The title of Susheela Ramans latest album Queen Between sums it up. It takes a queen, the queen between, to annex qawwali, Rajasthani folk music into her own territory of English songwriting and Tamil folk roots. Susheela Raman presents all of this in a single musical work that makes it sound like all of these varied music styles have always been meant to be together. Heres an album that is sure to stir your imagination.
The sound of the album is very live-like. The audio production is kept raw and and at places expertly unpolished. It is kept obvious that Queen Between is not an album for the light hearted. There is an army of distinct cultural and linguistic soundscapes that you can hear through the album. They never interfere with each other and in fact, complement each other beautifully.
The entire album has a very qawwali feel to it, courtesy the Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwal from Pakistan, rendering a spiritual sensibility to the work. Rajasthani folk artists Kutle Khan and Nathoo Solanki provide a folksy shade and also an incredible string of energy through the album. Each of these musicians add their own stories to the soundscape. Each voice is incredibly stirring. Rajasthani folk tunes and qawwali music have been used so extensively in Bollywood contexts that some of the hooks on Sajana and Sharabi unfortunately sound cliched now. The improvisational sections on all the songs, and especially on Karunei and Taboo are where these musicians really shine through. In a couple of these sections, you can even hear the artists passing instructions to each other in the background. This helps creating a live ambience.
It took me a couple of days of the album on repeat to get into the zone that this queen between commands of you. The variety of instruments and styles can be unsettling at first listen. But once you get into it, the album builds on quite powerfully. Let me also add that this rawness is also the reason for the soulfulness and the live performance-like energy.
In conclusion, here is a piece of art that needs to be heard. A perfect combination of east and west, of delicate and harsh and of loud and soft. This may not reach out to every layman out there. There isnt another Yeh Mera Deewapan type disaster in this album, and I thank the heavens for it. But that also means no airplay on Indian music channels or mainstream radio. But irrespective of whether the album does well, heres one for the Classics section.