Cheb i Sabbah Krishna Lila Review

BBC Review

Fusion album exploring India's religious traditions. Soulful, deep and respectful.

Nick Reynolds 2002

Track two of this CD starts with a low drone and the sound of rain falling gently. A female voice says "violin solo." And then she counts it in... It might sound corny on paper, but it works. This music takes you somewhere else: to India, and the heart of its religious traditions.

"Fusion" projects where "world music" meets western ideas and technology, often fail because of a clash of musical approaches. The digital, hard edged world of machines doesn't always mesh well with organic, improvised folk styles. But this album works superbly, because of the respect paid to the source material. And on a devotional album where the focus is firmly on matters spiritual, anything less would be sacrilegious.

The album draws on two different religious traditions from India. The North(Hindustani) and the South (Carnatic), and the classical music that comes from them. It's a kind of compilation album of spiritual moods. But you don't need a great deal of knowledge to enjoy this music, you just need to be in a meditative state of mind.

DJ Cheb was born in Algeria and has been active in dance and world music for forty years. He knows what he's doing, and his approach is entirely tasteful. Shrewdly he focuses on beats -it's hard to tell what rhythms are being played by humans and which ones by machine - and drones and textures. These are used as a bed for real time playing and singing. Dubby effects add drama but he never lets the soundscapes dominate at the expense of the players. There's plenty of contrast and texture and lots of improvisation both instrumental and vocal.

And the players he has assembled here are uniformly excellent: including violinist K.Shivakumar and his niece, singer Radhika Rajiv, both showcased on "Rupa Tujhe Deva". Theres some startling vedic chanting from P.T.Vijayaraghavan (on "Raja Vedalu"), and some equally arresting zither playing by Pandit Ulhas Bapat ("Tum Bim Shyam"). Bill Laswell plays appropriately low-key bass throughout.

The results are soulful, deep and respectful.

And definitely in the presence of God.

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