Kuljit Bhamra
& Shan Chana,
Himalaya Dawn
(Keda, 2005)

This is a hugely enjoyable album inspired by the UK theatre presentation of The Far Pavilians, for which Kuljit Bhamra wrote the Indian music. He's a prolific musician who has composed for many films, including The Little Princess, Bend It Like Beckham and Wings of a Dove, and he was also on-stage percussionist for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Bombay Dreams.

Don't let all of this sway you, though! Just listen to his music -- its shimmering vibrancy and innovation bring a whole new energy to Bhangra music. Collaborator is Shan Chana, who plays dhol, drums, keyboards and a whole host of other instruments -- along with other well-chosen contributors. Bhamra himself turns his hand to tablas (to incredibly seductive, sexy effect!), dhol, dholak, keyboards, udu and other enticing Eastern instruments.

The result? A heady and intoxicating fusion of East and West -- the Asian musicians living and working in the United Kingdom are producing music of breathtaking quality. Pump the volume up loud, and your senses are assailed by an electrifying Asian soundscape of pounding drums, Indian violins, flutes, vocal samples and superb programming. Let's not forget that Bhangra is essentially a form of folk dance -- performed at harvest celebrations, and characterised by thunderous drumbeats, and much clapping and singing.

All the compositions here are strongly lyrical, emotive and ambient -- they speak powerfully of a people, a world region -- as evidenced by the apt titles: "Himalaya Dawn," "The Dhol Express," "Haunted Ships of Kashmir." There's even a Bhangra mix of the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" -- incredibly, I found this worked brilliantly, once I'd overcome my initial reservations about hearing this hit from 1977's Saturday Night Fever performed Bhangra-style!

The programming, production and instrumentation are immaculate -- it's that heady combination of percussion (especially those tablas!), electronica, grooves and mystical Asian sounds that seduces this listener.

by Debbie Koritsas
7 January 2006