Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
February 2015 - By Laurence Mitchell

In this issue: Contemplative Sikh music, Cuba meets Jamaica, and dub from Down Under.





I Bow To You Waheguru
Manika Kaur

We say: (Very) relaxing Sikh devotional music in a modern setting.

Take a Sikh singer based in Dubai, add sarod, synths, Indian strings and, on one track, renowned world music tabla-thumper Talvin Singh and what do you get? Well, the answer is not quite what you might think. Despite the Indian orientation, Sikh spirituality, and the guru dedication, this a dreamy exotic mix of influences that isn't easy to pigeonhole. With long drawn-out melodies and sympathetic instrumentation, it is certainly relaxing. The words for all of the songs are drawn from the Sikh Holy Scriptures but this is purely academic for most listeners.

Kaur's voice is pure and gentle, and generally avoids those super-high dog-whistle frequencies beloved of many Bollywood playback singers. Vocals aside, the instrumentation is appealing: rich cello on "Waheguru (The Journey)," a fine semi-tonal violin on the first track "Aukhee Gharhee," and rippling tabla and a lovely swarmandal (Indian zither) on the Talvin Singh-produced title track "I Bow to You Waheru."

The songs themselves are contemplative, slow paced, and slow to develop. With repeated keyboard figures framing a dreamy soundscape this is at times reminiscent of what Sigur Rós might sound like if they were Punjabi women rather than Icelandic men, although it also occasionally sails close to what might best be described as New Age.

A final point: it is worth bearing in mind that all proceeds from this album will go to support the Sikh charity S.O.S., which supports the education of underprivileged children in Punjab.






Rebel Tumbao
Rebel Tumbao

We say: Roots reggae with a Cuban accent.

There are not that many Afro-Latin-roots reggae bands out there so Rebel Tumbao is pretty much in a genre of its own making. Geographically speaking, Jamaica and Cuba lie very close indeed but musically there has always been a quite a distance between them because the former island was colonized by the British and the latter by the Spanish. What Rebel Tumbao attempts to do—successfully for the most part— is to draw the two island nations' musical traditions closer together by putting the son clave into roots reggae.

The band, co-led by José Claussell, former timbalero for Eddie Palmieri, and keyboardist Matt Jensen, who teaches at Boston's Berklee College of Music, has been around as a live act for some years now but this is their first album release. Rebel Tumbao includes several original compositions by Jensen alongside a handful of Bob Marley tunes and even a take on Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," which involves a neat segue into Marley's "Exodus." Another Marley tune, "Them Belly Full," forms the first part of a son/roots trilogy that includes two Rebel Tumbao originals: "El Refugio" and "La Protesta." The final track, "Sun is Shining," another Marley cover, also manages to fuse the two traditions fairly seamlessly.

Whether or not Rebel Tumbao represents true fusion rather than just reggae songs being given a son treatment is open to debate but on the whole the combination works well enough. For good measure, there's also an overtly political element throughout that is similar in style to that forged by the late Gil Scott Heron. Despite being musically tight, the ten-piece band has a lightness of touch, and vocalist Toussaint Yeshua's soulful voice seems well suited to the Marley material without ever sounding like he is trying too hard.






Born A King: The Riddims & Instrumentals
Mista Savona

We say: A tasty selection box of dub instrumentals from Down Under.

Last year Jamaican singer Sizzla joined forces with Australian producer Mista Savona to collaborate on the highly regarded Born A King. Subsequent requests by DJs for dub versions of the songs on that album have resulted in this instrumental version of the same. This companion album features Jamaican riddims in their various guises, and includes reggae, dub, and dancehall styles, and even hip-hop and Nyabinghi.

Naturally this is stripped down and minimalist in places but that is precisely what DJs want and, unlike a lot of what passes for dub, this is nicely varied in style and texture. "Kalonji Riddim," with its cascading strings and hardcore Bhangra rhythms, has an oriental Bollwood feel (appropriately perhaps: to my knowledge kalonji are those tiny onion-tasting seeds that you get on the naan bread with your curry). "Formula Riddim" is in much the same vein, while "A Living Riddim" is more traditional dub—fractured bass riff, crashing snare, skanking guitar and melodica à la Augustus Pablo. In contrast, "Set It Off Riddim" has a hip-hop vibe and un-dub-like urgency about it that you could imagine working as incidental music in a dark urban movie. "We Got What It Takes," with its chilled jazz guitars and cool organ couldn't be more different, but is equally good. There's an acoustic version of this track too for good measure, as well as an unplugged take on "A Living Riddim" to conclude.

With most dub you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it but this album has so much variety that it could serve for a broad range of occasions. Dub from Down Under—who'd have thunk it?






Laurence Mitchell is a British travel writer and photographer with a special interest in transition zones, cultural frontiers and forgotten places that are firmly off the beaten track. He is author of the Bradt Travel Guides to Serbia, Belgrade and Kyrgyzstan, Slow Norfolk & Suffolk and a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine. His website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com and his blog at eastofelveden.wordpress.com.

See the last round of music reviews from Laurence Mitchell.

Also in this issue:


I Bow To You Waheguru

Buy I Bow To You Waheguru online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Rebel Tumbao

Buy Rebel Tumbao online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





Born A King

Buy Born A King online here:
Amazon US
Amazon UK



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