A Soundtrack in 3 Cities

27 10 2008

By Derek Beres

[Originally posted on lime.com]

I have long been turned off with the entire concept of “yoga music,” as well as much of the actual material marketed within this seemingly indefinable category. Like many translations of yogic texts, in which the concept of “good” overrides and demolishes “evil,” the music leans toward the airy and winsome without proper foundations. The yogic path is concerned with “wholeness,” not separation between opposing forces; the same goes for the music. When listening to street recordings of bhajans and qawwali, there is something downright sinister — and complete — in these sounds. The mind may differentiate, but the soul of the artist does not.

Being that my career is involved with these two crafts — teaching yoga and writing about, producing, and DJing international music — I spend a lot of time honing and polishing my playlists. While I love the bansuri and sitar, my body craves to move to bass and well-placed kick drums. A few years ago I had high hopes when being sent a debut by two producers going under the name Bombay Dub Orchestra. They were on my favorite label, Six Degrees, and it seemed very promising. And indeed, the two-record self-titled set was and is beautiful. Yet it didn’t have the undertones and push that I craved when hearing the word “dub.” From my tried and tested experiences teaching, the low-end of reggae produces some of the best sonic waves to move to, in the yoga studio and outside.

I was equally open-minded when opening their latest, 3 Cities, a few weeks ago.  What I was yearning for a few years back was finally involved. The producers, Garry Huges and Andrew T. Mackay, turned up the lows and refined the drums, which now exhibit punch. This in no way distracts the listener from feeling the highs; in fact, it enhances them. When flutes, santurs, and drones emerge, they float effortlessly over the rich, full landscape. The vocals sit magnificently, gorgeously in the pocket. Everything shines.

Paying homage to the three cities the album was recorded in —Mumbai, Chennai, and London— their sophomore effort reminds me in theory (though not in sound) to Cheb i Sabbah’s Krishna Lila. It does not favor the “light” over the “heavy.” There’s beauty in the unpolished lotus that is directly pulled from the mud. The hard and rugged beats of “Monsoon Malabar,” the downward trek of “Spiral,” the sweeping orchestra of “Junoon;” it’s all there, canvassing the field of good and evil and finding a middle ground. If that’s what I want my yoga practice to do — to see the world undifferentiated, to be able to choose though not deny the complete nature of existence — then my music has to accomplish the same. Bombay Dub Orchestra continues to contribute to this cause.