Neel Murgai Ensemble
1 Charukeshi Monday
Based on Raga Charukeshi, this piece includes a traditional gat (melody) from the Maihar
Gharana (school of Indian music) that I learned from an old recording of my guru, Pundit Krishna Bhatt. The gat is set to Matta Tala, a rarely heard rhythmic cycle of 9 beats. I analyzed this melody to establish a chord sequence that became a new foundation for textural composition, improvisation and elaboration. These elaborations are punctuated by composed tihais (rhythmic phrase repeated three times) leading back to the melody in a traditional manner.
Named after an ancient Sanskrit collection of children’s stories and fables, this composition begins with a minimalist concept of offset repetition. Successive parts are repeated and embellished at will by the musicians in a playful manner. After solos, the piece concludes as it began in palindrome form.
3 Brooklyn ki Bhairavi
This piece includes another traditional composition from the Maihar Gharana in Raga Bhairavi. The melody was made famous in a popular recording of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pundit Ravi Shankar. Lines of counterpoint were created to embellish this composition. Improvisation on these themes gives way to another palindrome ending.
4 Space Twang
An old composition of mine, this piece is played in a light classical style. It is set to raga related rules of my own creation and a simple chord structure. The name was created off the cuff by an old band mate, and over the years it stuck.
5 Evening in A: Raga Yaman
This composition draws heavily on Raga Yaman, a romantic yet melancholic raga of the evening. It features a Lydian scale that we play from D, hence the key of A. The opening vamp and improvisation reveals the romantic nature of this raga. This improvisation comes together in ensemble passages and tihais stretched throughout the piece.
6 Coi Umeed
The melody in this song is of Eastern European gypsy origin. I had heard it in the epic gypsy film “Latcho Drom”. Years ago I set this melody to Urdu lyrics from Ghalib, a 19th century writer of
a poetic form called Ghazal. Somehow the melody and lyrics just seemed to fit in a natural way.
The translation comes from K. C. Kanda’s “Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazal”.
7 Raga Khammaj, Rupak Tala
This joyful, romantic raga of the evening is performed here in the classical North Indian manner, with sitar and tabla only. The main melody or gat, is set to Rupak Tala, a cycle of seven beats.
A spontaneous improvisation, this piece contains a wonderful arc that becomes a true journey. Here I put down my sitar for the daf (Persian frame drum) and overtone singing. A long, minimal droning intro gives way to chanting and rhythmic fireworks. The only set features are the drone tonality and the chant “Ngung, ngong, ngang nging”. These syllables create overtones that pop out from the back of the throat and provide a unique sound.
Lyrics - Coi Umeed -
Coi umeed bar nahin aati, All my hopes stand belied,
Coi surat nazr nahin aati. No prospect is in sight!
Maut ka ek din maayen hai, Death will come when it will come,
Neend kyon raat bhar nahin aati? Why comes not sleep at night?
Aage aati thi haal-e-dil pe hansi, I once could laugh at the state of my heart,
Ab kisi baat par nahin aati. But nothing can make me laugh today.
Ham wahaan hain jahaan se ham ko bhi, I am in that oblivious state,
Kuch hamaari khabar nahin aati. A stranger to myself where I am.
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Sam Crawford
Additional engineering by Michael Gittleman
Tracks 2,4,5 composed by Neel Murgai
1,3,6 are Murgai’s treatments of traditional material.
Lyrics in 6 by Ghalib
8 by Murgai, Maneri, Gupta, Heffernan
Cover design by Indra Gill
Cover illustration by Matthew Lillis
Daf Man illustrations by Neel Murgai
Special thanks to many people, without whom this music would not be possible:
My teachers: Krishna Bhatt, Edgar Grana, Ravindra Goswami, William Sweeney…
My Family: Jessica Plotnick, Indra Gill, Leith Murgai…
And the many other musicians, teachers, friends and family members who have
supported and inspired me along the way.
Innova Director: Philip Blackburn
Operations Manager: Chris Campbell
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.