Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Sampler of World Music for the Guitarist

Before tackling the elements of an American or Western raga, as suggested in a previous post, I would like to take a side excursion:  to “….  return to the most basic response we have when thunderstruck by a piece of beautiful music”.  In this excursion, I want to share some of the primary musical places that have affected me most deeply and are continuing sources of inspiration, under the rubrics of “World Music” and “Western Classical Music”…….

A Sampler of Music for the Serious Guitar Improviser/ Explorer

I came to the world of acoustic guitar exploration from a background in both Western classical music and world music (just beginning to open up in the West in the 1950’s and 1960’s).  Although I didn’t pursue a career as a classical guitarist (I still play a limited repertoire and keep up technical exercises), the idea of a commitment to the deepest and profoundest experiences that one can have in both Western classical and world music is one that I still cherish. 

I would like to provide here a smorgasbord of world music experiences in the hope of widening and deepening the perspective of guitarists who like me are exploring the possibilities of new music.  I will not to even try to be comprehensive or “informed” about this selection.  I am not an academic or an ethnographer, but an active musician myself.  These samples come from a lifetime of my personal enjoyment (and idiosyncratic taste).  What I do hope to share are some major places along the way that continue to enrich my own musical journey, and hopefully to inspire yours to new heights. 

I have purposely included music here of some extended length.  One of the aspects of exploratory music is learning to appreciate a much larger sense of time itself.  As the poet Gary Snyder once said to a fellow worker:  “It’s not a long trip; you’ve just got a short mind.”

There are a few other things immediately noticeable about this list.  First, is that I am giving few samples of music from Europe or the Americas.  I feel that most of the major traditions of music in all of these countries already have a very prominent place in the consciousness of musicians in America;  most even have large audiences and very active advocates promoting concerts and airtime.  So I may only try to fill in a couple of less known places in that Western panoply of music.  

The other thing that may be less noticeable is that most of the music I am bringing is not “folk music” per se.  Most of these recommendations come from court or classical traditions or at the very least a “high society” form, rather than the folk and emergent forms of musical play.  This could in itself be a subject for future discussion, but for now I will just note it along the way.  I hope the other unifying feature of these selections is that they are all very strong “soul music”, big in “rasa”. 

I am a lifelong fan of the Hindustani classical tradition of northern India.  It was influenced by the Islamic culture of the Mogul empires.  The music of the south, the Carnatic tradition, is perhaps more ancient, associated more with the ancient Dravidian race, and tends to be more oriented toward dance rhythms.

Although most people who know of Indian music at all associate it with the sitar, I have from the first been a much bigger fan of the “sarod”:  approximately guitar-sized, with a flat metal plate instead of a fretboard, and a timbre that is like a bell-like cello.

Ali Akbar Khan, sarod, performing (perhaps with Mahapurush Misra, tabla)

Bismillah Khan, shehnai, with Vilayat Khan, sitar, performing
            Raga Gujari Todi

Ali Akbar Khan with his cousin Ravi Shankar, sitar:  a concert in 1972, shortly after the death of Khan-sahib’s father Allauddin Khan, considered one of the greatest musicians of all time in India

Shivkumar Sharma, santoor
            Here with master tabla player Zakir Hussein:  Raga Kirwani, at a festival in Poona, with crickets!!

Debashish Battacharya, Indian slide guitar
            An NPR “Tiny Desk Concert” with a vocalist:

Rajendra Prasanna, bansuri

Sultan Khan, sarangi;  Zakir Hussein, tabla:  shorter Raag Basant

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performing a “qawwali”


Japanese Koto by Shoko Murata:  duet with shakuhachi by Michio Miyagi:  “Haru No Umi”:    

Japanese Koto by Nanae Yoshimura:  Miki “Autumn Fantasy”  (more modern exploration):

            Japanese Shakuhachi (artist unknown):           

Chinese Pipa by Yang Jing:

Chinese erhu, an unadorned solo:

Tuvan throat singing (a "solo duet" with higher harmonics)

Indonesia gamelan


Oud:  in Arabic, this is “al oud”, which became “the lute”, grandfather of the guitar

Hamza El-Din, oud:  

Anouar Brahem, oud; Kudsi Erguner, ney:      

Abdullah Chhadeh, qanun (an Arabic zither):

Toumani Diabate, kora:

Stella Rimbasai, mbira:


Mariza, fadista:

SOUTH AMERICA  (some of these could be classified as “classical”:  I only included them here because I love them so much)

Villa Lobos:  Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5:

Barrios, “El Ultimo Canto”  (Berta Rojas):

Mercedes Sosa singing songs of Atahualpa Yupanqui:

HAWAII  (you already know the slack key guitarists)


Please let me know if any of these do something for you.  Thanks.