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It's Bollywood, no doubt about it

Hollywood Bowl program has true Indian sounds and sights, complete with laser effects and snowfalls.

July 18, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

World music at the Hollywood Bowl has been a roller-coaster ride in the last few years. High points, such as the annual Brazilian events and last summer's Hawaiian and Yo-Yo Ma Silk Road programs, have contrasted with frequent evenings dedicated to contemporary pop music from various countries.

On Sunday, "Bollywood Night" tapped into Western sounds and rhythms (including rap), but its roots in Indian culture were ever present. The appropriately titled program focused on film music, India's most widely popular genre, specifically showcasing the work of A.R. Rahman, its most successful composer. ("Bollywood," commonly used to describe Hindi-language films, combines the words Hollywood and Bombay -- the former name of Mumbai.)

Rahman led a live production enhanced with video projections, laser effects and snowfalls(!), simulating the big, effervescent performances typical of Bollywood musicals. The mood of the compositions was almost consistently upbeat and rhythmic. Backbeat accents were frequent, interspersed with percussion groupings combining North and South Indian timbres, and there were passages, especially when the full orchestra and the Global Rhythms choir were playing together, in which brass riffs and surging percussion produced a surprisingly jazz-like sense of swing.

The singers -- Sukhwinder Singh, Hariharan, Sadhana Sargam, Madhushree and Anisha Nagarajan -- added the most distinctively Indian sounds to the evening, performing with the penetrating head tones and free-flowing melismas characteristic of the subcontinent's various musical forms.

Dancers from Bollywood Step Dance and the Sher Foundation topped off the presentation with styles ranging from elegant classical movements to raucous hip-hop.

Opening the concert, the eclectic ensemble Musafir explored traditional music, Arabic rhythms, Indian classical and pop sounds, combining them into an appealing hybrid, enhanced by the tabla playing of Hameed Khan, the dancing and castanet work of Rekha and the amazing Jew's harp sounds of Chugge Khan.

Although "Bollywood Night" is only the second entry in KCRW-FM's 2006 World Festival at the Bowl, it is one of the last that can be identified, in the traditional sense, as a program of culture-specific, international music. Upcoming programs feature a great deal of indie rock, trip-hop, electronica, reggae and (curiously) Willie Nelson. Maybe that title should be revised to World Pop Music Festival.

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