It is no surprise that in today's globally connected and technologically savvy India there has come along an internet-based company, Beat of India.com, that claims to use modern technological resources to showcase folk musics and musicians from around the country. Beat of India.com was founded in 2000 with the goal of preserving traditional music of India and popularizing it to broader audiences through its CDs and website. The album reviewed here, "Hori Hai": A Festival of Colours!!, provides an introduction to one particular regional genre of music performed during the Indian Hindu festival, Holi.
This album's foremost accomplishment is having brought to the forefront talented performers and tuneful songs one rarely gets the opportunity to appreciate. The ten field recordings presented here are of high fidelity and directly relate to the Holi festival. As the liner notes to the album mention, Holi is celebrated in the lunar month of Phagun (February–March), but the writers fail to discuss how the festival is customarily celebrated. Holi inaugurates the coming of spring season, crop harvesting, fertility of the land, and the season of love and betrothal. The festival takes place over two days. On the first day, a bonfire is lit and family members and friends gather together; on the second day, known as Dhulandi, people run through the streets throwing brightly colored powder (gulal) on each other, often on complete strangers. Customarily bhang, a drink laced with a form of marijuana, is prepared and drank.
Capturing such a festival in audible form is a lofty goal considering the nature of Holi, perhaps the most chaotic and messy festival celebrated in India. The more general complexities and challenges of recording "in the field" outside the confines of a studio are great, but also give an opportunity for a recording to speak for itself in terms of context, audience, and the dynamics of an event. In these recordings, one can hear the call and response of a group of singers following the lead singer and audience participation (Track 3, "Bolo Sararara") and the participants playing percussion instruments in addition to the dholak drum (Track 6, "Charara Rang Dare"). The physical space of the recordings can also be heard. It is especially apparent when comparing Track 4, "Baajat Aave Paijaniya," which has the warm sound of intimacy that only a small room setting [End Page 151] can provide, with Track 10, "Aa Jaiyo Shyam," whose performance either occurs outside or in a very large performance space.
Overall, however, the album fails to conjure up the excitement and carousing revelry associated with such a festival. Understandably, comprehensiveness would be an unrealistic expectation given the limitations of a single compact disc format; however, the selections do not even offer a variety of musical styles. With the exception of the last track, "Aa Jaiyo Shyam," all feature a solo singer accompanied by harmonium and various percussion, which becomes monotonous even after the second track.
Beyond the songs featured, the album's presentation reflects a different, more troubling layer to the project. The liner notes, while they give both transcriptions of the song texts in Devnagari script and loose translations in English, leave much to be desired. They omit details about the Holi festival and its origins. Holi has a plethora of intriguing origin myths associated with it, none of which are mentioned. According to one myth, an arrogant king and his evil sister, Holika, attempt to kill the king's good son by setting him on fire. In the midst of this, Holika is burnt to death while the prince prevails. Thus, during Holi, ritualistic fires are burnt supposedly to celebrate the conquering of good over evil. Another legend concerns Lord Krishna and his consort Radha. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the darkness of his skin compared to that of Radha's fairness. As a result, Krishna's mother smears colors onto Radha's face, explaining why today Holi is celebrated by throwing colors on people.
The liner notes are also lacking in basic information...