Rough Guide to the Asian Underground
The Rough Guide, a company better known for its guidebooks than for its ability to produce records has recently released a third South Asian themed album in its line of guides to international music. Following the release of the Rough Guide album to both Bollywood and Bhangra now comes the Rough Guide to the Asian Underground. Produced by the World Music Network in association with Rough Guides and New Internationalist, the Rough Guide to the Asian Underground is a 15-track compilation of both already released classics and other previously unreleased tunes from many of the pioneers of the Asian Underground genre.
Compiled by DJ Ritu, the famed British Asian DJ, who hosts her own show on the BBC's Asian Network entitled "In the Mix with DJ Ritu," the Rough Guide to the Asian Underground serves as an introduction to the sounds that have laid the foundation for the Asian Underground movement. For those interested in the history of the movement, DJ Ritu's experience and knowledge of the scene becomes clear as soon as one looks at the comprehensive liner notes available with the album. Chronicling her involvement with the movement beginning in 1990, the notes serve almost as a timeline of the major events discussing the various movers and shakers involved with the rise in popularity of these Indian classical and tabla infused electronic sounds.
Despite the comprehensiveness of the notes, it is unclear whether Ritu's intention was to select artists who represent the origins of the movement, or instead, highlight some of the better and more representative songs of the Asian Underground. While I question her exclusion of Nitin Sawhney, she does include tracks composed by such Asian underground mainstays as State of Bengal, TJ Rehmi, the Asian Dub Foundation (ADF), and Asian Underground poster child Talvin Singh (whose track is under the nom de guerre, Mahatma T).
While I felt the opening tracks were average, I was most impressed with the second half of the album, beginning with the Asian Dub Foundation's "Debris," through the sometimes repetitive "Nataraj" by James Asher. Fluctuating with hard Drum and Base on Talvin Singh's "Jihad," to mellow ambient electronica from Sister India's "Out of Place" the second half of the album shows the range that this genre encompasses. The ADF track with its political undertones represents an aspect of the British Asian movement that is not an overt quality in many of the American releases that are associated with the Asian Underground. The James Asher track I found unique as it was the first I had heard any Garba-Gujarati folk music-being mixed with Drum and Base.
With the exception of excluding Nitin Sawhney from the album, I think DJ Ritu's selection of artists represent a wide cross section of the various sounds that were part of the Asian Underground. From the the Orchestral World Groove's down tempo dub track "Pyar" to Fun-Da-Mental's electro qawwali rendition of "Ja Sha Taan," Ritu mixes it up quite well.
Overall, the Rough Guide to the Asian Underground is a strong album, primarily for its portrayal of diversity within the genre. It is a must-have for the die-hards out there, if not solely for the liner notes, then for the previously unreleased tracks unheard of in many compilation albums.