Adham Shaikh :: Collectivity
Adham Shaikh's ability to invite a panoramic roster of artists into his tightly laced network of bass and beats has been apparent since the
dexterous Essence dropped in 2003. His understanding of trance - not the musical style, but the devotional experience - rang loudly through his commitment to a common theme with slight deviations. He could wrap berimbaus into dubby bass lines as effortlessly as layering intricate guitars into mid-tempo rhythms. Much credit is due to his incredible production ear, which matured honorably for the following year's Fusion.
To distill the name of each release down to its (as the debut implies) essence is to summate the experience of hearing a world of seamlessly
constructed sounds. Shaikh draws from both the strength of empty space learned while educating oneself with reggae and the brigade of rapid
condensation one realizes studying Middle Eastern percussion. It is impressive enough Shaikh can apply these seemingly opposed forces in one
song. The fact that he can do so at the same moment borders insanity. What it does not border - what it in fact conjures - are amazing songs. Within this rare talent is his ability to then shatter borders.
Shaikh is an architect of future possibilities. By offering a glimpse of this planet in two decades he has proven his worth as sonic intermediary. He is listening to the world as it is right now and may just not have realized, turning a mirror onto itself. On his first two albums this notion was a tease, a knowing shoulder shrug of suggestion. With Collectivity there is no doubt regarding his forward-thinking genius.
Little terrain exists that Shaikh has not canvassed. These 10 songs, ranging 6-8 minutes in length (actually shorter than previous works), emit a similar pattern. They build a basic foundation of bass and drums, most often mid-tempo with a few housier tracks, and then weave a rich carpet of instrumentation: thick, penetrating and spacious. On the opening "Bellydancer" these include a gorgeous zither section alongside winding flutes and a ska-based synthesizer; on "Peace in the Middle East," a host of Turkish percussion and a romping didgeridoo, while a tech-heavy synth follows; with "Beyond I," a dumbek and heartbreaking female vocals (along the lines of Sussan Deyheim and Azam Ali).
While these more massive tones amass the mind, it is Shaikh's employment of subtleties arousing the inner ear. Much like the Gnawa use of krakebs (metal castanets) to induce a trance-like effect, he relies on his own castanets, shakers and tambourines. The counter rhythms behind the solid drumbeat create a wavelike, nocturnal feeling embodying the listener. In African ceremonies, for one, the thunderous djembe acts as a heartbeat while the punchier congas and bongos send the spectator into rapturous fury. With the Gnawa, it is guimbre above the krakebs; India, the airy harmonium above the tablas and bhajans; in America the pentatonic scales underlying the vocalist's woeful poetry; in Jamaica, the lush herbs stimulating slackness in the bass. Every culture has dissimilar methods of producing similar effects.
What really proves Shaikh's respect for traditional models is his patient texturing of two remarkable musicians. On "Ciew Mewele" he adds a soft, but highly effective boost to "Techno," Issa Bagayogo's kora-inflected track. Bagayogo's three records (licensed to Six Degrees) are evolutionary attempts of applying digital beats to folk music, something that, in Mali, is still somewhat a rarity. Most of that land's exports rely - and rely extremely well - on the acoustic sounds of guitar and untouched percussion: Habib Koite, Salif Keita and the late Ali Farka Toure made their mark outside of Pro Tools. A little less adventurous than Bagayogo, though equally gracious in allowing remixes, is Turkish ney/zurna player Omar Faruk Tekbilek. To hear his voice and flute is enchanting. On "Ya Bouy" Shaikh utilizes rolling percussion to create a hyper situation for the zurna to float over. It does so with little effort, a natural fusion of forms.
More than any track it is "Sub Bubble" breaking unthinkable ground. It starts innocently enough before exploding into a savage collage of
synthesized-led rhythms soon undercut by a Jew's harp. By the middle this song surrenders to that unique mouth instrument. Like a mature jazz ensemble Shaikh allows entrance and exit for each participant while eventually working them into and through each other. Often what is not played, what is there and subsides, is what speaks loudest. Once the harp dissipates it lingers within the cavalcade of drums engulfing the remainder. For most of the record it is his ability to add and subtract tastefully keeping the ear piqued.
There exist two opposing tensions in this world. One keeps fear heavy in the hearts of those wary of foreign ideas, be they theologies, policies, sounds or people. It is a gripping stress we feel in our shoulders and lower backs as much as in the headlines of major media. This tension promotes pride and righteousness and rarely listens to outside influence. Yet there is another tension, which is paradoxically a sort of looseness. It has the ability to hold structures, like bridges suspended by taut ropes. Within this tremendous strength is the ability to sway, like buildings, or again like bridges. If these constructions are rigid - just as if the mind and body are stiff - they will break. What we want is to loosen and strengthen simultaneously.
Through his sonic yoga Adham Shaikh has sketched one such anatomy. The foundation is firm and has sway; therefore what he decorates it with will be cherished equally. Collectivity is a philosophy told in rhythm and melody, point and counterpoint. By inviting the world to join together he promotes the idea that those of foreign tongue and instrument can find common ground when working from a similar base. As Zakir Hussain once told me, he is not discriminated anywhere because he comes from India, or that he is Muslim in a Hindu-majority country. He is respected as a musician first and foremost. When we let our fundamentalisms go, even if just for a little while - say, the 72 minutes of this record, to start - the negative tensions start to subside. We recognize others as humans striving for similar goals, coalesced and congealed in the music they create. What fills the gaps in those spaces we leave behind is strength necessary to the health and well being of a global community.