When a rapper from Queens, New York, samples a snatch of a conversation between two social activists, India’s Arundhati Roy and the late American historian and author, Howard Zinn, it can make you sit up and listen. And when it’s on the first solo mixtape from Himanshu Suri, one-third of the very literate hip-hop group, Das Racist, you just cannot ignore it. Das Racist’s first two albums—Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man—were released for free downloads by the band in 2010 (now you can buy them online) and won wide critical acclaim. Not surprising because the trio’s music is witty, clever and refreshingly different from the crass fare that you inevitably encounter in the genre today. Read more

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Three years ago, in this very space, I had raved about a blueswoman called Ana Popovic. A guitarist and singer, Popovic, 35, began playing the blues in Belgrade as a teenager but is now creating waves in the world of blues in the US and elsewhere in the world. And, last weekend, at the second edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival, Popovic was among the international blues greats who played in Mumbai. Those of you blues-lovers who were lucky enough to have heard her will probably agree with me when I say that she’s a blues artist who is worth tracking. Sadly, I missed the second day of the blues fest when she played, although I caught the first day’s gigs, which included one by the venerable Taj Mahal, now 69, and another by the flamboyant John Lee Hooker Jr., son of the late great John Lee Hooker. Read more

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After a week of overdosing on over-wrought music, you know the kind–complex arrangement of instruments, overwhelming synthesizer layers, deep bass, heavy drum lines, hardly discernible vocals—I was looking for some relief and it came in the form of a gent named Thomas Patrick Maguire. He’s based in Brooklyn, New York, and if you see a picture of Maguire—clean-cut, fresh faced, short, slicked back hair, you’d probably get the wrong idea about the kind of music he makes. But listen to any track from his just released, The Future’s Coming So Fast, and you’ll realise that what you see is not always what you get. Read more

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Hip-hop and rap are not a natural choice of genres for me when I’m looking for something to listen to. In fact, I find much of hip-hop’s lyrics too full of violence, sexism and needless vulgarity. And very, very few hip-hop or rap artists—even those whom everybody seems to laud—appear to me to be good writers, rhymers or lyricists. That doesn’t mean I don’t like some of what the genre offers. Among contemporary bands, I really liked Das Racist, the alternative hip hop band from Brooklyn that features two MCs of Indian origin (I did gush about them in this column in the past). I also loved the much older Gang Starr, a duo comprising the late MC Guru and DJ Premier (I gushed about them too when Guru died a couple of years back). Read more

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