole exception is second collaboration with Rishi and Mumzy, final track Saari Raat Nachava.

You do not have to be a fan of bhangra or a speaker of Punjabi to appreciate that the vocal style involved requires an immense quality of tone and a high level of control. This album makes it quite apparent that Singh has both of these in spades – he possesses a superb voice that draws you in with its genuine warmth. Fan or not, it’s easy to understand his popularity and the success which lead him to receive his MBE in the Queen’s 2008 New Year Honours.

All the tracks on this album are competently put together without sounding over-produced, and showcase Singh’s voice wonderfully. It may not, however, win any converts to bhangra. While there is no doubting the high quality of what is on offer, only Nach Billo, Paundah Bhangra and Saari Raat Nachava are really accessible enough to be re-visited by those unfamiliar with the genre.

Billo Rani is sure to appeal to all lovers of bhangra, with its simple recipe of excellent vocals and effective production – but it won’t necessarily be bringing new listeners to the fold.

V xx


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