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A Little More Re- In The Mix, Please
by Kembrew McLeod
from Addicted to Noise
[reprinted here without permission]

Star RiseLet's face it. For most people who buy this remixed collection of collaborations between Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Qawwali is the devotional music of the Sufis, the mystics of Islam) and Canadian producer Michael Brook, Khan is something of a novelty act, in the same way that Yma Sumac (a singer from Peru who sang exotic versions of Incan and South American folk songs in America during the 1950s), Fela (Fela Anikulapo Kuti was a Nigerian singer- composer, trumpet, sax and keyboard player and political activist who died last year) and even Enya are. I haven't the slightest idea what Khan is saying, but it doesn't really matter because it's the feeling being conveyed that's important. (I mean, if comprehensibility were a prerequisite for musical appreciation, there would be no audience for people such as the Germs, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Kingsmen and Yoko Ono.)

Even though I don't have a clue what Khan is singing about, I don't think it's anything close to sacrilege to add a few dope beats and sly samples to the mix. And anyway, it's not like the producers of this compilation handed Khan's songs over to Puff Daddy or to some Miami Bass producer -- although at times I wish they had (I'll explain why later). And for the most part, the music on this album has been kept "in the family" by featuring Indian stars of the current, culture-clash English dance scene: Joi (no, not the American R&B singer), Talvin Singh, Black Star Liner, Asian Dub Foundation and a few others.

Although most of these artists were raised in England and have probably given their parents headaches by pissing over and mixing up elements of traditional Indian music, they do manage to remain connected with the musical cultures of their ancestors. In the process, the tensions uncovered -- between old and new, conservative and radical, and polite and rowdy -- make the music exciting.

Because I view all this mixin' up and tearing the roof off the mother-sucker as a good thing, it should come as no surprise that my problem with Star Rise is that sometimes these artists are a little too reverent. They don't wanna blow shit up, they just want to "recontextualize." The Talvin Singh remix of "My Heart, My Life" is a perfect example -- Singh adds a tasteful, stuttering drum-loop beneath a descending melody line and various unobtrusive sounds, all of which highlight Khan's voice. As the song goes on, the drums intensify slightly, but never enough to shift the focus away from Khan's beautiful singing. While the result might cause some Indian priest to jump off a cliff, I get the feeling it wouldn't have made Khan squirm, let alone dance. Not that I claim to be his official biographer or anything, but I do get the feeling that he gave the green light to this remix collection partly because it would allow a younger generation to appreciate the joy in his music.

There is some great stuff on here too. The Asian Dub Foundation's remix of "Taa Deem," for example, makes me want to party like it's 1999 -- or at least get drunk, dance and pretend it's 1999. Built on a typical dub bassline that goes boom (pause) boom (pause) boom (pause) duh-duh-duh-duh, the Asian Dub fellas also throw in a few herky-jerky, drum-n-bass, spazz-out percussion loops for extra spice. In a true sign of remix production genius, "Taa Deem" sounds like Khan recorded his vocals explicitly for this low-riding instrumental track. During what has been refashioned into a chorus, Khan sounds like he's gettin' down and singing a Qawwali approximation of "doo - wah - diddy - diddy - dum - diddy - day" (I swear).

But during too much of this CD, I wished they had hired Puff Daddy to take the pristine and artful soundscapes that mark, for instance, State of Bengal's remix of "Shadow," and turn them into a ridiculously overblown remake of Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing" -- complete with Khan rhythmically chanting in the background. OK, so I might not want this to actually happen. (Although who knows -- maybe I do.) In the end, I guess I just want a little less respect and a little more throwin' TVs through hotel room windows -- or the sonic equivalent thereof.