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The World

Oliver Rajamani
Oliver Rajamani
Oliver Rajamani has traveled the globe to master different forms of ancient music from his native India. He's assembled a globe-trotting group of world musicians in the Texas capital that's determined to rewrite the rules of traditional Indian folk music. Artist: Oliver Rajamani
Title: Sabas
Label: Rajamani Productions
Country: Texas/India

Listen to today's Global Hit

To the uninitiated the Rajamani Ensemble could sound like ordinary traditional Indian music and well, it is - but take a closer listen. Beneath the layers of ancient instrumentation are more modern sounds not typically heard in Indian music; a bowed cello, a violin, a flamenco guitar.

Rajamani: "India is changing and they want things that are new, especially the modern generation. They don't want to hear some guy sitting with a sitar and playing, I mean they do but they want it different they want to keep up with the modern world in a sense and hear their culture being represented in a modern way."

Oliver Rajamani was born in a remote region of Southern India. He grew up hearing a form of regional folk music called Naiyandi as well as the music of the area's original inhabitants; the Roma. Today the world knows Roma or "Gypsy" music best in its European form; Flamenco. But Rajamani says Flamenco is just one expression of Gypsy music.

Rajamani: "You know music is music and it changes constantly, if you take blues there are roots in Africa but you cant really say that that's African music but yet the roots are there and if you didn't have those roots you wouldn't have blues so its kind of like that with Gypsy music its like the roots are there but its roots are not Flamenco."

Rajamani: "It speaks to me a lot. I feel it has a connection to my country from where I am from. But I also find it very similar because folk music from India has this similar feel of flamenco and other gypsy southern music which is very raw, very expressive; very...it justconnects to something in every human soul."

Rajamani also sings in Tamil - an Indian dialect that he says is threatened by the Indian government's attempt to make Hindi the national language. Rajamani is doing his part to keep alive a culture threatened by Indian "Bollywood" pop music and the influence of Western culture. But some purists scoff at his efforts. A lot of traditional Indian music is bound by rules guiding where it can be performed, who can play it and on what kind of instruments.

Rajamani: "And the fact that I'm playing a folk song from India on an acoustic guitar, that's not pure. They don't see the connection because maybe they are not educated and don't know the roots of Flamenco and where it comes from but if they connect to that they say; oh wow that makes sense and so they can understand someone else playing another instrument and playing that music. But I've had a lot of problems with that, with purity. People think I'm not pure (laughs)."

A perception compounded by the ensemble's ethnically diverse lineup.

Shango Dely is a Colombian born percussionist who's also performed with Carlos Santana and rapper DMX. He knew little about Indian music before joining the Rajamani Ensemble. But he says his Afro-Cuban jazz background meshed easily with Oliver Rajamani's musical vision.

Shango: "This is the beauty of the music in general, you can put different music (together) from around the world and it doesn't sound awkward. Its all about expression, its all about telling a story. Music is a mirror of the cultural identity. And the more you have from other cultures the richer is your cultural identity."

Oliver Rajamani says he's challenging listeners to let go of fixed ideas about tradition.

Rajamani: "It's almost like we're taking tradition and taking it into different paths. You need people to go down that path and say, well we've had enough of seeing this tradition; we want to go down this path and see where it goes. And most of the times, humans are afraid to do that because they don't want to change route. Humans need to know where they are going, this music doesn't do that. It makes you think."

Oliver Rajamani's just released his second album with the Rajamani Ensemble. It's called Sabas. The group plans to play a few dates on the West Coast later this fall.

For The World I'm Steven Cuevas in Austin, Texas.



Elsewhere on the web:

 • More World Music at BBC Music Online