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Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale :: Breathing Under Water
[manhattan/emi]   review from derek  


Since Freud was first turned onto Oedipus by Sophocles in the late 19th century, the human understanding of evolution has, in many ways, backslided. Not that Freud was, in any way, the first to realize that we continuously blame our parents for our own condition. This state of mind can be a blessing or curse, a heaven and/or hell, depending on our personal psychology. The basic idea remains: children are the physical, DNA-injected evolution of their parents, which carries tendencies toward emotions, thought patterns, physical ailments and strengths, and in the case of Anoushka Shankar, a reservoir of creativity and passion for music.

We can blame, or we can evolve. Anoushka's sitar maestro father, Ravi, brought the Hindustani classical tradition of northern India to global audiences in many inventive ways. His allowance of tabla players to be soloists, and not just accompaniments - and, much later, to add two tabla players in one performance-redefined the way that the style was presented, and experienced. His ambassadorial role continues to this day, where he performs annually at American venues like Carnagie Hall, a trend that started with shows like the Monterey International Pop Festival. He remains one of the most venerated artists in the world.

Anoushka's first three albums (Anoushka, Anourag, Live at Carnagie Hall) retained the feeling and levity of this precise classical tradition. On Rise, recorded during her "year-long break" from music, she took her first brave steps into new territory, with light flourishes of electronica and flamenco piano and digeridoo, recalling her father's groundbreaking work with violin great Yehudi Menuhin. She never strayed from the roots of the raga, however, a practice she retains to this day. She did allow remixers like Thievery Corporation and Karsh Kale-the other half of what we're building towards-to chop and edit her songs, adding dance floor status to their already commendable nature.

Kale too was reared on the raga, and performs in the classical mode brilliantly. But just as he was learning the ten-finger drum, he was on a full drum kit, learning as much from Radiohead as Alla Rakha, picking up acoustic guitars and keyboards and ProTools along the path. All of these elements fuel this sonic meeting ground: a forward-thinking traditionalist exploring and inventing, and a diverse producer and performer rerooting himself. With such an introduction, one can only imagine what kind of juggernaut of an album Breathing Under Water promises to be - and fully accomplishes.

We evolve individually, and ancestrally, yet we also evolve collectively. Today that collective unconscious stretches to the furthest extant of this planet, and beyond as science sends space signals from satellites about the possibilities of solar systems. The most important potentiality, though, remains in our ability to remix and redefine what being a global citizen is right now. Breathing Under Water - a practice all humans engaged in millions of years before becoming humans - is a passport to a dizzying landscape of styles, forms and voices. It is Anoushka and Karsh's album, certainly, but there are so many incredible people involved that each song segues into the next with a delicate and bold thread.

While the back cover only lists three contributors - Sting, Norah Jones and Ravi Shankar - every song includes an orchestra of collaborators. Let us start with those three. Sting's vocal contribution to the Kale-penned "Sea Dreamer" is one heartfelt ballad, reminiscent of the man's Fields of Gold post-Police singer/songwriter phase, with the addition of Shankar's well-placed sitar. Similarly, Jones lends her voice to the even more heart-wrenching, slower "Easy," while the elder Shankar performs on the two traditional takes, "Oceanic," parts one and two. Both Sting's and Jones' songs bridge cultures through pop music: well-written, radio-accessible, with touches of America and India. They are the songs that will, if they are spread as broadly as they deserve, make Shankar and Kale household names.

The heart of this album lies in songs like "Ghost Story," heavy on the percussion and featuring the chilling vocals of Sunidhi Chauhan, and the guitar- and sarangi-led "A Perfect Rain," with the voice of Shankar Mahadevan. Kale sings on the santoor-fueled "Abyss," featuring longtime collaborator, ghazal/qawwali vocalist Vishal Vaid. The two complement each other brilliantly, a habit that's been occurring for years in Kale's Realize Live band. Noah Lembersky's contribution to the opening "Burn," sung in English and featuring a beautifully produced sarangi and the reliable strings of composer Salim Merchant, is another constant repeat on iPod.

Equal credit to co-producer and composer Gaurav Raina, one-half of the MIDIval PunditZ. His work on tracks like "Slither," with the sitar chopped and delayed, making it the closest to dance floor capabilities, and the Indo-Chinese orchestral song "Little Glass Folk," merit special notice. Just as on Rise, his ability to tread that water between classical - already noticed on albums like Cheb i Sabbah's Krishna Lila - and the more youthful, digitally enhanced generation, is commendable, and rare.

In my first book, Global Beat Fusion, Kale talked about his childhood experiences with the stories and mythologies told to our generation, one for him that extended to the Hindu Diaspora. He talked about how these tales ended up informing his music in later years: "I would get so deep into the stories that one time there was a scene at the end of the film where they all burn. So I took all my action figures into the backyard and put them in a pile and there was the whole big scene, and I brought the boom box out and lit them all on fire. They all burned into this one big plastic mess and I just ruined all of my toys. That was how much I used to get into these stories and tried to reinterpret them in my own way."

This is what we all do, in one way or another: reinterpret ourselves, our situation and surroundings, from what we've learned in the teachings and experiences of those prior. If we refuse to evolve our persons, and our arts, then we are merely repeating the experiences of others. Such a path can never lead to self-realization, or to collective understanding, for the truth of creativity lies in our ability to experience it for ourselves. Breathing Under Water is a fully realized album that will serve as a marker in the future of music for some time to come, when we drag these dusty mp3s from our basement hard drive to show our kids, "See, now, this is where it all changed..."



ethnotechno rating: 5 out of 5
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  1. Burn
  2. Slither (pick)
  3. Breathing under Water
  4. Sea Dreamer (feat. Sting) (pick)
  5. Ghost Story
  6. PD7 (pick)
  7. Easy (feat. Norah Jones)
  8. Little Glass Folk
  9. A Perfect Rain (pick)
  10. Abyss (pick)
  11. Oceanic, Part 1 (feat. Ravi Shankar)
  12. Oceanic, Part 2 (feat. Ravi Shankar)
  13. Reprise