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Rays of Romance - Silver Dagger & Other Vehement Valentines**
Arup Chatterjee, Jennifer Howell, Chitravena Ravikiran, 
Amrita Banerji, & Mark A. Humphrey

Rays of Romance from 12th century India to Bo Diddley's passion
for Mona.

Also downloadable on Amazon


Mark A. Humphrey on this project... 

It has somewhere been suggested that, with the possible exception of love, water rights have historically been the greatest source of trouble to humankind. This album concerns the possible exception.

The path of love, true and otherwise, is ringed by daggers, not all forged of precious ore.

On a pleasant Spring day as April passed into May, 1997, Chitravina Ravikiran and I sat in the dining room of a mutual musician friend in Pasadena, California. We were discussing a focus for a musical project: Ravikiran liked the recordings I made with Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya (Calcutta to California, FGE 001), which took for their theme aspects of nature. What next? “Romantic tunes,” he said. 

“pertaining to romance; resembling romance; wild; fanciful; extravagant; chimerical; full of wild scenery; anti-classical.”
Nuttall’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language, Based on the Labours of the Most Eminent Lexicographers, 1929
“The word `Romantic’ was first applied to art by Friedrich von Schlegel in 1798, and later to works emphasizing the subjective, spiritual or fantastic, concerned with wild, uncultivated nature, or which seemed fundamentally modern rather than classical.”
The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Third Edition, 1993

Despite many meanings over the past 200 years, `romantic’ is a word now associated with erotic (as opposed to spiritual, fraternal, etc.) love. Songs with that theme are legion and universal. The best of them are rarely gleeful. The irony that sad love songs are inordinately beautiful has spawned entire musical genres (Portugal’s fado and Greece’s rembetika, to name two) fixated on lost or unrequited love. A morose majesty hangs over many of our best Anglo-American love songs. In choosing among them, I weighed both thematic and musical content. India’s rich tradition of ragas follows melodic structures parallel to the modes of Western music. I picked songs with modal characters familiar to both Indian and Western musicians. “Queen of Hearts,” for example, is built on the harmonic minor scale, analagous to the raga Kirvani of South India’s Carnatic tradition. Ravikiran’s Chitravina introductions to most of these songs function as the alapana `prelude’ of a raga does in Carnatic music. Once familiar with the contours of a song, he readily improvised brilliant abstractions of its musical content.

“Queen of Hearts” is the oldest of the Anglo-American tunes here: It may date from the time of Charles II. Though its pedigree is venerably English, the song sounds vaguely Russian to my ear--hence, the shameless quote from Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C# Minor” which opens our program.

“Mona” takes an optimistic approach to unrequited love. Bo Diddley wailed the definitive original for Chess records in 1957. The song is African-American, but our ending is an Indian tihai, a thrice-repeated rhythmic phrase ending on the `1’ beat, often the climactic statement of an improvisation.

“Sugar Baby” was first recorded in 1927 by Dock Boggs, one of the great `mountain bluesmen’ of Virginia. My version was inspired by that of Morgan Sexton (Shady Grove, June Appal JA0066D). 

“In the Month of January” is one of those extraordinary songs that reflects the depth, musical, emotinal, and poetic, of the best folk songs. It was collected from Mrs. Sarah Makem, Keady, County Armagh, Ireland, in 1955 by Diane Hamilton and appeared on The Lark in the Morning: Folk Songs & Dances From the Irish Countryside (Tradition TLP 1004). 

Something told me that kindred songs to “In the Month of January’ exist in Indian tradition. I played it for Amrita Banerji, who was reminded of the song she performs here, “Aj Nebo Tomar Mala.” Dr. Debashish Banerji, Amrita’s brother, offers the following observation: “This is a Bengali song composed by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) about the transformation of egoistic to spiritual love: `I will exchange my wounded pride for the glory of your love garland.’” 

“Once I Had a Sweetheart” is a simple lament plainly English at root. To me, it’s a memento of an early unrequited love: I was deeply smitten by the voice of Joan Baez, introduced to an Oklahoma household via hi-fi run by two elder siblings, collegiates as the `folk boom’ crested. Though a few years shy of puberty, I was undone by a sweet voice singing “Once I Had a Sweetheart” at the open of Joan’s 1963 Vanguard album, In Concert/Part 2.

The dagger-armed mother sleeping, surely, with one eye open, is a kind of Jungian archetype recurring in otherwise dissimilar songs. “Katy Dear” may be the most recent in our`silver dagger’ trilogy, though one can’t be sure. The Blue Sky Boys recorded it in 1938, and the Louvin Brothers’ 1956 Nashville performance appeared on their Tragic Songs of Life album, one of the last great hurrahs of tradition in the heart of commercial country music.

“O Molly Dear” was recorded for Victor by B.F. Shelton in Bristol, TN/VA on July 29, 1927 at the same legendary session that unearthed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, who went on to wax hundreds of titles between them. Shelton cut four songs that day, then returned to his barber’s chair in Corbin, Kentucky, never to be heard from again. He is a wraith on the periphery of the`mountain blues’ tradition, a presence on just two 78s, each song a morose masterpiece. Obsessive love has few truer testimonials than “O Molly Dear,” familiar to many as “East Virginia.” 

“Silver Dagger” appeared on the first Joan Baez Vanguard album in 1960. Our version is based on hers, though others collected around the time of World War I have texts closely akin to “Katy Dear” (see Folk-Songs of the South, James Harrington Cox, Dover reprint of 1924 edition, p. 348-352, “The Drowsy Sleeper” and “The Silver Dagger”). 

“`Golden’ and `silver’ were adjectives used in the Ballad world to convey magical significance...
Ballad mothers have at hand magical skills...Magic seems to be a feminine prerogative, and a mother 
who uses it is never called to account, however ruthless her actions: she has an unquestioned right to control and interfere with the love-affairs of her children.

“They [ballad-makers] felt that people`belonged’ and that what they belonged to, fate or the family, was an arbitrary power, stronger than they were.” 

Willa Muir, Living With Ballads, Oxford University Press, 1965


“Ashtapadi: Sindhubhairavi” 
Jayadeva, the creator of this song, was a 12th century poet of a great calibre. He revelled in the depiction of the romance between Krishna and Radha. He is known for his exquisite choice of elegant words. The tunes of many of his works have been changed over the years, as the originals have not survived. Ashtapadi is so called because this musical form, introduced by Jayadeva, has eight sections. (Ashta in Sanskrit means eight.) This piece is in Sanskrit.

“Madhubirate: Mishra Kapi”
A nice light piece in Bengali where the artistes have combined in a spirited manner. I have heard my father (and guru) render it beautifully and just picked the tune off him!

“Javali: Vasanta”
This composition of mine is in Adi tala, a tala (rhythmic cycle) of eight counts. Javali is a light romantic piece which is used in both music and dance performances. The Javali has two or more sections and consists of melody, rhythm and lyrics (in Telugu for this composition). The raga Vasanta is very much suited to this type of creation, as it suggests Spring.

“Javali: Kalyani”
This is a beautiful piece by one of the well-known composers of Carnatic music, Swati Tirunal (1813-47), who was not only a great Royal patron of music but also reputed to be a good musician. This Javali is in Rupaka Talam, a rhythmic formula of just three units per cycle. 

“Tillana: Kalyanavasantam”
Like Javali, Tillana is another light musical form whose theme could be romantic or sometimes devotional. It consists of three sections (sometimes in different speeds) and is used by both musicians and dancers. The distinguishing feature of Tillana from javali is that, apart from melody, rhythm and lyrics, it is sprinkled with some special rhythmic syllables (mostly meaningless by themselves) called jatis.
For my Tillana composed in the very pleasant raga of Kalyanavasantam, I have used a bright but challenging tala, Khanda Chapu, a tala of five units per cycle, played with three beats in the ratio of 2-1-2. I have endeavored to portray intricate and attractive melodic and rhythmic combinations. This piece not only revels in intricate rhythmic patterns but also in intelligent and soulful lyrics. As for its lyrics, which appear only in the third section, I have made special use of words beginning with “Va,” ensuring most of them fall on the first beat of a new cycle. This gives it a nice charm even when rendered vocally.

About the Artists

Chitravina Ravikiran was a child prodigy dubbed `the crown prince of Carnatic music.’ He was giving vocal recitals at the age of five, but since 1979 (he was then 12) has devoted himself to the Chitravina, a fretless 21-string sister instrument of the vina fretted with a slide (once bison horn, now a bar of teflon). This quintessentially Carnatic instrument was given a North Indian accent when Ravikiran’s grandfather, Gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, added the sympathetic strings rarely heard on South India’s chordophones. Ravikiran is not only the foremost exponent of this extraordinary instrument, he is composer of more than 300 works and author of the book, Appreciating Carnatic Music (Ganesh & Co., Madras, 1997).

Jennifer Howell is a self-described “near-sighted, left-handed, kickboxing singing photographer.” 

Mark A. Humphrey is, to paraphrase J.H., a near-sighted, left-handed, boxkicking singing writer.

Smt. Amrita Banerji lives in an ashrama in Los Angeles and specializes in traditional Indian spiritual chanting and singing. 

Arup Chatterjee is a disciple of his father, Pankaj Chattopadhay, and of Pt. Shankar Ghosh. An A-grade tabla player of All India Radio & Television, Arup has accompanied such masters of Hindustani music as Ajoy Chakraborty, V.G. Jog, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and Tarun Bhattacharya.

“One of the fascinating effects
that can be obtained in the Hawaiian guitar
is the frequency glide which is produced by sliding the steel
bar along the strings, thereby producing a continuous change in frequency.”
--Harry F. Olson, E.E., Ph.D., Musical Engineering, McGraw-Hill, 1952

Total Time: 62:06

Here’s What the Critics Have to Say About.... 

Rays of Romance: Silver Dagger & Other Vehement Valentines 

World Music Valentine: Here’s an intriguing alternative to the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts of chocolates and flowers. Chitravina Ravikiran, who plays a 21-string instrument related to the sitar and the vina, has released an album entitiled Silver Dagger & Other Vehement Valentines which “thematically interprets varied aspects of love, from the tragic to the joyful.” Ravikiran is accompanied by two Bengali and two American singer-musicians in a program that ranges from a 12th century Indian view of the relationship between Krishna and Radha to Bo Diddley’s passion for Mona. The music is a fascinating combination. It may not register completely well as a replacement for a golden Godiva box with a lover who’s a chocoholic, but there’s no denying the appeal of its eclectic blend of South Indian javalis and tillanas with American folk songs.
--Don Heckman, World Music, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 6, 1998
A recording this challenging yet rewarding deserves an introduction to a wide audience...It’s all about love, in this case what I once heard termed `grave love,’ tales of romance inextricably linked with tragedy. None of the characters live happily ever after; some don’t live very long at all, and it is difficult to differentiate victims from fools. Mark A. Humphrey and his eclectic ensemble populate Silver Dagger with traditional tunes of grave love...from English and Celtic roots, including their American country blues offshoots. Jennifer Howell intones the older, folkier, public domain tunes authentically, while Humphrey’s nasal drone is perfect on the country blue numbers. In addition to Humphrey’s acoustic guitar, songs are backed by an Indian group, tabla, tamboura, and the heavenly Chitravina, a sort of 21-string slide guitar with sympathetic drone strings...Ravikiran’s instrumentals are interspersed with the well-chosen vocal tracks...And for a dose of pure Indian magic, listen to “Aj Nebo Tomar Mala,” a hypnotic waltz driven by tabla and harmonium, Amrita Banerji’s vocal weaving long, sinuous melodic figures...While the combination of traditional [Anglo-American] ballads and Indian instrumentation may at first seem strange and surprising, this marriage, at least, is a happy one.
--Jim Foley, Crossroads, July/August 1998 
Brainchild of producer and guitarist Mark A. Humphrey, this follows in the footsteps of his earlier East-West showdown hoedown, Calcutta to California, with similar giddy-gratifying results....Western hemisphere torch songs and laments benefit from arrangements that fold in the Chitravina along with tabla, tamboura, harmonium, guitar, vocal and dulcimer which together achieve an unexpected yet miraculously cohesive whole. 
--Bob Tarte, `Technobeat’ columnist, The Beat, vol. 17, no. 2, 1998
Great Yanko/Indian cross-cultural delights from slideists Mark A. Humphrey, Chitravina Ravikiran and pals.
--Folk Roots, April 1998
Shows marvelous creativity and great musicianship in combining Indian instruments and arrangements into blues, folk and other Americana.
--Roy Planalp, World Music Director, WUNH-FM
Silver Dagger was # 1 on WUNH’s `world music’ chart during the week of Valentine’s Day, 1998

1. Queen of Hearts 3:47 
2. Ashtapadi: Sindhubhairavi 4:16 
3. Mona 3:34 
4. Madhubirate: Mishra Kapi 3:18 
5. Sugar Baby 6:05 
6. Javali: Vasanta 4:03 
7. In the Month of January 6:50 
8. Aj Nebo Tomar Mala 3:08 
9. Once I Had a Sweetheart 4:25 
10. Javali: Kalyani 3:26 
11. Katy Dear 4:33 
12. O Molly Dear 4:56 
13. Silver Dagger 3:26 
14. Tillana:Kalyanavasantam

** From Frequency Glide Productions (email Frequency Glide at

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