various artists,
Asian Groove
(Putumayo, 2002)

Asian Groove is an excellent dance album. It may be the best dance album I've heard, if only for the fact that not one of its tracks has received the hyperactive overplay common to dance music. Then there's the welcoming liner notes, which introduce the artists so fully I'd have felt almost rude not liking this CD.

Fortunately, there's a lot to like on Asian Groove. All the expected musical styles of the club are represented, with a little extra variety. Bally Jagpal and Kam Dhillon provide hip-hop bookends to the album with "Pheli War" and "Aankh Naal." Both take a playful approach to their lyrics, with "Pheli War" dancing between the initial singer and the internal lyrics in an almost argumentative fashion. A.S. Kang turns a familiar R&B sound into a twisting bit of lyric spellcraft, making a new song feel like a visitor from the edge of memory. "Mamavatu" brings a seductive bit of blues to the album, as Susheela Raman's vocals slide between patience and desperation.

But Asian Groove, for all its diversity, doesn't offer much to mark itself as Asian. There are some subtle tastes of Eastern influence in the hypnotic female chanting of Karmix's "Sabhayata." Mo Horizons sweetens its repetitive backbeat with a sitar overlay, giving a hint of 1960s psychedelia to a song that's otherwise pure '70s funk. Deepak Ram offers quiet reflection for a "Night In Lenasia," dominated by bamboo flute and calm, thoughtful vocals. And while it may not be Asian, Yuluduz Usmanova's "Kunglim Guli" sets her song apart by an innovative use of instruments in place of background vocals. Her own voice backed only by the percussion, she lets the other instruments fade in and carry the tune where a chorus would normally sit. The overall effect conjures up images of far-off lands and shifting cultures. But even these songs only hint at an Asian influence.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Those wanting a distinctive national identity in their music can always check out the folk music section of their favorite store -- or the regional music on Rambles, for that matter. For people ready to feel the beat, Asian Groove is proof that music doesn't need a passport, or even a translator.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 9 August 2003

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