Since Bhangra, the traditional Punjabi folk music, made its way into the British landscape, it was the predominant representation of Asian culture in diasporic Great Britain. That is of course until the famed British jazz musician Courtney Pine discovered a young tabla player by the name of Talvin Singh, from the now very trendy East London.
Since his performances with Pine, Singh has been outed as an electro-Tabla genius performing with Sting, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Bjork, doing remixes for Madonna, hosting one of the most popular club nights in London, and along the way, paving the way for a new era of Asian cool.
This Asian cool has cut across many disciplines from film and literature to fashion and of course music. Part of this new musical sound involved combining Tabla beats and elements of other classical Indian music and placing them over hard hitting drum and base lines. Singh's innovative style became known as Tablatronic, and was prevalent in the selection of songs involved in the 1997 breakthrough album Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground.
While it was not until the fall of 1997 that Anokha was released, Singh had been creating a niche for himself on the British club circuit for a couple of years prior to its release. One manifestation of this niche is the ultra-rare album entitled, Drum and Space recorded under the DJ name, The Calcutta Cyber Café.
Representing more than just the album, the Calcutta Cyber Cafe was in fact, the name of Anokha's predecessor club-night held every Sunday at various clubs in London's East End. The Café was an informal space where musicians and DJ's could experiment and interact with acoustic classical Indian music and electronic sounds.
In order to reflect the feel of the club and its ambient style of organic tablatronic, Singh, in June of 1996, launched his Omni Record label with the release of Drum and Space. Comprised of two tracks, "Nonstop Flight to Calcutta" and "Life Support System," the 45 minute Drum and Space record has a sound that was ahead of its time for 1996, and still perhaps outdoes itself in 2003.
"Nonstop Flight to Calcutta," which differs only slightly from the more tabla heavy "Life Support System," begins with a variation of the infamous, and at the time innovative, "Flight IC-408" loop. Slowly, Singh's tabla begins to accompany the voiceover, which shifts into various musical segments, including a layering of various other drums, bird calls, rain sticks, keyboards, thunder, tamboura, xylophones and an assortment of vocals and voiceovers. The lush ambient elements in both tracks then, in the traditional Indian style, slowly gain pace and momentum, and are then laid on top of an assortment of infectious drum and base loops.
My biggest complaint of Drum and Space lies mainly with the choppy transitions between segments. My sense is that this was intentional and in a way, more reflective of the club night, as it could symbolize the handing off of the turntables to the next participant of the Calcutta Cyber Café.
Drum and Space is more chill out, more experimental, more ambient, and more avant-garde than any of Singh's other releases, yet the album still has the ability to invoke the listener's creative juices.
The shaky transitions aside, if you enjoy any style of ambient or chill-out drum and base, and happen to come upon this album, my advice to you is to grab it, because if you don't, the next person definitely will.