Global Beat Fusion: Bjork's Syrian Revolution and Yoga's Electronic Evolution

09/06/2011 03:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2011

Magic happens on the dance floor. That's why I began dancing, why I began DJing, why I fell in love with electronic and tribal music the world over. Unsuspecting moments of active surrender that annihilate tremors of anxiety, depression or fear occur there -- dance floor as therapeutic tool and ritual. The art of discovery, hearing a song for the first time and knowing you've just had an experience that you're never going to forget. Dance floor as trusted friend and co-conspirator.

Turntables on the Hudson has produced several such moments, even if the last one took place on Martha's Vineyard and not the Hudson River. Nickodemus grabbed the microphone and shouted something illegible while hand-claps emanated from the speakers. An Arabic rhythm boomed, familiar layers of guitar forming a melody. The beat, the bass, the... Bjork. I jumped on stage, asked Nicko what madness was happening. He responded with three words: Omar Souleyman. Bjork.

With his trademark turban and dark sunglasses, Syrian guitarist/vocalist Omar Souleyman has been releasing absurdly fast dance tunes with shredding six-strings for years. His made-for-the-West Jazera Nights is a dizzying display of over caffeinated folk rhythms. Where one song sounds like it was produced on an Atari in an underground bunker, another feels like it was mastered with a blender. It's fantastic. It's charming, despite technical blunders. For his three-track EP of Bjork remixes, The Crystalline Series (Nonesuch), Souleyman and crew created some of the most unique and unimaginable dance music on the planet. None of the insanity and all the groove. Sheer and total spark of brilliance.

Of the many places that the widely circumspect genre of music created for yoga finds ears, Globesonic founder and DJ Fabian Alsultany caresses the cochlea with his first asana-themed compilation, Yoga Lounge (Black Swan). Pulling a dozen tracks from his extensive list of international music contacts, Karsh Kale offers an original, "Shedding Skin," elegantly exhibiting the tabla player/producer's more introspect side. Longtime Kale collaborator and vocalist Vishal Vaid contributes another new song, "Mehsoos (Feel)," skillfully pacing a perfectly aligned flow. A classic of this circuit, Adham Shaikh's dark Gayatri Mantra, remains one of the best electro-kirtana tracks around, while Zeb's pulsing "Bauls of New York" could elicit the ecstasy of entasy. More usual yoga suspects like Deva Premal and Jai Uttal are remixed, furthering the electronic evolution of yoga-themed tunes, while gorgeous offerings by Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu and a hypnotic closing cut by MJ Greenmountain and Yossi Fine round out this debut collection certain to stimulate your appetite for flow.

Shedding a record label and the beats that underscored her Uzbek folk songs on her first two internationally released albums, Yol Bolsin and Sen, Sevara Nazarkhan's third effort, Tortadur (sevaramusic) is truly charming. Unlike Uzbek star Yulduz Usmanova, who transforms her culture's music into sugary and syrupy pop songs, Sevara travels back to 15th century maqams. This means singing through tea saucers, an old Uzbek tradition that does nothing to remove the luster of her beautiful vocals on "Yovvoi Tanovar." The entire album is an all-star affair of cultural counterparts, featuring astounding performances by sonic geniuses on the frame drum, doira, the traditional nai flute and one of the most beautiful stringed instruments in existence, the doutar. Sevara exhibits such ease when surrounded by the simplest of soundscapes; her vocals grace the sheen of a simple rhythm and dancingly plucked melodies -- the qonun player, Abdurakhmon Holtojiev, is brilliant throughout. Sevara's is a voice and music that elicits the response "Who is this?" from many unsuspecting friends. As she matures musically, many will know the answer.

For his third recording, Miami-born Cubanite José Cónde removed his band, Ola Fresca, from the equation to explore the totality of his sound with his own hands. He had help on his self-titled 'debut' -- renowned sessions players from around his current Brooklyn base lent many hands to this fine album. In attempting to escape the trappings of being in a "Latin" band, Cónde tapped into a vibrant scene of funk-inspired Latino musicians, a la Ocote Soul Sounds and Navagente. Ola Fresca always had swing, that crucial requirement of a proper Latin performance. Cónde conjures plenty on his own, setting the rolling bass lines of "Amor y Felicidad" and "Matapalo Matamusa" nicely against a reliable kick and punchy handclaps. Cónde meanders far on these 15 tracks, with a splash of reggae on "El Vestido" while cross-pollinating Calexico with Manu Chao on "El Avion," making this more of a collection of singles rather than a full album. You won't find much of an issue here; you'll be too busy enjoying the singles to notice.

Nostalgia is nice, but if your objective is to spread indie music to fresh ears, releasing vinyl-only singles isn't the brightest option. Fortunately Electric Cowbell founders reworked this tinge of hubris for the digital world. On 101 Things To Do In Bongolia (Electric Cowbell) discerning ears can easily listen to excellent contributions by Superhuman Happiness, one of the many aliases of Antibalas/TV on the Radio/the Sway Machinery hornman Stuart Bogie. This particular project features Sahr Ngaujah -- you'll nod when realizing him as the man who nailed it playing Fela Kuti in 'Fela!' Also featured is Bio Ritmo, one of the hardest working and most danceable salsa projects in America,. Boston-based Debo Band has caught fire of late with one of the finest post-Ethiopiques presentations of modern Ethiopian jazz; here they do it twice, first with "Adderech Arada," followed by a spacious, deep remix by Kidid. With 17 tracks to explore, it would have been a crime to release these singles only on vinyl. As much as I love throwbacks, the future of music lives in a cloud. This collection flies you there first-class.

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