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Written in fRoots issue 192, 1999


Etnisk Musikklubb EM 1 (1998)

Oriental Garden

United One 402 4569 2016 2 (1998)

Probably more than ever before, in Europe new musics are evolving within and around immigrant communities which are gaining aspects not found in their countries of origin. A prime example in Britain just now would be the music springing from Asian roots, which is at long last bursting out into the country at large, and of which one leading light is Talvin Singh, source of the not-necessarily-true-but-we-know-what-he-means quote on receiving a South Bank Show Award: “It’s like a potato!”...bemused audience silence... “In a restaurant if you eat a good potato you don’t ask where it’s from, you just enjoy it”.
      Cross-fertilisation is particularly a feature in countries with small populations, where immigrant numbers are usually too small to support and fulfil musicians in just playing the music from the old country to ex-pats, so they spill out into collaborations. This is what’s happening in the Nordic countries.

      Such musicians initially find it hard to make a niche in the music industry in their adopted home, but they are gaining increasing recognition. combiNATIONS, the first release by the label wing of a Norwegian company set up something on the lines of a book club but to sell world ethnic music recordings to its mailing-list members, features a close-edited sequence of tracks, from small labels and specially recorded, by musicians and bands with roots in Senegal (kora player Solo Cissokho), Ivory Coast, Moroccan gnawa, Tanzanian reggae, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Iran, Baluchistan, China (zheng player Zheng Hong Hong) and Algerian raï (Cheb Hocine), as well as links into techno and other traditions.
      There are three tracks featuring brilliant young tabla player Jai Shankar Sahajpal, who stunned audiences when he was part of Norway’s contribution to the 'Kaleidoscope' multicultural package tour put together by several European festivals in 1998. Here he appears solo, with his father (violinist Shri Lal Sahajpal) and famous Hardanger fiddler Knut Buen, and as part of a Persian/Baluchi/Indian trio of santoor, benju and tabla.

     In the fifties and sixties aspiring musicians in Britain and elsewhere heard American musics and said to themselves “I want to play like that”, and in so attempting created new developments, some of which fed back into the USA and spread worldwide. Nowadays some similarly questing spirits are being inspired by hearing music from other parts of the world. For Denmark’s Oriental Mood (not perhaps the most inspired of names, that), the spur is oriental music - Egyptian, Turkish, Azerbaidjani, Kurdish, leading naturally into touches of Balkan and Indian.
     There’s respect but not purism; the threads are drawn together to make new music or interpret traditional tunes, using qanun, tabla, darabukka, saz, electric guitar, clarinet, sax, bass and drums. For this album the five-piece is joined by two guest singers, previous collaborator Nazê Botan from Kurdestan and Lalita Mathur from India. The result is fresh and accomplished music; though learning the styles obviously involves some imitation, what emerges is evolution.

© 1999 Andrew Cronshaw

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