Music Review: No Stranger Here – Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker, Business Class Refugees (Fusion Album)

Kabir. I guess it was in my 5th standard that we had to study Kabir Ke Dohe and also a story about his life. Though it was good fun reciting Kaal Kare So Aaj Kare.. and Bada Hua To Kya Hua Jaise Ped Khajoor.. and the like, the poet and his works subsequently faded out of memory as time passed. Until Jhini happened that is, Indian Ocean doing a brilliant interpretation of Kabir’s lines. Not that I made much out of the lines, I was never much of a lyrics person, but such earthy lines tend to have a powerful impact with contemporary adaptations even if you cannot understand the meaning. Something that has been adequately proved by Indian Ocean, ARR, Agnee, Coke Studio et al. It was hence that I decided to buy No Stranger Here, another modern take on his poetry by Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker and Business Class Refugees.

One of the many spectacular things about No Stranger Here is its employment of the strings. The rich fabric of violins laid out by orchestrator Eyal Mazig adds quite brilliantly to the majestic sound of the songs in more cases than one. For instance there is song no. 1 Seraphim Tones where Mazig’s team gives a very period feel to the proceedings while Mudgal soulfully renders Sai Bina Dard Kareje (in raag Desh?) in conjunction with a very ethereal-sounding recitation by Rucker. Mazig plays a prominent role in Shubha Mudgal’s solo act as well, Drunk In Love, lending that heady ambient feel to the devout song. Composed by Mudgal (Tilang raag I felt), the lead tune faintly reminded me of Vaishnav Jan To in places. Steadfast features a lovely superimposition of Mudgal’s alaaps and Rucker’s poetry amidst the resonant “om” chants by the chorus and an oriental-flavored orchestra. It is in When I Was that Patrick Sebag and Yotam Agam decide to go for a change of genre, choosing a jazz template to support Mudgal singing Kabir’s Jab Main Tha Tab Hari Nahi. Have always loved jazz-classical fusion, loved this too.

The best of the soundtrack happens next – A Stranger Here, a malkauns-based beauty that allures as much for Shubha Mudgal’s brilliant rendition as it does for the orchestral opulence. Ursula Rucker has some fab lines here too set to the same theme of loneliness, which she sings in a very haunting manner.  But to me the earlier-mentioned factors sidelined everything else. The song incidentally is also the cornerstone of the album’s concept. A shorter alternate version of the same song titled Outsider comes up at the end of the album whose only difference apart from the length is an Indian element introduced into the otherwise brass-ish percussion. Mazig, Sebag and Agam take centre-stage in the mystic-sounding instrumental Searching For You and execute it quite nicely, with touches of Oriental in places. It is only Rucker’s solo, Something Is Still Missing, which I found not upto the mark – a tedium setting in at some point. Shubha Mudgal’s final track Above All Else is the longest of all. And despite the singer’s efforts once again complemented quite nicely by the orchestra, the slow pace coupled with the length of the track works against it.

The note on No Stranger Here’s CD reads – “With individual sensitivity, respect and deep artistic understanding of their own and different cultures, Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker and Business Class Refugees come together in distinct diversity to unite with the timeless, spiritual voice of humanity.” And unite they do, bringing together their diverse styles in a seamless fashion, and giving us one hell of a tribute to the legendary poet in the process. A slightly larger spread of styles, like more songs on the lines of the jazz fusion track, would have been perfect, but that is not to take any credit off this outstanding body of work. You can/must listen to and buy the album here.