Susheela Raman: Music For Crocodiles

Susheela Raman is one in a line of Indian performers who have sought to bring the traditional aspects of the music of their heritage into a satisfying mix with popular Western musical forms in a way that does not subjugate the exotic elements, making them into mere ornaments that only pay lip service to age old musical traditions. On Music for Crocodiles, her third album, Raman pushes a bit further out from her comfort zone, performing the majority of the songs in English.

What is great about Raman’s work is that her songs are not immediately Western-pop catchy; they take a bit of time to seep into the brain and become familiar. Still, there is enough of the texture and attitude of more adventurous Western pop to satisfy most listeners until a more organic understanding of Raman’s songwriting takes hold.

While Raman, a British-born, Australian-raised Tamil, writes in the quirky pop format that she must have absorbed through a childhood and teenage years influenced not only by the radio, but by singing South Indian classical music. Raman branched out into what she terms ‘blues-based music’ as a teen. Her previous recordings, Salt Rain and Love Trap are awash in jazzy, blues-soaked sounds mixed in with what is often termed ‘raga rock.’ On Music For Crocodiles, Raman achieves the Indo-Pop fusion she has been seeking, and the result is a satisfying listen.

Adding to Raman’s musical vision is the stretching of boundaries. She sings more songs in English on this CD than on any previous one. She also records, for the first time, with Indian musicians, giving her music a spontaneity that is rare in pop music recordings today. Whereas Indian/pop music’s previous most successful female artist, Sheila Chandra, slowly shed the trappings of British pop music even as she sought links between classical Indian and British folk music, Raman does not want to shed anything. Instead, she wants to successfully fuse it in a way that increases the potency of the ingredients. And she succeeds.

It becomes increasingly pointless to speak of ‘world music’ in a time when people in most countries around the world have the ability to directly hear music that is steeped in the local culture and not sanitized for marketing purposes. Increasingly all musical forms have begun to meld, and Music for Crocodiles is a perfect example of that.

Likewise, it also becomes pointless to speak of acoustic and electronic music, of real time performance and manipulated performance. Savvy singers and songwriters, from Sarah McLachlan to Beth Orton, have successfully fused folksy, acoustic sounds with electronics and studio manipulation to create a sound that is both distinctly modern and evocative of the distant past.

Music for Crocodiles will be enjoyable listening for those who like pop music laced with Indian elements, are admirers of singers like McLachlan, Orton, and Chandra, world music and new age music devotees, and those who just like music that stretches out beyond the boundaries and follows its own logic. Music for Crocodiles is highly recommended. Tell your friends.

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