Niladri Kumar: master of the electric sitar
U. Shrinivas: mandolin virtuoso
If any further proof were still needed that the boundaries between East and West have been obliterated, two new albums being released by Dreyfus Records on July 22nd will more than suffice. Niladri Kumar's Zitar and U. Shrinivas' Samjanitha define the term Indian fusion, although neither can be constrained by category quite that easily. These are recordings that pay homage to tradition while rocketing fearlessly into the future, folding together established genres such as rock, jazz, electronica and world music so seamlessly that something wholly new emerges.
Both Niladri Kumar and U. Shrinivas have long been recognized as leaders in the realm of progressive Indian music. Niladri, who began learning to play sitar at age 4, is the son of Pandit Kartick Kumar, himself a master of the instrument who studied under Ravi Shankar. But the younger Kumar is all about taking the instrument to new places. Zitar is named after Niladri's customized five-string electrified sitar (considerably fewer strings than the instrument's usual 20), which sports a special pickup designed to give the instrument a range of guitar effects. Its sound is at once familiar yet undeniably unexplored.
Called "one of the brightest young sitar players in a long time by the All Music Guide, Kumar has maintained a busy schedule of recording and live performance throughout his career, which has taken him into many diverse forms of music. He is a guest musician on the latest CD by jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin and took part recently in Zakir Hussain's Masters of Indian Percussion tour.
Zitar is Kumar's most eloquent, individualistic statement to date. From the ethereal, orchestral vistas of "Priority," the opening track, to the pulsating, jazz-like virtuosity of the closing "Zilebration," Zitar is an exhilarating sonic ride. Utilizing both Western (flute, guitar) and Indian instrumentation (tabla, sarangi), as well as chants and electronic programming, the album on which Niladri surrounds himself with equally visionary collaborators is a tour through both sunny, pastoral landscapes and teeming, cosmopolitan modernity.
Like Niladri Kumar, U. (short for Upalappu) Shrinivas is quickly finding a sizable audience attuned to his enticing explorations of Indian music's new possibilities. A mandolin maestro since taking up the instrument at age 6, (his father, Sri Satyanarayana, also played the stringed instrument) he is single-handedly responsible for reviving the mandolin's role in Indian music. More commonly found amidst bluegrass and various folk music forms, the mandolin was introduced to Indian Carnatic classical music in the 1940s and also used sparingly in Bollywood and bhangra recordings. But U. Shrinivas is credited with redefining the relationship between the mandolin and Indian music, particularly by making his instrument of choice the electric mandolin, which brings a harder, more urbanized edge into any musical setting than the more traditional acoustic version.
Shrinivas has won many awards for his consummate musicianship, has toured the world even performing at the 1992 Olympics, and his<