Korla Pandit

One of exotica's most exotic figures, Korla Pandit was a celebrity of sorts in the 1950s via a Southern California television show (also syndicated to other parts of the country) that featured his organ playing. Wearing a turban and never speaking, Pandit simply performed on a Hammond B-3 organ while staring into the camera, embellishing his riffs with touches of the Far East and (to a much lesser degree) Latin music. It doesn't sound very "exotic" now, but the mere presence of a man of Indian origin on the then-new medium of television was very novel in the '50s. Not that Pandit was necessarily Indian; biographical details remain mysterious, although he says he was born in New Delhi. Although he performed some original music, much of his repertoire was in fact exoticized renditions of standards. In that respect, he was very much in the heart of the exotica tradition, which did not seek to present authentic "world music" as much as it did to dress up mainstream pop with mild world music influences, so as to be palatable to the Middle American audience. Pandit recorded prolifically in his heyday (over a dozen albums for Fantasy alone), and in the late '80s and '90s made something of a comeback as his music was discovered by a younger generation. Interviewed for the Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 2 book, he has also given some live performances, and had a cameo as himself in the Ed Wood film. ~ Richie Unterberger

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