Mahaleela – My Journey Through Life
Percussionist A. Sivamani has been a familiar face onstage at most jazz-fusion concerts in the country, and his lively drumming has been heard in a lot many fusion albums and movie soundtracks, since he first commanded his massive assortment of drums some 35 years ago. He has, since then, become a first-call drummer for names as illustrious as Ustad Zakir Hussain, A. R. Rahman, Illayaraja, Shankar Mahadevan. And along the way, Sivamani also shared stage, across the world, with other biggies like Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, L. Subramanium and Trilok Gurtu. Perhaps, this busy schedule explains why it took this flamboyant musician three-and-a-half decades to come up with Mahaleela, his first solo album.
When it comes to solo albums by virtuosos, the danger of self-obsessed playing is very real. But we have to report that Mahaleela steers clear of that. While his drums remain a very vital ingredient of all 12 compositions on this album, nowhere does Sivamani attempt to make this a “showcase of self”. (Let’s be honest, an hour - 64 minutes to be precise - of listening to only percussion can turn out to be an exercise in patience.) He, instead, gets the who’s who of Indian fusion together: Zakir Hussain, Viku Vinayakram, Louiz Banks, Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Neeladri Kumar, amongst others, have all contributed to Mahaleela. And how!
The vocal chants kicking off the “Dancing on the Moon,” and the album, do sound a bit odd with that weird accent (Bosnian singer Alma is attempting Sanskrit here). But move beyond the first minute or so, and the track morphs into an electro-dance-percussive monster threatening to blow out your speakers. “Kriya” slows proceedings down to an almost meditative pace, thanks to a slithering sitar track from Neeladri Kumar, who also makes an appearance later on “Aadhaar,” another composition which can best be described as ethereal. One of our favourites on the album is “Abbaji,” Sivamani’s tribute to the late Ustad Alla Rakha, one of the best tabla masters the world has seen, and father to Ustad Zakir Hussain. A frenetic jam of bols, tablas, bass guitar and assorted percussion, “Abbaji” will have you tapping out rhythms on the nearest surface. Equally captivating is “Santushti” which starts off with Sivamani splish-splashing rhythms in a bathtub (no, seriously!) and then moves on to a meld of various hand drums (not unlike the panchvadyam of South India) before being met head-on by wild vocal bols. Also don’t miss “Jam Packed,” a beautiful song led by outstanding vocals (courtesy Hariharan) and a throbbing bassline.
One complaint is that the inlay card is woefully lacking in information about the artists, but Sivamani tries to make up for it with the album-closer, “Thank You,” which is virtually a call-out list of all people involved in the making of this great album. If world music – especially the kinds based in percussion - is your thing, Mahaleela should be a definite addition to your CD rack.
© Bobin James, 2008