I love the idea behind this album. Mixing hip-hop with Manganiyar folk is such an obvious choice I can only wonder, ‘why hasn’t it been tried earlier?’ The juxtaposition of hoary mystical traditions smack dab up against contemporary EDM sounds, the layering of righteous raps on top of Punjabi poetry and the combining of simple nomadic instruments with studio produced drum beats makes the blood race just a bit faster.
Jhalaak (Urdu: spark) is a project of Canadian-Indian DJ/rapper Ruby Singb. It is “a Sufi Hip Hop project that leans back to mystic poetry from the 13th century and rides that current into the future with global bass sounds. Spanning two continents, Jhalaak brings together the powerful sounds of Qawwali (devotional Sufi music from Pakistan and India), Hip hop, and EDM. Internationally celebrated artists Chugge Khan, Salim Khan and Khete Khan are 19th generation Rajasthani musicians from the Manganiyar tradition, steeped in the elation and ecstasy of Sufi music and poetry. Under the constellations of the 2014 summer sky, they found a kindred spirit in Canadian born Desi Hip Hop artist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Ruby Singh. To expand the spectrum of Jhalaak, Juno and Emmy nominated producer and DJ Adham Shaikh, contributes to their hypnotic and explosive chemistry.
Made up of an ensemble of artists who have toured the world over, Jhalaak is a potent combination of musicians sparking dance floors worldwide. Chugge Khan with recent project Junun toured extensively with Radiohead, and was mentored as a young vocalist by the inimitable Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Ruby Singh’s spoken word, rap and beat boxing have taken him across the globe throughout North America, Europe, and the South Asian continent, which prepared him for creating rap interpretations of these Qawwali songs that date back as far as 700 years. Six years ago they collided in Vancouver through the Indian Summer Festival and have been jumping back and forth between India and Canada ever since. Recently they have learned, through a long twist of fate, Singh’s ancestors migrated 300 years ago from the same city in Rajasthan that the Khan brothers have been living for generations. Destiny seems to have a hand in weaving this band together.” (bandcamp)
As I said, I love the ‘idea’ of Mr Singh’s project more than I like the execution of it. Which is a pity because there is a lot to really like here. The song selection for example is excellent. Many are qawwalis made famous by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and harken back to his early 1990s collaborations with Michael Brooks and Peter Gabriel. Then there’s the sonics themselves: a superb blending of contemporary mostly machine generated beats with traditional acoustic instruments from the desert regions of western India/eastern Pakistan–morchang, sarangi, bansuri, various percussion. Everything works very well together.
What doesn’t work well, sadly, is the singing of the Manganiyar artists. Based on the evidence here they are quite uncomfortable in this setting; they never find their place. They never feel free to really let loose and at the same time struggle to be contained within the hip hop / studio environment. At first I thought Singh was trying to get something akin to a jazz feel from them but quickly changed my mind. These obviously talented and powerful singers were just not interested. Or perhaps they didn’t have the time to dedicate to finding their groove but by the time the beautiful Sanu ek Pal Chain na Ave comes along the singer is so off tune as to be singing in another country. Its unlistenable.
So sad becuase clearly the concept is a worthy one. The songs are proven winners and the singers themselves some of the most potent and accomplished in the world. But the lack of attention to getting them to sing in tune completely undermines the whole project. This is a fire that has no spark.
01 Akhiyan _ No Peace in my Sight
02 Mustt Mustt _ Enrapture
03 Jhalaak _ Spark
04 Woh Hata Rahe Hain Parda _ Lift the Veils
05 Challa _ The Beloved Wanderer
06 Maki Madni _ The Last Prophet
07 Kise Da Yaar Na Vichre _ The Lost Beloved
08 Main Naraye Mastana _ Herald of the Ecstatic
09 Sanu Ek Pal Chain Na Ave _ No Sliver of Peace