Guardian – Music
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 17 April 2012 18.45 BST
The energy, intensity and sheer noise were extraordinary. Sitting cross-legged on a low platform at the back of the stage were nine musicians, one playing harmonium and others singing, clapping or banging furiously at an array of hand percussion that included the tabla and castanet-like khertal. Most of them were members of the group Mian Mir, Sufi Muslims from Lahore in Pakistan and exponents of the rousing, ecstatic and sometimes trance-inducing devotional style qawwali, made internationally famous by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
But this was no conventional qawwali session, for grouped alongside them were Indian musicians from Rajasthan, including Nathoo Lal Solanki, an exponent of the stirring nagara drum, and singer Kutle Khan, adding furious effects on the Jew’s Harp. He was joined at the front of the stage by British guitarist Sam Mills and Susheela Raman, who was dressed like a rock star in black and red, dancing furiously and shaking her long black hair as she sang.
She started out with her own material and arrangements of Tamil songs from southern India, showing off her soulful vocals on the religious Paal, a song that started quietly before building to a frantic finale. Then she moved on to a furious Anglo-Pakistani-Indian treatment of Voodoo Chile, that had, she explained, also been influenced by time she spent in Ethiopia. It was wildly original, passionate and dangerous, and I’m sure its composer, Jimi Hendrix, would have been delighted.
The Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival promotes experimental music from the UK, India and south Asia, and is a perfect showcase for Raman. Born in London to parents from south India, she has had an uneven career pioneering her global fusion style, but is currently producing her most rousing, confident work to date. She deserved the packed hall and the standing ovation. These musicians would triumph at the summer festivals.See previous news item