Bob Dylan, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to never have been drawn to India. There were no pilgrimages to Rishikesh, no gurus, no lost years by the Ganga and, to date, I’ve not detected any Hindustani musical influence in his music.
Dylan was far more curious and thirsty for the deep folk roots of Appalachia, Scotland, Mexico and England. Though he had an enduring and close friendship with the most “Indian” of the Beatles, George Harrison, chapatis and ragas were sadly not one of their shared interests.
And yet, though the Bobster never ventured to South Asian shores, he has no lack of fans and interpreters on – or from – the subcontinent.
Like a Rolling Stone
Susheela Raman, one of the consistently more interesting Indo-pop artists of the past decade, comes to Dylan from London via Thanjavur and Sydney. This moody, slowed-down take on one of Dylan’s iconic rock statements demonstrates both her taste and vision as a musician. And it reveals how deep are the wells of Dylan’s lyrics.
Pani par khade gazab/ tumne roti ko banto
Standing on the water/casting your bread
Who would ever have thought the opening lines of Dylan’s 1983 politico-mystical warning of false prophets Jokerman would be interpreted by a troupe of Manganiyar musicians from Rajasthan? And yet, this version which is thoroughly authentic to the sounds and instruments of the desert, rings with a similar truth and power. Recording some tunes with this group is reason enough for Dylan to consider a trip to India.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
The closest thing to India’s very own Bob Dylan, Lou Majaw, from Shillong, celebrates his hero and mentor’s janam din in style as he has every year since 1972, revving up the laidback country spiritual Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which Dylan originally recorded for the Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garret and Billy the Kid in 1971. Majaw’s photo is featured in an old article on Scroll.in
Purna Das Baul
Mr. Tambourine Man
Bengal’s king of Baul music takes on a the ultimate psychedelic anthem of Dylan’s oeuvre. With an ektara opening the proceedings, we are soon enticed by a sweet flute and some maracas and Purna Das’s soaring lyrics. It took me little effort to catch the tune when it is sung in Bengali but there is no mistaking the break…and there is no place I’m goin’ to.
Make You Feel My Love
Clearly if Dylan ever makes it to India he’ll need to start and end his tour in the eastern part of the subcontinent. Nagas, Khasis and Manipuris, not to mention Bengalis, seem to be particularly drawn to Dylan’s music. Though Imliyanger Lemtur could do with a bit of help on his stage presence, he deserves top marks for his song selection and delivery of an unexpected late period (1998) piece from Dylan’s Grammy Award-winning album, Time Out of Mind.
Nate Rabe was born and raised in India. He comments on South Asian culture and music from Kuala Lumpur. He also nurtures two blogs dedicated to music: The Harmonium Music Blog and Washerman’s Dog. This piece was originally published on May 25, 2014.
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