Janaka Selekta :: Pushing Air
I first came across San Francisco producer Janaka Selekta after he had co-founded Dhamaal Soundsystem. He was holding up the left coast Asian electronica sound, even then pushing boundaries with his globally open-minded tracks. Most of the collective's 2004 debut leaned towards the expectable: d 'n b/breaks and dubby bass lines. But one song, "Chandraya," featuring local vocalist Sukhawat Ali Khan, caught my attention—I licensed it for my first release, Moving Stillness. What caught me most was the intelligent spaciousness and patient textures the young producer offered this neo-classical Indian tradition that was evolving in America.
From pushing boundaries to Pushing Air, the UK native has matured by leaps and bounds while remaining persistently calm. Selekta self-released his solo debut in 2009, only to have it redistributed now by emerging label, Chaiwalla's Boombox. Not much has changed in the twelve months, save two title changes: the deep bass, sarangi-led cut, "Dub Madhuvanti," became "Ankelets," while "Nomadic Soul" lost the soul in it's title (but not in the song).
There is added value, however—four new tracks are slapped on at the end. Karsh Kale adds a dulcimer and a ton of drums to the originally mellow "Awake," making his "Morning Remix" an adrenalized start to the day; the finger snapping percussive rhythm of "Nomadic" is reconceptualized into a smoking dance beat by New York City producer Cenzo; the opening instrumental "End of the Sun" became a drum 'n bass affair with vocals by Taamara; Selekta invites her back for one new original, an inventively layered upbeat stomper, "Time." Tamaara's vocals swing between classical Indian, modern R&B, and Motown soul, with Selekta carefully weaving the strands together.
What hasn't changed will hold up for many years on this fine debut. Selekta exhibits a penchant for reimagining the traditional Indian sound without mercilessly chopping and slicing the instruments. He's employed a reliable roster of artists: bansuri player Ajay Prasanna, sarangi player Muraadi Ali Khan, tabla player Salar Nadar, bassist Dr. Das, along with plenty of credible vocalists. Riffat Sultana has long been pushing the electronic envelope (not to mention bending gender politics, being a rebellious female qawwal in a strict Muslim environment) in the bay area with her former Shabaz project, and sounds wonderful on "Forgiven." Lloyd Hemmings toasts atop the heady "Bring the Curtain Down" and Hema Ram works easily into the addictive rhythm of "Nomadic."
Unsurprisingly, fellow Shabaz alumni Sukhawat Ali Khan dominates, appearing on four songs. The man is tireless in finding avenues to evolve his Sham Chorasai gharana tradition with a modern accent. He's a great live performer, and has found a perfect producer in Selekta for experiences like the epic, cinematic "Treading Water," and a tagteam with JC Stokes on "Awake." These guys are pushing way more than air from their California base, yet the experience leaves you lightened, every time.