Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Daily Bump: 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat

A couple weeks ago, we were perusing around our favorite record shop in Brooklyn when someone handed us an unusual looking album recently in stock - 10 Ragas to A Disco Beat by Charanjit Singh, an Indian session player and former Bollywood composer during the early 1980s. With a title like that, who would not want to give this a listen?

And just as well we did. Our ears are still burning and tingling from the first rinse of this album, a burst of cosmic acid-house like no other driven by accelerated Indian ragas worked into a techno sweat. If Juan Atkins decided to pack up his gear and park himself in the center of the Goa trance scene shortly after releasing Alleys of Your Mind, then he'd probably claim the sound Singh created. Except that isn't the case. Beyond the baffling, mind-blowing music packaged in this album, the story behind it is just as stunning, if not slightly puzzling.

What makes 10 Ragas to A Disco Beat so fascinating is that Singh's acid-house translation of the ragas predated the Chicago house revolution - way before Acid House was even a common subgenre. Produced in 1982, the album was certainly disaffected by the hypercosmic sounds brewed by D-town's Belleville's three - their music had barely leaked our of their basements by then. Dance music in India meant Robo-disco from the US and UK, a style they eventually fused into their disco-pop Bollywood soundtracks.

There's even more to the story at hand. The production of 10 Ragas is Roland heavy - Singh somehow got his hands on a couple of these 808 machines, synths and MIDI's, which were barely considered staple instruments for dance music at the time.

Singh, jamming out on the disco ragas

So is this simply a musical phenomenon that has us backtracking house history as we know it?Or was there an emerging school of new school disco bubbling at the surface in India that was overlooked, just like the short-live attention 10 Ragas received in its birthright at the time? It was barely celebrated the way it is now and considering there was only a limited pressing of it before the label Bombay Connection re-pressed it earlier this year, only a handful of Westerners knew about it. They even tried to start a small fan club for the elusive Singh, hungry for more information about this talented gem.

An interesting dialogue has spurted in reaction to this re-press, from The Guardian to DJ forums that has triggered music enthusiasts, journalists and dance music aficionados to tackle the bigger question at hand - when did house music emerge? Was there a subtle global revolution that we were unaware of? Geeta Dayal, one of our favorite writers of electronic music wrote a two part piece challenging the aforementioned through a hands on approach, and is the most concise answer we've found in response to this new discourse.

Singh, now in his 70s admits its the best things he's ever created. 10 Ragas is certainly light years ahead of its time and history aside - it stands out as a fantastic album. It's a shame he never got the attention and praise it deserved back then. But maybe it's because we weren't ready for it.

Charanjit Singh - Acid house pioneer?

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