The tradition of pilgrimage to India in the music industry, made fashionable by the Beatles, has recently attracted Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur. In the town of Jodhpur they joined the Indian ensemble, the Rajasthan Express. American filmmaker, known for such works as Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson also accompanied them. Greenwood had previously composed scores for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.
Junun is the name given to both the film that Anderson produced, as well as the record that Greenwood and Ben Tzur recorded with the Rajasthan Express. The word “junun” is Hindi for “passion,” but more commonly means “obsession” or “madness.” It is an appropriate title for a project that is both acutely chaotic and intensely focused, wildly ambitious, but profoundly relaxed. Junun captures the energy and philosophy of the Indian musicians as well as the beautiful setting.
It is a project that transcends boundaries. When Greenwood riffs on the guitar and Ben Tzur plays the flute with the variety of percussionists, vocalists, and other musicians of the Rajasthan Express, it isn’t just genres coalescing. Also blended are the musical heritages of the musicians. While Ben Tzur has been classically trained in Indian classical music, Greenwood is most familiar playing alternative, experimental rock and electronic music. When he breaks out his lap top and starts programming beeps and dings, needless to say, all the Indian musicians’ heads turn. When Anderson decided to commit the entire production to film, the project also transcended mediums, merging the auditory with the visual.
The vocals on the album is one of my favorite aspects of the project. While the majority of the lyrics are sung by Ben Tzur, he is accompanied on some songs by two elderly Indian singers—laden with stern mustaches—and two young, female singers. Each pair adds a range and depth to the tracks they perform, despite, we learn, not understanding most of the words they are singing. The songs that aren’t in Hindi or Urdu are Hebrew translations of ancient Sufi poetry. The talents of the Indian singers are best showcased on the songs, “Hu” and “Chala Vahi Des.” In my opinion, the best performances by the horns and percussion sections are “Mode” and “Julus.” Ben Tzur shines on the track, “Azov,” and Greenwood adds the patented Radiohead, “Idioteque-esque” sound to the song, “Roked.”
Twice during the filming of the project, the power went out and the band was forced to pause their recording. Anderson took advantage of the pause in music to give us a window into daily life on the streets of Jodhpur. We saw men buying clothing from a harassed-looking shopkeeper, boys riding in a taxi cab with their backpacks fastened to the back all along a very busy street. And the scene ended with one of the vocalists lighting incense and explaining the faith of the Manganiyar caste. He says that it is all-inclusive, believing in the gods of all religions and allows him the privilege and pleasure of playing music in “a temple, a mosque, in a holy tomb and a Sufi shrine.”
Perry Fein is a contributing writer and editor to Jlife magazine.