Socialist Worker

Drumming up a global storm

Two new albums show 'world music' is breaking out way beyond the specialist pigeon-hole

Issue No. 1862

The Hour of Two Lights
by Terry Hall and Mushtaq

Nitin Sawhney

EVERY SO often you just have to hear a track from an album and you know you're going to love the rest. The Hour of Two Lights is one of them. Many people have tried to combine musical styles from Europe and the Middle East. Sometimes this has involved little more than attaching beats and baselines to less familiar sounds. This attempt feels much more genuine. The union creates something exciting and new.

The real genius in this project must lie with those who thought that putting together a band that includes a 12 year old Lebanese singer, Hebrew vocalists, a troupe of Polish Gypsies and a blind Algerian rapper from Paris would be a good idea.

Ideas began to form when Terry Hall-who fronted the Specials back in the 1970s-met Mushtaq, once of Fundamental, the British-Asian musical pioneers. Both were frustrated by the way non-European music is pigeon-holed. They wanted to create something with a truly global sound. Hall has a reputation for being deeply cynical about politics. Nevertheless he says the war on Iraq made the album more political. You can hear that in songs like 'A Gathering Storm'.

The album is not just a reaction to war. The lyrics of 'Stand Together' attack hate-filled attitudes towards asylum seekers. The haunting 'Silent Wail' is, to my mind, a form of musical solidarity made by combining with artists who are themselves facing persecution.

The end result is a nomadic album of anger, fear and tremendous beauty. Over the last six years Nitin Sawhney has also produced some outstanding albums by combining music from across the world. They have contained some raw elements that reflected music on the streets-whether drum & bass or flamenco guitars-but they were mixed with more refined Asian vocals and classical string arrangements.

Sawhney's latest offering, Human, continues the earlier musical themes. But in many places it feels as though the product is just too polished. Songs such as 'Waiting', which draws on Shakespeare, are beautifully crafted but many of the rough edges have gone, leaving a softer and sometimes clinical sound.

He has lost the sense of urgency that street sounds gave him. The music is not the only thing to have mellowed. Latent anger against racism, bigotry and the prospect of war between India and Pakistan provided a backdrop to much of the previous work.

Today, Sawhney is still angry, but is in a more introverted frame of mind, seemingly unsure as to how to respond to a world full of horrors. One of Sawhney's problems is that the success of his earlier albums has inspired many to follow in his tracks.

As a result he struggles to produce music which is genuinely new. Despite that, if you are looking for a mellow complement to The Hour of Two Lights, this is a good contender.

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Sat 26 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1862
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