Album Review — Bombay Makossa
There is a thing with the term fusion music. The word itself has lent itself to lot of hyper-generalization, abuse and a “catch-all” genre for the music labels and sometimes the musician themselves. I prefer the word collaboration, but that doesn’t really sound like a name of a genre. In any case, when you have listened to enough “fusion” albums, the kind that includes Indian music, every album starts to sound the same. And in some sense, it doesn’t offer enough “meat” or satisfaction for someone that is looking to progressively get deeper into understanding the music and exactly what constitutes fusion.
When John Mclaughlin collaborated to bring out Floating Point, it was one hell of a remarkable album. It featured a bunch of musicians, with John and Ranjit Barot being the common thread across all the tracks.
May be because of Floating Point and because Barot was doing more tours with John Mclaughlin, I had decided to give a shot to Barot’s Bada Boom, which had some serious music, especially on two tracks “Revolutions”, and “Supernova”.
News of U Shrinivas’s death was floating around and almost around the same time, I had heard about Barot’s Bombay Makossa, a collaboration that included U Shrinivas and Etienne Mbappe, who is also part of John’s 4th Dimension tour and I had once witnessed live in New York. Etienne is phenomenal, along the lines of Kai Eckhardt and Dominique De Piazza, but in some ways more comprehendible to me than the other two.
Musically, I had no choice other than to buy this album.
There is one genre of (western jazz) drumming — the kind people like Trilok Gurtu play — which include a lot of sounds and effects, which makes it more appropriate to call Gurtu as a percussionist. And then there are people like Barot — who reminds me of Buddy Rich from the old times, Tony Williams from 2–3 decades ago, and Gary Husband in the recent times — who need no more than a standard drum set. Barot will be closer to my tastes because of how seamlessly he integrates the vocalized form of Indian percussion — called the Konnakol or the Bol — into his drumming, something even a (IMO) superlative band like Shakti did not necessarily accomplish.
Having said that, I am completely glad I bought Bombay Makossa. Makossa is a kind of bass-powered music famous in the Cameroon and surrounding region of Africa.
In every track I could trace the presence of Carnatic music based mandolin by Shrinivas, but does it in a way where he doesn’t have to stick to the rules of Carnatic music. Mbappe is not just a bassist, but an extremely good one along with his singing skills I never knew he had. Barot of course, thunders through in all the tracks, playing the drums which is Western enough in the sounds and Indian enough in the structure. The konnakol pieces are my favorites, especially how well they gel into the totality of music.
Along with Miles from India, Floating Point and Bada Boom, I gladly add this album to the list of “must listen”s for the serious listener of free-spirited music.