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A Selection of CDs, Books and DVDs

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March 2009
A Selection of CDs, Books and DVDs

Given the bleak economic outlook, many people are cutting back on their discretionary spending. But with big-time splurging on hold, there now seems to be a greater need for low-cost options. Netflix, for instance, reported last month that the demand for their online DVD rental service grew by over 600,000 subscribers since January 1st. So, keeping the budget in mind, Khabar presents a selection of recent CDs, books and DVDs that caught our eye. They provide good value and, often, the distraction one may seek.

Grammy Award Winner

CD Title: Global Drum Project (Shout Factory)

Artists: Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovanni Hidalgo.

Details: Won the 2009 Grammy Award for best contemporary world music. The four percussionists reunited for this project 15 years after they released their Planet Drum album, which was picked for the first-ever Grammy Award in the world music category. For this new album, the other performers include Niladari Kumar (sitar), Dilshad Khan (sarangi) and Taufiq Qureshi (vocals & percussion).

Review: Pristinely recorded, the artists use some of the latest and greatest studio processing techniques to augment the inherent instrumental elements. With oscillating chants and orations intermixed, the musicians merge tuned percussion and stringed instruments into pulsating world-groove motifs. The sonic treatments are tastefully done and not over-baked, where they primarily use effects for texture and ornamentation.

                                                                - Glenn Astarita (All About Jazz)

A Doctor’s Debut

Book Title: Cutting For Stone (Knopf)

Author: Abraham Verghese

Details: After winning acclaim for two memoirs, My Own Country and The Tennis Partner, Verghese turned to fiction, his first love, and took several years to complete his debut novel. Set mostly in Ethiopia, this sweeping tale spanning six decades has received favorable reviews. In his day job, Verghese is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

                                                                                                                                                   

Review: Verghese’s august talent for storytelling is apparent in the dramatic arc of every chapter, but it is his handling of the human condition, of sins and salvation, of flaws and forgiveness, that makes this work particularly moving. From the twins’ dramatic upbringing in a politically unstable nation to their heartbreaks and humiliations, Verghese’s prose is teeming with memorable dialogue and description.

                                                    - Meghan Ward (San Francisco Chronicle)

Rocking with Rahman

CD Title: Slumdog Millionaire (Interscope)

Artists: A. R. Rahman, Gulzar, M.I.A. and Sonu Nigam.

Details: Slumdog Millionaire, which snagged eight Oscars, has a soundtrack that’s very integral to the film. A look at the titles tells us why. In fact, “O?Saya,” “Riots,” “Mausam & Escape,” “Paper Planes,” “Ringa Ringa,” “Liquid Dance,” “Latika’s Theme,” “Aaj Ki Raat,” “Millionaire,” “Gangsta Blues,” “Dreams on Fire” and “Jai Ho” aren’t just track titles. They sum up the film in a coded way. A. R. Rahman got an Oscar for the score, and along with the lyricist Gulzar, he won an Oscar for the song “Jai Ho.”

Review: For the Slumdog Millionaire score, Rahman blended classic Indian styles and instruments with reggae, Brazilian drumming and Western electronica in an eclectic melting pot. In “Mausam and Escape,” a dynamic sitar is layered over a driving pulse — a dramatic difference from the more somber, traditional sitar sound that Indian music usually employs. Rahman says it’s one of his favorite songs from the soundtrack.

                                                                                                                                                                                        - Jackie Lyden (NPR)

CEO Imagines India

Book Title: Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation (Penguin)

Author: Nandan Nilekani

Details: The co-founder and co-chairman of Infosys charts India’s rise in the era of liberalization, privatization and globalization. Drawing both on his extensive business background and personal life, Nilekani offers both a progress report and a policy prescription. Education, environment, energy and epidemics are among the topics covered. Described as a primer on globalization, the book was a bestseller in India.

Review: The achievement of Mr. Nilekani’s book is in its structure, and its ease of reading? .At the heart of the book is a strongly held view that India is a highly suitable business and political partner for the West. This is based on his experience in the back-office processing (BPO) business where Indian employees have had to deal on a day-to-day basis with clients in Europe and America. But it is also rooted in the country’s diversity and democracy.

                                                               - James Lamont (Financial Times)

                                                                                                                                                            

Michael Wood’s Journey

DVD Title: The Story of India (PBS)

Writer & Presenter: Michael Wood

Details: Reasonably priced sets (2 DVDs, 360 minutes) are available for both standard and Blu-ray DVD players. The six episodes are called “Beginnings,” “The Power of Ideas,” “Spice Routes & Silk Roads,” “Ages of Gold,” “The Meeting of Two Oceans” and “Freedom.” Michael Wood’s companion book, simply titled India, is available from Basic Books.

Review: Mr. Wood, a celebrated British historian and filmmaker, takes the viewer on a journey back in time, tens of thousands of years, before religion, before language—one that retraces the steps of India’s first inhabitants, its ancient civilizations, the inception of its religions, its struggle for independence from Britain and, most recently, the explosive growth of its middle class and meteoric rise as an economic contender and high-tech marvel.

                                                    - Michael Judge (The Wall Street Journal)

Indian Musical Sampler

CD Title: India (Putumayo World Music)

Artists: Bombay Jayashri, Nirag Chag, Swati Natekar, Sanjay Divecha, Kailash Kher, Uma Mohan, Satish Vyas, A. R. Rahman, Chinmayee, Susheela Raman, Deepak Ram, Kiran Ahluwalia and Rajeshwari Sachdev.

Details: Brings together Indian music ranging from Bollywood and classical to electronica and acoustic folk. Also available from Putumayo is a lavishly illustrated book called India: A Cultural Journey. Launched as a label to showcase world cultures, Putumayo has become known for its upbeat and melodic compilations of great international music. Its educational and children’s division is called Putumayo Kids.

Description: Satish Vyas, represented by his song “Homeward Journey,” is a renowned master of the santoor, while Bombay Jayashri (“Zara Zara”) specializes in the Carnatic vocal tradition. Taking Indian music in new directions, evocative British Indian singer/song writer Susheela Raman blends her South Indian classical training with Western jazz and acoustic folk influences in “Nagumomo.” Kiran Ahluwalia offers a fresh take on ghazal (“Vo Kuch”).

                                                                         - Putumayo World Music

Searching for Roots

Book Title: The Girl from Foreign (Penguin)

Author: Sadia Shepard

Details: Written in the form of a diary, the book records Shepard’s year-long sojourn in India, where her Jewish grandmother was born near Mumbai. Shepard grew up in a tri-cultural household (Christian, Muslim, Jewish) in Massachusetts. After winning a Fulbright scholarship, Shepard studied the lives of Jews still residing in India. “I want to fit in, to live here and feel at home,” she writes in her book, referring to India.

Review: In this elegantly crafted memoir, the author sets out to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish that she learn about her heritage. Her grandmother grew up among the Bene Israel, a small Jewish community in India; when she married a Muslim, she left Judaism and, eventually, India, and adopted the name Rahat Siddiqi? .Shepard’s eagerness to maintain narrative tension leads to occasional artificiality, but her writing is vivid and her meditations on heritage and grief are moving.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      - The New Yorker

Indian American Jazz

CD Title: Kinsmen (Pi Recordings)

Artists: Rudresh Mahanthappa (jazz saxophone), Kadri Gopalnath (Indian saxophone), A. Kanyakumari (violin), Rez Abassi (guitar), Poovalur Sriji (Indian drum) and Carlo de Rosa (acoustic bass).

Details: Organically fuses jazz with Carnatic music. Kinsmen won raves from many critics last year. NPR picked it as one of its top 5 jazz albums in 2008. It features the Dakshina Ensemble, led by Mahanthappa and Gopalnath. Another Indo-fusion jazz album, released last year by Innova, is called Apti. Apart from Mahanthappa and Abassi, tabla virtuoso Dan Weiss performed for Apti, which also earned praise from reviewers.

Review: The melodies and arrangements here are composed by the two saxophonists together; the tracks can be forceful like “Ganesha,” or gorgeously solemn like “Kalyani,” but they’re not just vamping and soloing. And yet the album brings a good ruckus anyway, the way some of Ornette Coleman’s bands have done. “Snake!” begins with a Carnatic melody, but then its undulating rhythm turns into something like a West Indian parade beat.

                                                             - Ben Ratliff (The New York Times)

Guide for Newcomers

Book Title: Culture Shock! India (Marshall Cavendish)

Author: Gitanjali Kolanad

Details: Subtitled “A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette,” the Culture Shock! series is meant for first-time visitors to various countries, although parts of this book (3rd edition, 2008) may also interest—or irritate—those who’re familiar with India. Chapter titles include “An Overview,” “Fitting In,” “Food & Entertaining,” “The Practicalities,” “Getting the Message” (i.e. communication) and “Doing Business in India.”

Excerpt: To understand India at all, you must be able to hold on to contradictory images, and realize that both represent the true India? .As you slowly awaken to the complexities of just one place, you may even get the feeling that the longer you stay, the less you know. Don’t worry. This is the beginning of the real awareness about India. Now you will be able to sift through the confusion of preconceptions and hasty generalizations and find more accurate and useful perceptions.

                                                   - Gitanjali Kolanad (Culture Shock! India)

A Star’s Venture

DVD Title: Like Stars on Earth (Walt Disney)

Cast: Aamir Khan, Darsheel Safary, Tisca Chopra, Vipin Sharma, Sachet Engineer and Tanay Chheda.

Details: India’s most recent entry for the Oscars is better known by its Hindi title, Taare Zameen Par. Now a dubbed English-language version is available as a 3-disc DVD set (165 minutes). Rating: PG. The bonus features include a panel discussion on children, the director’s commentary, deleted scenes, clips from the making of the film, and an audio CD with two collectible postcards. The music for the film is by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.   

Review: Versatile Indian actor Aamir Khan turns director with Taare Zameen Par—a children’s film that has just as much to offer adults as kids. A far cry from the formulaic masala flicks churned out by the Bollywood machine, this sensitive drama centers on an eight-year-old dyslexic boy (Darsheel Safary) who struggles to be understood by the people and world around him, until a teacher reveals his hidden talent. An inspirational story that is as emotive as it is entertaining; this is a little twinkling star of a movie.

                                                                         - Jaspreet Pandohar (BBC)

The Marriage Broker

Book Title: The Marriage Bureau for Rich People (Putnam)

Author: Farahad Zama

Details: Zama grew up in an Urdu-speaking family in Visakhapatnam (Vizag), India, where their neighbors were fishermen. His parents didn’t have much money and they lived in a one-room house After his education, Zama got a job at Citibank in Mumbai as a software developer. He moved to London in 1990. His debut novel has been described as “a fresh look at how traditional Indian culture is preserved in a contemporary world.”

Review: Its quirky title recalls Alexander McCall Smith, but Zama’s placid novel is set in India. Mr Ali is finding retirement dull, despite his garden filled with jasmine and guava. And so he decides to begin afresh and open a marriage bureau for wealthy clients. The business flourishes as much as Mr Ali's beloved garden, but the tangled plot reveals that it is his young assistant Aruna’s own love life which needs sorting out. It all adds up to a courteous, light read.

                                                             - Catherine Taylor (The Guardian)

Flute and Fusion

CD Title: Steps (Golden Horn)

Artists: Deepak Ram (Indian bamboo flute), Vic Juris (guitar), Tony Marino (bass) and Jamey Haddad (drums & percussion).

Details: Ram, who was born and raised in South Africa, has also lived in India and the U.S. Known mainly for classical recordings, he has been focusing more on crossover music. His earlier CDs in this genre include Flute For Thought and Beauty in Diversity. In Steps, Ram offers new versions of compositions such as “Summertime,” “Naima” and “My Funny Valentine,” along with his own compositions like “Blues for Shyam Babu.”

Review: Steps demonstrates that he understands the jazz idiom, and when he tackles a suitable composition, he has a lot to offer in terms of expanding the language of flute improvisation. If he records another jazz-oriented effort and, more important, if he makes more daring choices about what to play and how to engage his fellow musicians, Ram may prove himself to be a giant in the field. With this outing, however, he takes only small steps forward. Hopefully, the giant ones are still to come.

                                                       - Douglas Heselgrave (The Music Box)


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