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Global Beat Fusion: Swinging Babies and Indian Bossa

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Well over a year ago I was sent a beautiful two-disc/one-DVD package from an imaginative label based in India called Earthsync. The first release on its roster was an intercultural gaze at the musical cultures affected by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Maldives and India. Dubbed Laya Project, the 20 songs featured a broad range of native folk styles tempered in the studio, as if Alan Lomax was offered a sizable budget and eighty more years of technology. In that time this album has become a favorite of mine; all songs are richly textured and cinematically treated, mostly avoiding the dangers of the expectable (foreign vocals, big strings, boring beat). The accompanying documentary is simply stunning. The shots are exquisite, the musicians lively and passionate. Plenty of love for music and culture comes across in songs like the percussively rich "A New Day" and the gorgeous sitar-dugga play and vocals on "Hai La Sa," a fisherman's song tuned with deep bass. A track like "Tapatam" may set a dance floor or two on fire, but the real winner, both sonically and vibe-wise, is the devotional "Ya Allah," as you can hear for yourself below.

Laya Project was released this week in the States, as Earthsync inked a distribution deal with White Swan Records. Also recently out are the producers of Laya, Kartick & Gotam's debut, Business Class Refugees. Previously known as Israeli producer Patrick Sebag and sound designer Yotam Agam, the pair has created one fine introduction to their innovative sound. While some previous characters stumble onto this album's ten tracks, it's predominantly an opportunity for the global-minded duo to fuse styles, such as "Tamil Bossa," adding a bit of South Asian strings to the Brazilian rhythm. "Heer" is a slow and heady number, while "Shiva Sheva" plays off a guitar/sarangi opening into a certifiable groove record. Although the funk at the end peters out, the first eighty percent of this album will warrant many repeat plays.

While Lucy Woodward was first known for her track "Dumb Girls," her Verve Records debut, Hooked!, sounds more reminiscent of her big band reinterpretation of Bjork's "It's So Quiet" from the Ice Princess soundtrack. Imaginative and fearless, Woodward turned back to early jazz studies to reconstruct a forties-era sound in the way of "He Got Away" and the percussive dreamscape of Nina Simone with "Sans Souci." While her first single, "Slow Recovery," is certain to find its place in many an iPod, the real treat is the honestly good and tongue-in-cheek, which you can check out live from Le Poisson Rouge in New York below. By far her most inventive work to date.

Speaking of reinterpreting the forties, Paris' Caravan Palace takes Swing to a previously unforeseen landscape. The three founders originally joined together to score a silent porn feature--their self-titled debut is hot in other ways. Now a six-piece featuring clarinet, double bass, violin, guitar, and plenty of beats, the pumped up bass and percussion add a fresh dimension to a music that has moved crowds for a century. Their playing is excellent, and fortunately the production of the rhythms is equally inspired. Caravan Palace has been blowing out Parisian sound systems for nearly five years; as they enter the global stage, it will be hard to imagine anything slowing these guys (and girl) down.

Opening up for legendary Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatqé is no easy task. That assignment was handed to Lucas McFadden, who goes by the DJ name Cut Chemist. Cut, who helped found Left Coast groups Ozomatli and Jurassic Five, has always had a penchant for innovation. For this show, he brought only one turntable along with his mixer, loop pedal, and vinyl. The result is this African and Brazilian influenced rendering of classic tracks given a seriously beat heavy treatment. Two twenty-minute mixes comprise Sound of the Police, itself a head nod to Ethiopian military marches. Cut's cadence proves poignant under Peter King's "Ajo" and Mahmoun Ahmed's "Bèmen Sèbèb Letlash." His pumping of low end along with the new loops offers these classic songs the bounce of modern production--throw in a few bboy breaks for good measure. The project is a brilliant attempt of reinterpretation that the man pulls off elegantly.