Digital Archeology and New Mythologies

24 10 2007

 

Derek Beres

When I first heard Karsh Kale’s Realize in 2001, an aural gateway blew wide open in my ears. I had been familiar with prior East/West collaborations, most notably Canadian guitarist/producer Michael Brook’s epic work with qawwali great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as figures like Ravi Shankar recording with Yehudi Menuhin and Philip Glass, and Zakir Hussain’s finger tapping alongside John McLaughlin and Mickey Hart. Yet Kale’s album had an urban edge splintered with gorgeous strains of bansuri, sarangi and, obviously, tablas, the two-drum set that his name is synonymous with. The Asian Underground was burgeoning across the ocean, yet Realize was a horse of completely new colors. This record was the birth of what he himself dubbed Asian Massive, as well as the roots of my first book on international electronica and world mythology, Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music.

The book focused on the people behind the scenes like that Massive movement, as well as Bill Laswell’s inimitable Tabla Beat Science, Barcelona’s groundbreaking flamenco hip-hoppers Ojos de Brujo, the unstoppable Polish dub-folk of Warsaw Village Band, and many others. During the three-and-a-half year journey that culminated in the writing of this book – as well as the nearly two-and-a-half since its publication – one theme kept and keeps appearing through all my interviews and research: the computer is the first world folk instrument.

Folk instrumentation has defined and been defined by geography. The sintir is the patented bass lute of Moroccan Gnawa music; the legend of sitars and sarangis grew from the Indian tradition; the djembe would be the inner and deep voice of African rhythm; the incredible tonal range of the pipa would put Chinese standards on the map; when bass became king in the studio, Jamaican dub was born. Instruments grew and evolved and were shared so that, over time, zithers like the santoor were remixed into the cimbalom when Indian became Hungarian folk, and ouds were transported around the Middle East for centuries before appearing in underground Manhattan night clubs by a wild Italian prodigy playing effervescent strings over house rhythms as dancers danced and screamed.

Read the full column on Reality Sandwich here.

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