State of Bengal :: Skip-ij
The defining moment of British Asian dance music has to be "Flight IC408," a perfect, heady mix of drum n' bass, sampling and eastern instrumentation. The opening Indian Airlines announcement with the heavy Desi-accented English is possibly the most recognizable sample in Asian music today.
One solo and two collaborative albums later, Saifullah 'Sam' Zaman unleashes his most experimental project to date. A dance album through and through, Skip-ij is twelve tracks of the most innovative productions you'll hear this year. The skip-ij rhythm and concept, which Zaman asserts to have discovered unintentionally, is based almost entirely around snare drum programming that borrows heavily from Indian, African and Brazilian melodies.
The succinct intro and title track sets the tone of the album with heavily syncopated beat patterns, set under the vocals of Nexmanz. Purely a hype track, it highlights exactly what the skip-ij rhythm is all about and what's in store for us over the next hour. Rosina Kazi, the voice of soulful Canadian trip-hoppers LAL, shines on the stunning album highlight, "Hold It In My Heart," backed by off-kilter drum programming and guitars. Never have saxophones and trumpets sounded so sublime nor have breakbeats sounded so organic. Percussionist, vocalist and British Asian club scene regular Renu Hossain takes on the swinging, playful "Play That Way," and joins forces with Colombian-born Johanna Marin on "Cha Na Na Na." The latter track finds its home easily in an electro-Bengali bounce and Spanish verses. The darker, political and more serious side of Zaman comes out in "Breathe In," an anti-homophobic stand with lyricist Nolan Weeks (Poet Me) and continues with "Mr. President." With lyrics like "Nobody wants you/Nobody needs you/Move on/The President's here/And he's got to go..." it's not hard to guess who it's aimed at.
Zaman's younger brother and ADF frontman Deedar drops by on the sparse "London to Dhaka." Organic instrumentation (flutes, bells, tablas and a Nigerian Udu drum) provides a quiet backdrop as the Rebel Uprising MC effortlessly flows, as only he knows how, over verses that were recorded mostly in the first take. A welcome return of a voice that embodied British Asian music for so many years.
Susmita Bannerjee's Bengali lines in "Dushto Méyra" counter its unsettling, feverish synth and drumbeat programming and guitar chords. "Sukno Patar" is based on the poetry of late Bengali poet, philosopher and revolutionary Kazi Nazrul Islam (the subject of ADF's classic "Rebel Warrior"), while the victims of 2004's South East Asian Tsunami are the topic of "Future People" featuring Hindustani classical vocalist Pundit Dinesh and the songwriting of Earthtribe founder and producer Sanjeev "Coco" Varma. Marque "Inna-Most" Gilmore, often hailed as the father of live drum and bass, leaves his drum kit behind for the mic as he performs vocal duties alongside Johanna Marin on the sonically immaculate "Trip to the Moon."
You'd be hard pressed to find a more rule-challenging, Asian-electronica-stereotype-bashing album this year. To say that Zaman has succeeded in producing an experimental dance album with a global reach is an understatement. And that is quite an achievement for the sculptor of such gems as Visual Audio, Walking On and Tana Tani. Skip-ij is like the bastard child of Asian Underground, broken beat and dub-step, only way more satisfying in the long run.