Before there was a Brooklyn Raga Massive, or a Navatman Music Collective, there was Falu’s Karyshma. And that band – fronted by the singer widely considered to be the best to emerge in the world of Indian music since the 1990s – rocks a lot harder than either of those two much larger ensembles. Friday night at Drom, a packed house got to witness a dynamic, vigorously eclectic show from the eight-piece group, a potent reminder of how deep the well of music from across the Hindustani subcontinent is as well as how many amazing places a talented band can take it.
They opened with just Gaurav Shah’s harmonium and the bandleader’s voice for a verse. It’s impossible to resist characterizing Falu’s meticulously articulated cascades and crystalline melismas as heavenly, considering that the band name means “divine intervention.” The instruments – violin, bass, drums and tabla – entered as the song pulsed lithely. They’d revisit that elegantly dancing carnatic rock later with the first song Falu ever sang in the United States after moving here.
As the show went on, the sounds branched out across India, the instrumentation shifting as Shah moved to bansuri flute and violinist Soumya Chatterjee strapped on his acoustic guitar. From the north, there were a couple of electrified ghazals with jangly Strat guitar leads and swooping violin lines mingling with Falu’s calmly soaring vocal flights. At times, the whole band would run the same riff, then they’d add tersely textured harmonies, the band’s most notable innovation. Tabla virtuoso Deep Singh switched to a boomy bass drum – a floor-mounted dhol, maybe? – for the night’s most intense, thumping anthems, one of them partly in English. Falu announced with pride that it had been featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian.
Ironically, their biggest college radio hit sounded like an Allman Brothers ballad, although guest Cassandra O’Neal’s piano added a rapt gospel flavor. Falu and the rest of the group ended the show with the cheerful, relentless pulse of a qawwali-inflected singalong. Nation Beat, who were an omnipresent force on the outdoor festival circuit a couple of years back, were next on the bill. And they’re great live – but they’ve been covered here before, and sometimes the demands of a life make it impossible to stick around for four hours of music.
Drom, the midpoint on New York’s silk road of global music that starts at Barbes and ends up at Lincoln Center, has its usual eclectic slate of shows coming up. One particularly excellent one is by fearlessly political, relevant roots reggae/Afrobeat singer Ayo and her band, who’re playing the album release show for her new one on Dec 20 at 7:15 PM; $15 advance tix are highly recommended.