Books, alas, don’t always come in the right order. Having recently reviewed Oliver Craske’s excellent biography of Ravi Shankar, I found myself wishing that I could have read Finding the Raga before undertaking that task. Amit Chaudhuri, well-known Indian novelist and essayist, is also a singer and a musician, but not just any musician. Thoroughly-versed in both Indian and Western classical music, he also has a wide experience of Western popular genres (particularly American folk music), Indian film music and the songs of Rabindranath Tagore.
At 10:20pm on 15 August 1969, Ravi Shankar—then, and still, the most famous practitioner of the sitar and Indian classical music—takes the stage at Woodstock. It’s arguably the zenith of Indian music’s popularity in the West, with musicians like the Beatles, the Byrds and Led Zeppelin embracing elements of Indian music. But this was merely the middle-point of Shankar’s artistic development, nor was it a personal highlight in a long and storied career. For many musicians in several different genres, both in and outside of India, Shankar is the most important messenger for the ideas and concepts of Indian music.
Enter the Wu-Tang. Return to the 36 Chambers. People listening to these albums by the Wu-Tang Clan and its members likely never knew about Sophia Chang: a Korean-Canadian woman who worked with members like RZA, ODB and Method Man. Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest called Sophia Chang “an integral part of the golden era of hip-hop”.
Indian Sun is a large book teeming with larger-than-life characters, not all of whom are called Ravi Shankar. Oliver Craske gives us a whole complex world, or, if you like, two complex worlds, Indian and Western, meeting, sometimes uneasily, through music.
Sophia Chang is one of the most influential managers and producers in hip-hop music, yet few would recognize her name. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Chang grew up in an academic family in Vancouver. How did someone with such a presumably pre-determined path end up in New York’s hip-hop scene (and why have many of us remained oblivious of her until now)? Chang hints at part of the answer in the title of her new memoir, The Baddest Bitch in the Room.
Jena Lin was a child prodigy; now, in her early twenties, she uses sex to fill the void left by fame. Jena is still a musician, her professional life taking her from practice to rehearsal and back again. But once a solo violinist who traveled the world, she now finds herself auditioning for a position in an orchestra.