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5 Sep 2016

Okko Bekker “Sitar & Electronics” 1971 Germany Sitar Moog Psych Kraut








Okko Bekker  “Sitar & Electronics” 1971 Germany Sitar Moog Psych Kraut
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I honestly didn’t have high hopes for this album, considering that I’ve never been a fan of Indian music or psychedelic music. However, I am a fan of sitars by themselves and electronics. So this turned out to actually be a fantastic listening experience! 

I get a strong “lounge music” vibe from this album, but it seems like background music that forces itself into the forefront by being interesting and fun. “East Indian Traffic” features a strong ‘70s rock riff throughout that adds incredible energy to this album, which I expected to be fairly laid back and boring. Okko plays some fantastic improvisations on the sitar that truly stand out, and the other players on this album play just as well. “If I Needed Someone” is an exceptionally trippy track featuring some very prominent moog phrases. 

I wouldn’t exactly call this music progressive, but it is definitely interesting and a fun listen. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting and rockier take on the sounds of Indian music. I’m not a fan of Indian music, and if I can enjoy this music as much as I did, I’m sure others definitely will as well….by progarchives……… 

A little while back I saw a couple of reviews for this album, and I immediately knew I had seen it before somewhere. The day after I started looking through my old moving box of psychedelic music from the 60s, and what do you know: right beneath my Love Forever Changes record - hidden away for more than 10 years I suspect, was Okko Bekker in his freaky fro with bright purple colors permeating everything. Back when I bought this I practically jumped at anything showcasing some kind of psychedelic tendencies, and some of these albums were unfortunately quickly overlooked for the instant enjoyable, and to be perfectly frank with you: I didn´t have any kind of patience for music back then. It was either great or crap - pure and simple… 

Well, I´ve grown older and slightly more mad, and what was once black is now white - and everything is everything. This album certainly floats my boat, and to think that I´ve had this lying in my collection, unheard, for such a long time is almost unbearable - and somehow very cruel to the music. It only lives when we play it right? 

Sitar and Electronics is featured here at PA under what might be our most obscure and unvisited genre: Indo-Prog/Raga Rock. It´s a real shame, because what that really means, is just that somewhere within the album, there might lurk a sitar, flute or some tablas. What you get here is more like psychedelic Krautrock n´ Roll which just so happens to feature sitar, flute and tablas… 

The Krautrock feel is there, much credited to A. R. & Machines (without the A. R. mind you…), but rather than improvising and jamming like many German acts of the time, - the music here seems more controlled and orchestrated, apart from the small Indian breaks that are sprinkled throughout the album. Funny thing is that the only weak moments there are on this album, is when the music almost entirely is focused on Indian music. Case in point, second track Himalaya Highway, which sounds so confused and meandering, that you begin to question the whole idea of this album. East meets west. 

I think it´s down to the way Okko Bekker plays the sitar. Now I´ve grown up listening to a lot of Ravi Shankar during my early teen years, and without knowing too much about traditional Indian music, I´ll stake my former salamander Botox, that his playing is colored by his heritage. He plays like he´s received training from the insides of his mom´s belly by Indian gurus and frantic snakecharmers. Okko Bekker on the other hand plays like a guy who´s been playing an acoustic country western guitar for years trying to emulate Eastern phrasings and such. Suddenly he starts playing the real deal, and there you go. He starts playing western like rock n´ roll guitar licks on the sitar - and thereby creating his own sound. You could actually state, that Okko Bekker plays lead guitar on this record, it´s just not a guitar… 

The surroundings here are wonderfully muddy drums, -and not like: I can´t hear the bloody things, but more like that wobbly, warm and slightly messy style you´d find towards the end of the 60s. Yeah wonderful mud, that´s the stuff. You´ll also pick up a modest and at times bluesy guitar that sticks its head out of the bushes once in a while, but every time it does so it sounds so brilliantly. -Mostly functioning like a continuation of the melody laid down by the sitar, but when the sitar runs out of grunt - in need of more lingering and persuasive notes - that´s when the guitar shows itself like a gentle blues wail from the shadows. 

In the shadows lies another thing, that like the guitar, also works very sparsely, and that´s the moog. That thing clings on to the sitar playing here like a magnet to a fridge. You ´ll first hear the simple and plucking melody of the sitar, and then like a magical echo, the moog gently reverberates and mimics the notes - like an a capella group without the voices - doing a doo wop. 

This record is first and foremost a charming bugger! It´s not the most groundbreaking album, I mean both The Beatles and The Stones were doing stuff with Indian instrumentation way before this came out, and bands like Quintessence had also been around since 69, - BUT like I said, there is a certain charm to Okko Bekker and his bandits as well. One which supersedes that of any of the formerly mentioned. Reminds me of a little girl with ponytails . Take the cover version of A Day in the Life fx. What some might believe is utterly blasphemic and barf inducing, is actually a fantastic and vibrant rendition - with the sitar and moog alternately taking turns to “sing” the actual lyrics. So “ Woke up. Fell out of bed - dragged a comb across my head - suddenly becomes: BIDIUW BIDIUDIW - BIBIDIUOIBIDIIOUW BIDOUW. I love it - the same way I love chili in nougat icecream. It works for unknown reasons… Along with Shivas Lullaby these two are my favorites off the album. The lullaby being a beautiful tranquil track - sounding like a children´s music box with yearning soulful voices, softly opening up as tulips in spring. 

If you dig psychedelic music, or if you´re interested in Indian instruments used in a non traditional way - then this obscure gem just might be your next best friend. For some reason, I keep picturing this record as the soundtrack of an Eastern version of Jack Kerouac´s On the Road. Sailing down the mighty Ganges exploring this beautiful country in all of its yellow nuances…. by progarchives…….. 

I’ll admit that I have no clue who Okko Bekker is beyond the sounds on this album. It’s basically one of those lounge-exploitation affairs where the producers use some unconventional instrumentation to hide the fact that the basic charts provide for music that would be perfect at a 1957 corporate martini party. Mr. Bekker chose to use sitar, and electronics (duh), and tabla, and fuzzed-out guitars (ooh!). All of these things hit my soft spot, so I’m pretty entertained by this album. 

Most of the tracks are funky, Bollywood-ready instrumentals that portend to create some kind of Indian imagery. I don’t know; I doubt the "Ganges Delta” comes across nearly as 'groovy-like’ as it does here, but between the sitar and freaky synth lead, I don’t care. There’s a psychedelic lounge cover of the Beatles “If I Needed Someone,” which is pretty fun, and a barely recognizable rendition of “A Day in the Life.” “Himalaya Highway” sounds ready for play in your more confused local Indian restaurant, and “Shiva’s Lullabye” is a far finer way to make a chill lounge track than by using 101 strings. “Painted Sails on Ganges” actually manages to be an extended track in a genre where songs tend to stay short, and it’s a perfect track for the low-rent, basement psychedelic shack. “Santana” doesn’t really sound like that band apart from some percussive similarities, but it does mix sitar and synth on the melody line in a truly odd way. 

I can’t say that this is any sort of classic, although it’s definitely a few cuts above the typical psychedelic exploitation. I can say that it’s wildly entertaining for myself, and you may find yourself a fan of its grooviness too. Let me say it one more time: groovy. ….by … Dr. Schluss’ Garage Of Psychedelic Obscurities …. 

Line-up / Musicians 

- Simon Alcott / moog synthesizer 
- Okko Bekker / sitar, tabla, moog synthesizer 
- Herb Geller / flute 
- Peter Hesslein / guitar 

Songs / Tracks Listing 

1. A day in the life (4:44) 
2. Ganges Delta (3:15) 
3. Himalaya highway (4:28) 
4. East Indian traffic (4:10) 
5. If I needed someone (3:07) 
6. Shivas lullaby (3:28) 
7. Pointed sails on Ganges (6:30) 
8. Santana (4:02)

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..

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