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Mountain music on a pop album

This album presents a never-before combination -- Chithra and Ustad Sultan Khan. Their totally diverse voices outline some interesting melodies

Piya Basanti
Music: Sandesh Shandilya
Sony Music
Rs 65 (Cassette)

Looks like Indian music videos have arrived. Ken Ghosh, who made patchy videos of Baba Sehgal and dominated the industry, has given way to dozens of slick practitioners who put their visualising skills to work for the small screen. With absorbing five-minute storylines, music videos now compete with the mighty cinema.

Cut to your friendly neighborhood music store. You come across this new album called Piya Basanti. If you are familiar with South Indian film music, the name of Chithra will catch your eye. If you like classical music, Ustad Sultan Khan's name might entice you to buy it. But there's another man, Pradeep Sarkar, who could clinch the decision for you.

A couple of people I met at the music store said the video had prompted them to buy the tape. Pradeep Sarkar is the director of the music video Piya basanti re. His earlier successes include Euphoria's Mayeri and Shubha Mudgal's Ab ke saawan. Shot on the idyllic hills of Kothgarh, near Shimla, the video tells the love story of Siddhanth and Payal.
Ustad Sultan Khan is one of the two star sarangi exponents in India (the other being Pandit Ram Narayan). The sarangi is slowly vanishing, and very few take up this lovely instrument these days.

Sultan Khan has performed with international artistes like Duran Duran, Talvin Singh, Madonna and George Harrison. He has been singing an occasional song or two, like Albela saajan in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (music by Ismail Darbar). He sang some snatches in Mani Ratnam's Alai Payuthey under A R Rahman's music.

Sultan Khan's voice is reedy and totally unlike the voices we normally hear in films. He might remind you of S D Burman, who brought a similar rawness to the songs he sang.

Chithra is a five-time national award winning playback singer from the south who impressed Hindi film lovers with Payale chunmun in Varaasat.

With this unusual combination of singers, the eight songs on the album evoke the mountains. The pick of the album is the title track. Composer Sandesh Shandilya weaves a very simple and hummable tune to suit the voices of Ustad and Chitra. He makes two different tunes for the antaras -- one for Sultan Khan and another for Chitra -- but maintains the flow of the song.

Sandesh's interest in jazz is apparent in songs like Koi pyaar se and Dhee more. Both use a subdued jazz backdrop and Sultan Khan's improvisation makes for eminently listenable fusion. Dhee more features some very interesting saxaphone-sarangi fusion which goes well with the song.

Chale re is full of rustic flavour and is Chitra's show all the way. Rangeelo rut, the only other fast number, reminds you of Sandesh's tunes in his earlier album Pyaar ke Geet.

A veena, flute, santoor and sitar ensemble open the track Sawan rut aayee, based on the Hindustani equivalent of the Karnatak raga Hamsanaadham. This is a composition with classical overtones and the lead singers do full justice.

Rakesh Sharma, Prashant Vasl and Khilesh Sharma write two songs each, while Yash Sharma and Sultan Khan (Dhee more) write a song each.

This album is a cut above what we listen to in the name of Indipop. This genre needs to experiment more with such off-beat combinations. And it needs to veer away from the beaten path of bhangra and dance remixes.

Karthik S

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