This down- to mid-tempo collection features musicians taking elements of their culture and history and making sense of them by fusing diverse instrumentation into their sonic creations. Whether it be with the skilled classical guitar work in an electronic palette; ancient tabla and Indian melodies with bass-heavy cadence; or a dubbed African landscape and indigenous Australian instruments into solid beats the old and new are beautifully indistinguishable in this unique and diverse CD where each song invokes a quiet, though inspired reflection of a hectic world trying to find a bit of peace.
With a general, but not exclusive underpinning of world music, Australian label One World Music has produced a number of successful compilations, most notably the Zen Connection Series (see previous ITM reviews here and here). The aim of this label is to release albums that combine traditional sounds with modern electronica. At the risk of accidentally insulting the label through over-simplification of their musical philosophy, the tracks which appear on the albums predominantly consist of Western synthesized musical components, often synthesized beats or pads, under Eastern or African tonalities or music. Yes, its all be done before: but then so has nearly everything that gets released. Genuine innovation, by definition, is an unusual event.
This current release was compiled and mixed (or rather, blended) by Derek Beres, a writer, review and DJ with extensive experience and knowledge of international music. The non-Western elements of the tracks he has chosen are much more pronounced here than on many of the tracks put together on the Zen Connection series. A critique that could be made of the Zen Connection series is that they are too oriented toward Western ambient styles, a trend that risks blandness. Finding a balance between homogenising different music so that they are a mere shadow of the style (think of Nora Jones and Jazz), while still being musically accessible to an audience enveloped in traditional Western tonality and form is a difficult and not uncontroversial road to walk. (A part of that controversy is embodied in this CD most of the artists are in fact from North America.) Derek Beres, with his wide-ranging knowledge of artists working with non-Western music combined with the possibilities that contemporary technology can bring to such music, has selected tracks that do not shy away from having non-Western sounds at the forefront, but are not so different so as to alienate the potential audience.
The CD opens with the Dhamaal Sound System, with a traditional Indian vocals over very contemporary, but down-tempo beats and synth pads. Immediately after placing his aims of the table, we move back toward much safer musical grounds with the lush, and ambient El Karina by Zeb, and Sharaab s Trinity. Both tracks are beautifully produced, with Western elements dominating the tracks although Zeb embeds samples from other influences and Sharaab uses interesting instrumentation to differentiate his track.
African elements, come to the fore in the two tracks, a highlight for me on this CD. The intricately percussive layers beneath the Eccodek contribution, In This Drum A Secret, blend superbly with the vocals. And the mid-tempo syncopated rhythms along with lush pads provides an arresting accompaniment to the African choral singing on my favourite track: West Nile Funk by Ex-Centric Sound System. The fun and funk is maintained through Nickodemus Patient with the World, featuring a Bansuri (bamboo) flute playing across infectious rhythms and laughter.
The Western elements come more into focus on the next few tracks, from guitar based work in Adham Shaikh s Infusion, and the very gentle hip hop of Open Thought (A Life to Love). Eastern tonalities quickly re-emerge with TJ Rehmi, combining quite distorted modern guitar sounds with Eastern modalities on Axis of Ignorance. The Eastern flavour becomes even more central with wonderful ghazal singing soaring over a broken beat in Analog Mood Swings by the well known Karsh Kale. This track is another highlight of the album.
The album then comes to a soft landing, with the final two tracks bringing more serene moods and gentler rhythms. The Samsara Sound System with the traditional Persian influenced Gatha and Bob Holroyd s Adrift in Kerala complete the world journey.
If you are looking for an introduction to the music of other cultures, but do not want to let go of the known completely, then this album is a worthy introduction. And it is time I travelled again!...