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Global Beat Fusion: EthnoTechno, Gnawledge, and Pushing Air

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When I first began documenting global electronica in 2001, I'd never imagined the breadth and depth with which producers would take their craft, especially in so short a time. Since the publication of my first book in 2005, Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music -- which essentially treats the computer as the first "world folk instrument," as producers worldwide are using it to create music on -- I've continued to receive a dizzying array of amazing global electronic albums. Following are four such albums that have made their way into my collection over the past month.

Janaka Selekta has been creating an inspired blend of reggae-influenced Indian electronica for some time. I first came across him five years ago as co-founder of Dhamaal SF, a West Coast collective of musical and visual artists evolving images and sounds from their South Asian heritage. In that time I've gotten a track here, a remix there, but Pushing Air is his first full-length effort. A decent enough amount of producers have tried to work Indian instruments into their digital palate, yet Janaka works backwards, with an obvious knowledge and respect for the traditional music.

Steeped in a culture provoked by dubstep, Janaka only borrow the best of those elements, predominantly allowing the Jamaican heritage -- profound bass leading the charge -- to take over. He employs real deal classical musicians, such as Bansuri flautist Ajay Prasann, vocalists Riffat Sultana and Sukhwat Ali Khan, sarangi player Muraadi Ali Khan, bassist Dr. Das, and tabla player Salar Nadar to lay the landscape. Crucial to Indian music has always been the "colorings" which define the songs, and even though he's working inside an entirely different format, Janaka maintains the effervescence and buoyancy that defines this diverse and emotive musical system. Shards of hip-hop shine through, but the tone and mood are classically South Asian, with a solid dollop of dub, resulting in a gorgeous evolution of this longstanding tradition.

Before I started hearing about this west coast crew, I was pretty involved in the east coast scene, and one of the first players I came across was Sankar Sury, aka DimmSummer. One of the most talented web/graphic designers I've ever met, he bravely entered the world of music production about three years ago, and has recently released his first compilation, Revolution Rising: EthnoTechno Vol 1. His online radio station, EthnoTechno.com, features choice selections in songs from the topic of this column, and here he handpicks sixteen artists to include on this impressive debut, including his own remix of Bob Holroyd's "Light Water."

It is a driving album, meant much more for dance floors than Pushing Air, a thick exploration of dubstep proper, minimalism, d&b, and thriving electro. Appearing are longtime collaborators, such as exclusive tracks by Karsh Kale and Vishal Vaid, and Cheb i Sabbah, along with a solid slice of South Asian crews the planet over: Transglobal Undergound, State of Bengal, Asian Dub Foundation, Makyo, Genetic Drugs, Niraj Chang, and Rohan. Remixes abound, as well as exclusive originals, and a hard retake on Goonda's "Fearless," which features ragga vocals by MC Zulu.

Goonda's name pops up on Global Lingo, a Project Ahimsa charity album; one-half of Goonda, DK Bollygirl, mixes this seventeen-track album with DimmSummer. Ahimsa was founded eight years ago to nonviolently address hate crimes in America, mostly through artistic means. In that time, they have created 70 micro-grants of $1000-$2000 to fund culturally progressive and sustainable projects involving children. By design, they spread the word of creation, not destruction, and they have produced some great shows over the years.

This far-ranging comp includes tracks by Michael Franti (from his Sly & Robbie-produced album), a killer Cottonbelly (Sade's guitarist/musical director) remix of Miguel Migs, and two tracks by Ahimsa program director Robin Sukhadia, who goes by his pseudonym, Tablapusher, along with the expansive hip-hop producer JBoogie. Very often such "albums with a cause" fall by the wayside due to mediocre content with good intentions. On Global Lingo, both music and message are beautifully intertwined, a no-lose situation on many levels. There is the deep digital sound that's been discussed, but the acoustic songs shine without softening the luster of the others.

Speaking of music with cultural meaning, ethnomusicologist Canyon Cody was thrilled when receiving a Fulbright scholarship to explore the music of Spain in a new context. He journeyed to Granada with rapper/producer Gnotes, dubbed their project Gnawledge, built a studio atop a flamenco guitar shop, and spent a full year recording Spanish and North African musicians. The result, Granada Doaba, presents both classical songs and their supped-up electronic versions. Multicultural as this world is, surprises appear: "El Manisero de Potemkin" features former Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten drummer Richard Dudanski, now a bar owner in Granada, and Hidetomo Nambu, a Japanese flamenco guitarist.

The album is impressive, and to keep in line with his philosophy: free. You can download the project in its entirety from their website. Open sourcing is not just a gimmick to Cody, but an ongoing dialogue; the limited edition disc (sent to press) features nineteen remixes, from producers that snagged the music online. I had first come across this project two months ago, impressed with its thick musicality and beats, as well as the fact that Cody and Gnotes left some pieces untouched by drum machines. Their devotion to presenting this rich musical history in two contexts is a global philosophy in itself, and the idea of sharing such resources via grant money is a great building block for artists to lay the foundations of future records, without the incessant urge to dominate the marketplace through sales instead of downloads. Again, everyone wins in the end -- well, not that the expression of human emotions and thoughts through song ever ends...