Max Clouth and Martin Standke talk about their upcoming self-titled album and how they brought on the veteran jazz and disco vocalist
Frankfurt jazz-fusion duo Ragawerk have teamed up with legendary jazz and disco singer-songwriter Asha Puthli to invoke a celestial and planetary journey on their new song “Mangal,” part of the band’s upcoming self-titled debut album (out August 26th on CD, vinyl and digitally).
“Mangal,” which is the closing track on the 10-song album, seamlessly weaves Indian and jazz melodies, plus hypnotic synth lines. Puthli, for her part, explores a Ganpati chant, talking about finding “a sign of hope” in her horoscope and seeking out the ‘Red Planet,’ Mars. Originally titled “Mangalvar” – which also refers to the calendar day Tuesday – Puthli tells Rolling Stone India that she was “perplexed” when she first received the track from Clouth. “I have not sung Indian classical music in many years, nor continued with daily riyaaz… so I opted for lyrics in English with quintessential Indian content and core,” she says.
Weaving in the importance of astrology and how rooted it remains in Indian culture, there are questions of marriage and more. “In this composition, I connected the relevance of the red bindi with Mangal, the red planet, its importance and significance in a good strong marriage. Married Hindu women wear a Mangalsutra (a necklace) signifying the meeting/bonding [mangal] of two souls. So here’s to the bonding of your ears and our music,” Puthli adds.
Best known for jazz-pop and disco albums through the Seventies and work with jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman, Puthli says she heard Ragawerk’s music online and connected with it. “It resonated with me, like I’d met a kindred soul, and therefore was delighted when Max called me for a collaboration,” she says. For Clouth, he grew up hearing Puthli’s music all his life, including German rap group Fanta 4’s 1992 song “Die Da!?!” (which samples Puthli’s song “Right Down Here”). Standke adds, “We had produced a layout for what would become ‘Mangal’ and we felt that the song needed vocals, so we contacted Asha who was really sweet and supportive. She wrote the lyrics and recorded her vocals in a studio near her home in Florida, and we had [producer-synth artist] Mahesh Raghavan add some of his GeoShred magic to it.”
The track is the only one to feature more pop-leaning vocals, whereas the rest of the album calls on vocalists such as Varijashree Venugopal (“Ab Yeh Kya?”), Shruti Ramani (“Face In The Sky”) and beatboxer-cum-konnakol artist Shivaraj Natraj (from prog-fusion act Project MishraM), plus spoken word by Koel Sen (“Theta Wave”). Ragawerk, the album, has been in the works since 2019, with an original plan to record in India. Standke adds, “Due to Covid, traveling was no longer possible, so we did the band recordings in Germany and our guest artists added their parts from their home towns.”
The visual for “Mangal” – created by Plymouth video artist Clo Sargent – is Ragawerk’s nod to everything from “Yellow Subarmine” by The Beatles to animated interludes on Monty Python. Sargent says in a statement, “I wanted to take into consideration Ragawerk’s musical aesthetic when given this project. To reflect their fusion style, I combined different animation techniques [cut out, abstract, rotoscope and frame-to-frame] to create this colorful landscape and trippy space visuals. The aim was to create a sequence that felt similar to the short, mental tangent in meditation before finding your breath. The track overall feels like a stream of consciousness and I wanted to mirror that feeling throughout the video.”
Ahead of the release of the album on August 26th, Ragawerk previously released a video for the song “I Promise.” Standke adds that next on the horizon is planning tours. “We have been planning our next India tour for quite some time, but due to the Covid situation, it is still difficult. In fact, we’re also in talks for a U.S. tour and hope to do both next year,” he says.
Watch the video for “Mangal” below