Bring On the Psych, Bring On the Funk
The niche labels Now-Again and World Psychedelic Funk Classics have garnered praise for their impeccably researched collections of archival regional forays into popular music, from long-lost funk from different parts of the United States to buzzing Brazilian tropicalia. They now cast their eyes to India on Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!, a look at heavy, heady, henna-laced music.
Be honest: when you read the words “India” and “music” together you probably jump to thoughts of wailing female vocals, glorified cop-show themes from early Bollywood, and production-number pop from latter-day Bollywood. The first two are certainly present on Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga!; the works of Kalyanji Anadji, running from “Hum Tumhe Chate Hain” to “Bairaag Dance Music,” are typical examples. For music listeners in the West these formats are welcome, yet serious, departures from the norm.
What Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! does best, though, is show how Indian performers could catch up to, match, and even presage the musics of the First World. The compilation’s title is almost misleading: while there’s some funk and psychedelic funk on here, there’s a lot on here that falls into ranges just generally “psychedelic” and “funky.”
On the former front, R.D. Burman’s “Freak Out Music” has shreds of rhythmic and big-band structure tying together an instrumental that shares more common ground with the giants of abstract jazz: late Coleman and Coltrane, Sun Ra, Miles Davis’ fusion. The Black Beats’ “The Mod Trade” merges the titular proto-Brit-pop to Indian melodies without a sitar in sight. Atomic Forest, meanwhile, put together “Mary Long,” a sly piece of English-language garage rock with MC5 fuzz and a feather-light vocal melody.
On the latter front, Usha Khanna’s “Hotel Incidental Music” draws parallels to James Brown’s JBs. R.D. Burman’s arrangements in “Aaj Mera Dil” feature drum and echoing guitar parts that could have been lifted from the New Wave. And there’s a string of three songs—Khanna’s “Tera Jasia Pyara Koi Nahin,” Klaus Doldinger’s “Sitar Beat,” and Hermant Bhosle’s “Phir Teri Yaad”—that contain synths and occasionally pounding beats with similar strains throughout indie-dance and blog house.
Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! is a surprising, scintillating overview of one brand of ethnic music’s ties into pop and related styles. There’s no guarantee it will create instant fans of Indian music’s dense, complex structure. It does however prove that the constant interchange and splicing of cultures not only yields fertile results, but has been going on far longer and across much greater divides than one might think.