Listen to this song by Canadian blues-roots-world music purveyor Harry Manx. It’s his arrangement of B.B King’s “The Thrill is Gone” fused with his own Indian folk style raga “The Gist of Madhuvanti”. The piece is taken from Manx’s 2005 album Road Ragas Live.
How do you get from traditional Indian raga music to early 70s electrified blues in one move? This song of course was a major hit for B.B King, full of biting Gibson electric guitar, thanks to B.B’s Lucille. And Manx takes the lush minor chords and attaches seamlessly to a raga. Manx is an adept guitarist, and 5-string banjo player. And Manx plays an instrument on this which you may not have heard of, too.
Manx has a few tricks up his sleeve that makes the transition from Indian music to blues seem easy. Part of it is his interest, and his background in playing the blues in its purer form. Another is his extensive five year training in India, and the study of an instrument he discovered there – the mohan veena, which is a cross between a six string guitar and a sitar. It is a twenty-stringed instrument, with some of the strings not being played so much as accompanying the player by droning when other strings are played.
One of the great things about the blues is that it can often fool you into thinking that it’s pretty one dimensional. But, what the blues does best, aside from evoking some pretty primal musical impulses in audiences and players, is to create a framework for other stylistic possibilities too. After all, that how R&B developed, and in turn how rock ‘n’ roll was born too. Manx extends this potential here, not only by taking it to another style, but also to other musical notation systems.
Manx isn’t the first artist to explore this mostly uncharted sonic region. Legendary British guitarist Davy Graham commonly turned to Indian music, and music from many other parts of the world and fused it with Western folk music, most notably in his “Blue Raga”, which marries Big Bill Broonzy with Indian classical music. Yet, Manx brings his own personality to this, a certain warmth and affection for two traditions, and to music itself. This is what shines through, and makes this music more than just an academic exercise or a simple novelty.
For more about Harry Manx, check out harrymanx.com.