Korla Pandit
Music Of The Exotic East






Exotica music has a long and vivid tradition of being deliberately fake. Faux-bands like the Markko Polo Adventurers or fake institutions like the Society For The Emancipation Of Sampling create music about imaginary locations or clichéd stereotypes. Korla Pandit (1921–1998), however, takes the cake of all these people who were at one point connected to the genre, for his real name was in fact John Roland Redd.


Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he first insisted on being called Juan Rolando on stage. Under this moniker he played the organ at various supper clubs that became popular from the 40's onwards. In the mid-40's, however, he started using his new gimmicky name Korla Pandit. In order to add further ornaments to his person, he came up with the back story of being born in India. A child to a priest and a French opera singer, he traveled around the globe until he arrived in the glitzy United States. Pandit did his whole gimmick in the pre-WWE wrestling days and was able to successfully maintain the aura of oriental mystique for decades. Consequently, the music needed to blend the Orient with already known Jazz or Opera classics in order to capture people's imagination and money. However, the focus of Music Of The Exotic East relies more on unique pieces than on the rendition of classics; three of the latter are grouped together on side B, while the remaining tracks remain either unique or bizarrely ephemeral.


When the Exotica genre rose in 1958, Pandit was already working in the business for over a decade and took the opportunity to release a few LP's that catered to the exotic craving of a growing audience. This rather short – even by Exotica standards – nine-track LP, released in 1958, is a glaring gem for organ and electric piano lovers, but an overly alienating and dated listening experience for most listeners. However, there are very strong and dark (!) tracks on this release, so go on reading if you are the least bit interested in Hammond organs and their brethren.

Kartikeya is a composition of Pandit that was already written in 1948. The '58 version starts with an Oriental string-xylophone couple whose monotonous bursts are further enhanced by dark organ backings. The melody becomes much more vivid after a short time, keeping its Middle Eastern motif omnipresent. Pandit's warmly pulsating organ doesn't add a Western element rather than an oxymoronic aura of vivid mystique. Since the melody is jumpy and features many clichéd Oriental keys, it isn't too catchy; piano backings are also missing. What works tremendously well, to my mind at least, is the dark one-note bass violin string. It's really this gloomy and danger-evoking. It adds deepness and depth to an otherwise brightly-lit setting.


A more romantic and definitely mellower motif is presented with Love Song Of The Nile by Adrian Schubert that starts with the steamy sound of Oriental gongs, a shawm-like organ preset, warm backings of the same instrument and a rather orchestral feel that is mimicked by – you've guessed it – various other organ layers. Pandit even manages to manipulate these instruments in a way that they sound like flutes at times. The mellifluous washes make for a saccharine track, and the rhythmical-rustic percussion fits perfectly. The song is too sweet for my taste, but I acknowledge the various textures of the organs – it's 1958, mind you, but the spiraling micropatterns of each tone are sophisticated!


Harem Bells harks back to a bold Oriental flavor with dark staccato violin strings, clinging tambourins and a mixture of shawms, clarinets and glockenspiels. As it is usual with Pandit's material, it is not always clear whether a certain sound was created with the help of a Hammond organ or whether it derives from a real instrument. Pandit isn't called one of the kings of the organ just for fun, he really knows how to mimic and mock instruments with his organs in the pre-MIDI age. A very strong tune; this is no wishy-washy Middle Eastern track, but a flawless presentation of a supposedly unique setting. No wonder Pandit was able to sell his music to people.

Procession Of The Grand Mogul is one of the few songs that merges the West in the form of hockey game-like organ quirkiness with the East when three organ layers with a strong Oriental flavor are swirling through the air waves. This is without a doubt an organ-only track that inherits Space Age warps as well as oscillated melodies. While Kumar harks back to the feeling of Harem Bells but turns things up a notch with a quicker rhythm, a whirring piano melody and a darker organ foil, the six-minute long centerpiece Tale Of The Underwater Worshippers launches with cacophonous organs, eerie backing pads akin to the then unwritten theme of Jaws and dusky main melodies which are so pernicious and mean that the exuberant feeling of Exotica is miles away. This is a killer track that sounds surprisingly vibrant and complete. Its long runtime is another bonus, for this baneful mood needs to be digested during a longer period. Definitely the best song of the album.


Even the unsuspectedly majestic version of the Greek classic Misirlou with its clinging tambourins and the Gothic organ can only reach a close second place. It's one version that stands out of the mass of renditions, though, due to the short middle section with pompously erupting organs. The two remaining renditions are unfortunately duds. Kashmiri Love Song by Amy Woodforde-Finden delivers coziness and solemnity to this beatless performance that relies completely on the rather thinly sustained organs. Pandit's version hasn't aged too well. Even if the melody remains a classic, it doesn't work in the given organ-laden context. The final Song Of India off Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Sadko has the same problem, probably due to its fame. I know this piece by heart, and the various orchestral interpretations by other Exotica-related artists are way better. A melodramatic take is a must, I believe, but the faux-Indian’s try is too bland.

Pandit's albums work best when he presents unique material or curious choices. Once a world-famous melody is played in this organ-heavy setup, one notices the thinness and age of the record. The age, however, is perfectly veiled behind the bold Oriental setting which distracts the listener from these weak points. On the plus side, however, are two peculiarities: the aforementioned, tremendously strong – at times even outright eerie – Oriental feeling on the one hand and the skillful imitation of real instruments via organs whose capacities and effects were rustic and ridiculously limited in comparison to modern standards on the other hand.


It's a dilemma how to treat Music Of The Exotic East correctly. For one, its massive use of organs coupled with a very strong flavor of the Middle East is a unique selling point no one has done before or after Pandit in a similarly deep way. But alas, the lightness and exhilarative joy is missing from this album. Not every Exotica album has to be about happiness and care-free conviviality, but the darkness is often times a bit too much. As usual, this very darkness could be exactly the thing that puts this album on top of the competition, so if this is your opinion, I won't make any objections and can fully understand the palatability of this release. I come back quite often to the signature tune Tale Of The Underwater Worshippers myself. Music Of The Exotic East is, at the end of the day, way more Oriental than Ron Goodwin's Music For An Arabian Night or the occasional Arabian skits that are scattered on many travelog albums. Recommended for lovers of the Dark Exotica niche.


Exotica Review 081: Korla Pandit – Music Of The Exotic East (1958). Originally published on Jun. 16, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.