Artist: Arun Shenoy
Any description of Arun Shenoy’s current GRAMMY-nominated CD, Rumbadoodle would have to include the word “fusion.” Everything about him and this music is definitive of the term. Born, raised, and educated in India, and now living in Singapore, Arun’s music is an intriguing cross-cultural experience. As the title implies the predominate flavor of this mélange is Rumba flamenco, but is generously spiced with dashes of pop, rock, worldbeat, and new age that is sure to appeal to fans of artists like Santana, Ottmar Liebert and the Gipsy Kings. Arun characterizes the album as: “an explorative journey, doodling across genre boundaries as we know it today.” Adding to the global nature of the project it was recorded over several years from Spain to Pakistan, from the UK to Canada, India to LA and New York, and Singapore – world fusion, indeed.
It’s interesting that a world music mix like this would come from someone of Arun’s background. As a budding guitarist, his early influences were solidly in the rock genre, with groups like Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Phil Collins, Judas Priest, and even heavier sounds like the thrash metal of Sepultura. However, he is quick to point out: “I actually do listen to a lot of varied musical styles. As a musician I have always identified strongly with rock and roll, but I do tend to listen to a lot of world music (as is probably evident in Rumbadoodle) and a lot of classical music too.” He also cites the music of Enigma as an influence. For his next project he plans an Indian fusion record that dips deep into Indian classical and folk forms. Yet when asked what got him interested in music from all parts of the world, he unequivocally states that it was Yanni, and his grand Live at the Acropolis CD and concert, and subsequent Live At the Taj Mahal, and Live at the Forbidden City that stimulated his interest in world fusion music. As Arun recalls: “I remember the time when I used to listen to his music on loop and have it playing at night, while I slept, to a point where it was a part of my sub-consciousness.”
With all these eclectic elements marinating in his psyche, how did he come to focus so specifically on the south of the border sounds that shape this album? Arun explains: “I have always loved the Spanish Flamenco. I was instantly smitten with the energy and the passion it exuded. The rapid, impressive flourishes, the passionate rhythms and distinctly staccato style mesmerized me. Flamenco of course, is traditionally a rather complex art form with its various palos or musical forms and time signatures that can make it hard for casual listeners to comprehend the music. So I went with the Rumba flamenco or the gypsy rumba. I find it to be a more democratic form of flamenco, giving room for experimentation with fusion styles, like what I have attempted here.” His rock influences are evident in the solid bass and drum grooves that provide propulsion for much of the music on the album.
Opening with the title track, things get off to a lively start as a funky syncopated beat and gypsy violin create a compelling intro leading into a full band laying down a familiar rumba groove. The music is instantly engaging and draws you into its earthy and fiery Afro-Cuban ambience. There was something in the song’s rhythmic pattern and vibe that reminded me slightly of a more up-tempo version of Santana’s hit song “Smooth.” I enjoyed the change-up to the more laid back pace of the next track, entitled “My Ballad Days.” This sultry soundtrack spotlights some tasteful and elegant Spanish guitar playing, and is one of my favorite songs on the album. Rock influences begin to surface on a hot tune called “Prance,” with a progression that harkens back to Arun’s past, yet remains connected to the Latin vibe of the album. I appreciate his sense of composition and dynamics, which can build in intensity, then drop into a more chilled space without missing a beat. There is a wonderful sense of thematic evolution that runs through all of his compositions. Arun brings the rock some more on “Rock And Rigmarole, with soaring electric guitar.
On “The Violin Song,” the Latin air, tinged by slight Celtic traces makes for intriguing alchemy. Another interesting blend is “Sleepy Town,” with its Spanish, Eastern, and folk influences that highlight Arun’s unique musical diversity. “Wanderlust In Keys” is a romp over ever-evolving rhythmic terrain that features some impressive keyboard and guitar work. The ensemble playing on this song, as on the entire album, is incredibly tight and perfectly arranged. A few things that stood out to me on the bluesy “Rhythm Of The Sun” that closed the album, were soulful bass playing and the intricate percussion and castanets in the second half of the piece.
In all honesty, when I saw the other GRAMMY nominees in Arun’s category, I thought that he was up against some impossibly stiff competition. They include highly regarded veteran jazz musicians like Chris Botti, Dave Koz, and Larry Carlton. But that was before I heard Arun’s music. After giving his album a serious listening, I can honestly say that he definitely belongs in such esteemed company, and indeed, has just as good a chance to win, based on the quality of the music. I was seriously impressed with Arun’s talents as a musician, composer, arranger, and producer. The music is not only incredibly innovative and extremely well performed, but the recording and production values are first rate. I would also direct the reader to his website for a number of highly creative animated and live action music videos of songs from the album. Whether Arun Shenoy wins the GRAMMY or not, I’m sure that he is someone we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the future, and who will make quite a name for himself in the music industry. Viva!