The internet, and cheap recording technology, has made it possible for almost anyone to record and release music online. While this is great news for anyone who believes in the democratization of music, it does lead to one little problem. There is so much music out there of such varying quality that sifting through the deluge to find music you like is more a matter of hit-or-miss luck than any carefully considered methodology. Recently I’ve taken to hunting through search tags on Bandcamp to look for Indian music that our indie media has overlooked. It’s quite an entertaining exercise for a music writer, the incredible amount of hilariously bad music on display reminding you that the critic as gatekeeper is still necessary in the digital age. And occasionally, just occasionally, you come across an artist like Ravana.
Ravana is one of the many ambient/dub electronica projects of little-known Delhi musician Ravana Tenheads. He’s got a mother lode of music on his Soundcloud and Bandcamp, much of it influenced by and relating to people’s movements in Odisha and across the world. But the album that particularly caught my attention was Ghalib, a sinister dub-influenced tribute to the Urdu poet who is almost synonymous with a certain idea of Delhi. Ravana takes vocal samples from the 1988 TV serial Mirza Ghalib, written and directed by Gulzar, and complements the dialogues and couplets from the show (in Naseeruddin Shah’s voice) with minimal, bass-heavy production that adds a sense of ominous foreboding to the proceedings. On the final two tracks, he mashes together Jagjit Singh’s songs from the tele-serial with drone-heavy music by British ethnic electronica musician Muslimguaze, creating a dialogue between three artists separated by continents and centuries. It’s heady stuff, and a conceptual master-stroke. There are a few weaknesses in the execution though, and occasionally the music he creates takes the ambient tag a little too seriously, meandering along without structure or purpose. But taken as a whole, Ghalib represents the idea of a new Indian electronica, one deeply rooted in the myths and culture of its locality.