In December 2000, Michael Nyman ventured to India for one month as part of the Asian Music Circuit and the British Council’s attempt to bridge the gap between Western and Indian classical traditions.
The resulting trip, which spanned the far reaches of the country, yielded a two-year project called Sangam, Hindi for “confluence” or a “coming together." It is indeed a blend of Nyman’s minimalist tendencies and the spiritual, trancelike work of local artists like mandolinist U. Shrinivas and Khayal-trained singing duo Rajan and Sajan Misra. Sangam had a short-lived run in 2003 with Warner Music, but lives again on Nyman’s own label, MN Records, which was formed shortly after the album’s original release.
Nearly ten years later, the reprint calls new attention to music that seeks to find common, collaborative ground between two cultures in what seems to be, from both sides, a genuine and heartfelt place. It’s also a meeting ground of sorts for Nyman himself, who offers intricately woven webs allowing the Misra Brothers (which also include here Ritesh and Rajnish, along with tabla virtuoso Sanju Sahai) and Shrinivas to shine against his own backdrops.
Nyman spent most of the 1980s finding inspiration in other composers (such as the 1977 work In Re Don Giovanni, a centerpiece of Nyman’s 1981 self-titled album) while the 1990s were his own personal Me Decade in which the composer’s muse went from being the works of others to his own past compositions. The trick of Sangam is that it amalgamates these two specific eras for the composer, at once giving him free reign to explore the sound-worlds of others while also putting the onus on him to create his own original backdrop to the Khayalic vocal riffs and Carnatic mandolin shreds.
While some have taken this album to task for not encapsulating enough of the Indian element, the rich textures of Nyman’s work and the fluidity of collaboration make it essential listening. At some point in the organic, improvisational Three Ways of Describing the Rain or the rip-roaring, spectral Compiling the Colors, stylistic labels are set aside for pure auditory joy.
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