Susheela Raman :: Love Trap
[narada world]   review from derek  

Newark, NJ, 7.24.03 - Susheela Raman hits the tri-state stage for the first time ever, playing outdoors at NJPAC (NJ Performing Arts Center), Newark's multi-million dollar attempt at revitalization. Despite repetitive sound problems, sandwiched between a smooth-African-jazz band and a smooth-African-jazz-with-flute band, the latter slightly more upbeat, Raman crawls, growls and relentlessly runs through the seated audience trying to stir energy. The band's sound is flawless, despite electronic difficulties, Raman's demeanor exquisite - it could have been her endlessly reaching octave range hypnotizing the crowd, or it could just have been the fact it was in Newark. Results: NJPAC CEO pulls entire band into the 2800-seat theater ("slightly resembles Royal Albert Hall"), promising this room next round. "You're going to be a star" he concludes, before we're whisked away to our buffet dinner of quasi-fried fish, head of lettuce (salad?) w/o dressing and something that kind of resembled broccoli.

New York, NY, 7.26.03 - Central Park's Summerstage, the food is slightly better, the sound much more so. Here the lot came to see Susheela, and she reciprocates. The first half is quiet, meditatively quiet, soothing even; the 90+ heat pummels the crowd into hot Astroturf, only rising when Raman claps with wild frenzy. The band connects further, turning from lounge to loud, invoking another aspect of Mother Nature as she is assured everyone knows what Shakti is. The feminine principle, it is often related by: dark, mysterious, water. The last fitting as she slides across the stage in catlike repetition, the audience once again her own. The next day she will note her non-religiosity while singing India's most sacred songs: "It's the sounds that inspire me." Church and media associate the pagan with heresy, but everyone knows who's closest to the G-man.

Back to Raman's set: thriving, pulsing rock rhythms backed by percussion (bongos, tabla, dholak). Guitarist/producer Sam Mills (also of Tama, as is percussionist Djanuno Dabo) switches acoustic to electric, creating ambience with feedback and drones. Raman stands, jumps and whirls in shaman steps, her Tamil vocals, interspersed with English, segueing from low-end lows to piercing, gorgeous heights. Since her first album, Salt Rain (Narada) pushed 200,000+ in France, America started taking notice. The album's quiet demure, unavoidable charm as Raman updated classic Indian chants/prayers into modern blues context, its hopeful melancholy seduced the ears of many. Love Trap, while differing tremendously from live show, takes studio work a level higher.

They say it's not always what you say but how you say it. But when you can say it, mean it and make you fall in love within seconds, well... you have a slight inclination of what Susheela Raman is about. Bred in London/Australia but fixed on South Asian heritage, she studied under the legendary Shruti Sadolikar and then took three years with Mills (de)constructing it into the blues. Dubbed "raga blues" by much press, let's call it "Tamil rock." Forget that, let's just call it incredible, enchanted, bemused: Love Trap is an album you sink deeper into each listen, a soft lover with sharp teeth, a warm wind trailed by a murderous storm. It's a mediation of the moment prepared by centuries of sonic philosophy, marked by the eclectic many-culturalisms passing through: Afrobeater Tony Allen on drums, Tuvan throat singing, cellos, clarinets, koras, Hawaiian guitars.

Two songs in English, both covers: Ethiopia's Mahmoud Ahmed's "Love Trap" reworked with a rolling bongo beat and Joan Armatrading's "Save Me," as soft and fervent as the folk voice would have it. From there she continues citing the Hindu pantheon - Siva, Ravana, Vishnu, the Vedas, Shakti: it's instinctual, feeling, emotive, much as the music itself; in that, we need not further philosophize as she's captured it, or rather, more correctly, serves as a channel for it to pass. From there, it graces the ears of whoever listens. "Sarasa" and "Amba" offer that chest-rocking seat-swaying rhythm, the former featuring Dabo's equally-meditative voice. "Half Shiva Half Shakti," an androgynous title for a charged song, rolls through club or bedroom alike. "To destroy is to create" goes the sentiment of India's most revered deity, as he/she dances and causes earthquakes; Love Trap is an inner tremor, equally guilty in its alchemy. There's something much deeper at work here, and the dance is inevitable. Best to surrender now and let the weight be lifted.

ethnotechno rating: 5 out of 5
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  1. Love Trap
  2. Sarasa (pick)
  3. Amba (pick)
  4. Save Me
  5. Manusoloni
  6. Bliss
  7. Sakhimaro
  8. Half Shiva Half Shakti (pick)
  9. Dhamavati
  10. Ye Meera Divanapan Hai
  11. Blue Lily Red Lotus