While the Indo-Canadian singer and songwriter Vandana Vishwas was trained in the rigours of North Indian classical vocal music, her own songs and singing style inhabit the lighter world of contemporary sugam sangeet. Vishwas’ website translates the term as “Easy Listening Music,” though more generally sugam sangeet refers to songs which employ readily understood lyrics and straightforward melodies.
Hindustani music practitioners distinguish their “classical music” practice from sugam sangeet partly in that the former is firmly based on a large repertoire of ragas (complex melodic modal-tonal frameworks for composition and improvisation) and talas (cyclical rhythmic-metric phrases). Sugam sangeet, on the other hand, is an approach to music performance where adherence to raga-bound rules is loosened or dispensed with entirely, and experimentation with various genre combinations is expected.
The discussion brings us neatly to Vishwas’ intriguing new album. Its full title is Parallels…to South Asian music from around the world, and that is what she sets out to explore. It helps to understand that “South Asian” in this context invokes a narrow range of Hindustani music genres from an entire subcontinent’s worth of possibilities.
Vishwas and her crack team of studio musicians deliver on the title’s promise in quite surprising ways. For example the opening track Mai Bequid is first rendered in a flamenco setting. Later it reappears in an unexpected country arrangement embellished with dobro, banjo and drum set. Fiqr E Manzil, on the other hand, sets out to map parallels between Vishwas’ ghazal singing and the rock trinity of distorted electric guitar, bass and metal-worthy drum set authoritatively played by Mark Kelso. It’s one of my favourites on the album.
If you keep a genre-open mind, you too may find your own favourite Parallels.