Karsh Kale :: Liberation
The first time I saw the name the of the New York based DJ/Composer/Musician Karsh Kale (Kursh Kah-lay) was in 1998, on a flyer for a party at Atlanta's Masquerade club. The show was headlined by the, at the time, British Asian newcomer Talvin Singh and was labeled on the flyer as "turntable madness, an evening of South Asian underground music."
I remember thinking after the show how, for me anyway, the mixing of heavy drum and bass beats with various traditional Indian sounds was anything but underground. How could something so attainable to my ears be far from the mainstream? I wasn't drawn to the music solely because I thought the duality of the elements involved represented the duality of my South-Asian American identity, even though in a way it did... it was just that the music felt normal. The fast paced "click-click-chsst" of the drum and bass beat placed over the mesmerizing female vocals of Amar forced the crowd to dance, to move with the beats, or at a minimum, to listen and nod their heads.
Almost three years after this performance in Atlanta, I again became aware of Kale. This time however, it was with the release of his own groundbreaking debut album, Realize (Six Degrees Records, 2001). Despite some of the similarities found between his music and that of Britain's Asian Underground, Kale shied away from classifying his music under the Underground label. He instead referred to a new movement of Asian artists that has now come to be known, largely because of Kale, as the Asian Massive. Kale reflected on this change by noting that "the underground naturally progresses and becomes the Massive, because we are not just talking about America, we're talking about India, we're talking about Paris, we're talking about Japan, we're talking about Canada. We're talking about these different places where we have connected with other artists and producers and musicians. Massive is much less of a genre, and much more of a cultural movement."
And part of this cultural movement is the music that has been produced as a result of the expansion of the underground into the massive. Following the release of Realize, and its dynamic follow-up remix album Redesign- Realize Remixed (Six Degrees 2002), Kale, has placed himself at the helm of the dawning of a new South Asian-American culture. With his impending June release entitled Liberation (Six Degrees Records, 2003), Kale has created a soundscape, not to be limited to South Asian America, but for anyone who finds themselves attracted to drum and bass beats, pulsating tabla taals, and riveting Indian vocals, melted together to create one voice.
Consisting of 10 tracks, Liberation is what happens when the innovativeness of the Indian composer A.R. Rahman meets the musicianship of the fusion artist Shankar, and is then attacked by the electro-DJ culture of Karsh Kale. The final product is a little under an hour (58 minutes and two seconds) of unique diasporic breakbeats that is sure to be replayed time and again.
Recorded over a four month period in New York, New Delhi, Madras, and Mumbai, the album begins with its title track, a sharply delivered scorcher assembled over the vocal talents of long time Kale collaborators Vishal Vaid and Falguni Shah. Kale's placement of orchestral strings gives the song an almost cinematic feel.
"Instinct," the second track, opens up with a fantastic and catchy distortion of Shah's vocal which eventually is placed over a faster dnb loop. The addition of Kale's Tabla, samples, and atmospherics makes "Instinct" a nicely-put together dance track, with a slight UK Garage influence.
Track three entitled "Analog Mood Swings" is a slower track which highlights the vocal talent of Vaid. Layered on top of Mukesh Sharma's Sarod, Kirk Douglas's Guitar and Karsh Kale's Tabla, the passion of Vaid's evocative lyrics, even if we don't exactly know what he is saying, can be felt. The fourth track "Milan" (Meeting of the Two Rivers), named after Kale's daughter, is easily the highlight of the album and sets this release apart from any other. Tabla Maestro Zakir Hussain's contribution to the song is felt throughout, and Kale's weaving of Bill Laswell's Bass, Ajay Prasanna's Bansuri and the Madras Chamber Orchestra's Strings is as close to brilliant as I have heard in some time. "Milan" is one of those songs you find yourself holding your breath to, so as to not miss the slightest note.
This however is where the innovation begins to slow. When compared to rest of the cd, the middle three songs, "Dirty Fellow," "Letting Go," and "GK2" is almost ordinary and at times repetitive. The last two tracks, "Cinematic Reprise" and "Epic," end the album on a positive, highlighted by the addition of the Madras Cinematic Orchestra, newcomer Niladri Kumar's Sitar, and the atmospherics of MIDIval Punditz's Gaurav Raina.
Overall Liberation is an inspiring album largely due to tracks 1-5 and 9-10. Kale's ability to create a new South Asian-American sound accessible to the entire world is a credit to him, the Realize Live crew, Liberation, and is a manifestation of Kale's incredible talent. Liberation has poised Kale to be the leader of this new ethnic and genre bending musical form, whether you call it Asian Underground, Asian Massive, or just good music.