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World Music CD Reviews South Asia

Various Artists

By John Kuhlman
Published April 27, 2007

Indian Folk Music From Uttar Pradesh
Silk, Spirits And Song—Music From North Thailand


Lyrichord releases are a comfort to those who prefer our world music old school style, with professors trekking off to remote parts of the world, using their tape recorders to preserve native musicians under glass. In the case of Indian Folk Music From Uttar Pradesh, the recordings were gathered over a 27-year period by Dr. Lasmi Ganesh Tewari, from villages in the northeastern corner of India, and for the most part are rough-hewn devotional works performed by small vocal groups, accompanied by a lively variety of percussion instruments (dhapalis, hudukas, dholaks, manjiras, nagariyas, etc.). The performances, with their energetic call-and-response choruses (the translated lyrics in the accompanying booklet are often very beautiful) and propulsive drumming, are individually exciting, although those un-attuned to the subtleties of rural Indian folk music may find the limited palette a little monotonous over the course of an entire album. But, under no circumstances should you quit before track 11, a raucous duet of wedding music for two six-foot-long trumpets.

If Silk, Spirits And Song—Music From North Thailand seems more immediately beguiling, it’s probably because of the back-porch charm of the first two tracks’ sweet twangy melodies for lutes and spiked fiddles, with a flute weaving between them like a slightly intoxicated songbird. Assembled by Dr. Andrew Shahrian, this collection of music made by “the most serene people in the country” is a wonderfully strange catalogue of little-heard sounds, including the chest zither; the massive 16-foot-long gourd drum the klawng luang; the sweet, nasal blat of the pi sa reeded flute, and two forms of spirit dance music. One uses a traditional percussion group to invoke ancestral spirits, while the other adds electric bass, synth and guitar to attract younger spirits “who may not find the traditional music appealing.”