In music, geography is often destiny, but Susheela Raman proves both the rule and the exception. Born in London to South Asian parents and raised in Australia, Raman grew up in a home where she was surrounded by the Indian music that her mother loved. As a teen, though, Raman "discovered" soul and jazz.
Her musical education bounced between the two worlds: she studied in India, for example, but also fronted a soul band in Australia. Eventually she met guitarist-producer Sam Mills and they worked for three years to unite the seemingly separate musical universes, producing "Salt Rain."
The opening cut, "Ganapati," sets the stage: bluesy, funky guitar work conjures a late-night ambience, then Raman's alto (singing in Sanskrit) swirls around the viscous rhythms with typically Indian flourishes. Raman and her international band also incorporate other influences: "Maya" has a reggae beat propelled by a tabla; "Trust in Me" is a blues tune that ambles at a camel's pace; "Kamakshi" sounds like Billie Holiday in a Hindi soundtrack.
As auspicious a debut as Salt Rain is, and it was recently nominated for Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, it is not your average pop fare. It has intricate shadings, but it is only for those with a taste for its dark-blue palette. - Marty Lipp
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