Early explorers: the first Indian travellers to Britain (1600-1900)

Today, nearly two million Indians live in the United Kingdom – around 1 in 40 of the nation’s total population. While the vast majority arrived in multiple waves of post-WW2 migrations, Subcontinental travellers had been reaching and settling in Britain for at least 350 years before this. Here, we take you on a brief tourContinue reading “Early explorers: the first Indian travellers to Britain (1600-1900)”

Rabindrasangeet: the songs of Tagore, a broad-minded Bengali icon

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for she was born in another time” Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)  The songs of Bengali icon Rabindranath Tagore are collectively known as Rabindrasangeet. Western writers, ever-prone to compress Indian phenomena into their own pre-shaped boxes, often describe Tagore as the ‘Indian Shakespeare’ – although the Bard’s interests wereContinue reading “Rabindrasangeet: the songs of Tagore, a broad-minded Bengali icon”

Improvising away from discrimination: How jazz was thriving in 1920s India

The so-called ‘Indo-jazz’ scene goes back a long way. Star improvisers of the East and West have always taken a fascination in each other’s music, and many of the genre’s established masterpieces, such as Shakti’s Natural Elements and John Coltrane’s Impressions, came to fruition half a century ago. However, few seem to realise that unique strains of jazzContinue reading “Improvising away from discrimination: How jazz was thriving in 1920s India”

The music of the Siddis: African folk rhythms in India

Indian ‘traditional’ music, spanning classical, folk, and plenty in between, comes in many flavours. Its influences and stylistic forebears are notoriously eclectic, mixing Vedic temple chants and Hindu metaphysics with Islamic devotional poetry and the sounds of nature. Among countless oddities, Irish and Scottish folk tunes were being used as the basis for South Indian classical compositionsContinue reading “The music of the Siddis: African folk rhythms in India”

Gujarati folk dances for Navratri: Garba and Dandiya

Gujarat, India’s Westernmost state, is home to a cornucopia of musical culture. Several Hindustani classical stars, including 20th-century legends Pandit Omkarnath Thakur and Ustad Faiyaz Khan, hail from the region, which is also home to an influential branch of the Dhrupad-infused Haveli Sangeet tradition. Many of Gujarat classical and semi-classical artists have found fresh inspiration in area’s rich,Continue reading “Gujarati folk dances for Navratri: Garba and Dandiya”

Rajasthani folk traditions: the Langas and the Manganiyars

India’s Northwestern region of Rajasthan, diverse in climate, culture, and geography, has long been famed for its varied musicality. The Jaipur-Atrauli and Mewati gharanas of Hindustani khayal singing originated there, and the area is home to innumerable shades of folk too. Here we take a quick glance at two famous Rajasthani folk lineages – the Langas andContinue reading “Rajasthani folk traditions: the Langas and the Manganiyars”

Bangla Kirtan: the veneration of Lord Vishnu goes global

Bangla Kirtan is a Hindu devotional style from Bengal, based around glorifying Lord Vishnu, the preserver deity (‘kirtan‘ means ‘to glorify’). Inspired by the work of Jayadeva, a 12th-century poet-saint, musicians from the Vaishnava sect began to compose spiritual songs, addressing themes such as divine sacrifice and love, as well as the fables of Krishna,Continue reading “Bangla Kirtan: the veneration of Lord Vishnu goes global”

Indian communities in Kenya: brief histories and sonic samples

Peoples of Indian descent have been present in East Africa for a very long time. Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama encountered Indian merchants on the African coast in the late 15th century, and even managed to hire a Gujarati-speaking sailor in Malindi – part of modern-day Kenya – to help him continue his journey onwardsContinue reading “Indian communities in Kenya: brief histories and sonic samples”

Tappa music: romantic outbursts of the Punjabi camel riders

All music seeks in some way to summon feelings of forward motion and momentum. But the tappa genre, derived from the folk songs of Punjabi camel riders, does this in a more literally than most – vocalists ‘jolt’ and ‘bounce’ their way through its twisting melodies, as if still sitting on the animals themselves. Here,Continue reading “Tappa music: romantic outbursts of the Punjabi camel riders”

Subcontinental sampling: Indian sounds in hip-hop, disco, and beyond

India’s traditional instruments are famed for their vivid, captivating textures. Unsurprisingly, open-minded beatmakers from around the world have long been turning to the Subcontinent in their search for new sounds.  Despite being a pretty regular occurrence nowadays (laptop production has created a wide world of sonic overlaps…), stumbling across instances of this always feels somehowContinue reading “Subcontinental sampling: Indian sounds in hip-hop, disco, and beyond”