Beyond the Border: Hip-Hop, R&B-Fusion from the Diaspora, Hang Drum via Pakistan and More
Check out synthwave from Bengali Desi artist M.K. Khan, jazz from Bengaluru-bred, Los Angeles-based group Lace and an Aussie-Canadian collab between Khanvict and Amritha Shakti
Khanvict and Amritha Shakti
Sprightly electronic-fusion blooms on “Kingdom,” a Tamil language song that crosses all kinds of borders. Over music produced by Canada-based Pakistan-born artist Khanvict aka Asad Khan, Indian-origin Australian artist Amritha Shakti sings about liberation, power and being in control in her first fully Tamil track. While the collaborators originally met at a music festival in New York in 2019, “Kingdom” was created whilst in quarantine, although the track belies any notions of remote work. Shakti says in a statement, “We had a lot of takes and back and forth to really get us there, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I think we were both really inspired by the track and we both wanted the best for it.”
Brooklyn, New York singer-songwriter Ali Aslam is Pakistani Muslim-American and like you’d expect from any artist, identity is at the center of his work. On his debut full-length album The Last American, a self-described “strong but complicated relationship” with American culture comes to the front, going over Aslam’s seemingly formative influences – U2, The Killers and Bruce Springsteen. “Rebel Song” opens the album gently, while tracks like “Photocopy,” “Wise Man and the Fool” are much intricate. There’s radiant energetic guitars on “Color of the Sun” and “My City” being an indie piano-led rock band reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie. Imbued with subtle hints of string (“This American Dream”), there’s plenty of comforting and questioning from Aslam on The Last American.
Raised in Mumbai, multi-lingual rapper FeniFina aka Josefina Dsouza has been repping desi hip-hop in Toronto, releasing two singles “Rukna Nahi” and “Jism E Roohaniyat” through the course of 2020. While she performed her first gig in early 2020, the visual and lyrical aesthetic of FeniFina is staunchly conscious. In Hindi and Marathi, she sings about never bowing down on “Rukna Nahi” and her Instagram-released freeverse “Na Hai Insaaf, Na Hai Sukoon” zeroes in on caste discrimination and a lack of justice. Over a trap banger of beat from producer Einsine, FeniFina digs into more philosophical matters in Hindi and English on her latest “Jism E Roohaniyat,” which released in November.
A seasoned percussionist and drummer for Pakistani artists across the board, including performances for Coke Studio, Aziz Kazi offers a glimpse into his mind as a solo hang drum artist on the album Cacan. With a hang drum’s nimble percussive power, a lot of the nine-track Cacan focuses on a meditative sound that’s produced at Karachi studio A for Aleph. Described by the artist as a “calm ethereal journey,” Kazi is as intricate as it gets on the hang drum, playful with layers and progressions that go over subtle electronics produced by Umair Dar and Anas Alam Khan.
The Musical Doc
In the case of Dr. Varshini Muralikrishnan, the Musical Doc doesn’t stand for “documentary” but for “doctor.” That’s for those who were wondering, anyway. The Los Angeles-based Indian origin artist has performed as a soloist and part of ensembles in the U.S. but also had an eye out for writing and releasing her own music. With help from producer Peter Madana, her latest single “Real Woman” crosses the R&B, smoky modern pop side of her with an unmistakably powerful Carnatic vocal side. Written at a time when the artist had traveled to India, the song marks her departure from working in the medical field to becoming a full-fledged musician.
Once thriving in the Bengaluru and Indian independent scene, jazz band Chandbibi and the Waste Candidates may have called time after releasing their debut album Tidy Funk in 2014, but after six years (and a move to Los Angeles), vocalist Mana Contractor, guitarist Sidhant Jain and drummer Navneet Rao have found a new home for their jazz with Lace. Their debut EP Liar’s Notebook released earlier this year, showcasing some of that familiar squeaky-clean, playful jazz style, now enhanced by bassist Connor Coram and percussionist Emi Desiré. What’s more, their music video for “Bird” gets an evocative visual treatment, with movement artist and choreographer Sofia Klass interpreting their song in the backdrop of canyons in the Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.
Bengali-origin desi producer M.K. Khan is typically synthwave in that his whole visual aesthetic is without a trace of his own face or identity, instead entrenched with neon-lit, calming and nostalgia-laden Instagram posts or tweets about Pokémon and the Nineties. Nevertheless, he’s had one of the best-selling albums of 2020 on Bandcamp when he released Weekends on Earth in October this year. It’s perfectly retrowave and synthwave, breathing in cinematicism and roomy drums without ever sounding cheesy or repetitive, which is a tall order in the already crowded and growing space of synth music.