various artists,
Asian Lounge
(Putumayo, 2005)

From the first moments of hearing this compilation CD, I'm reminded of so many enjoyable things in my past -- especially living in northern Japan, wandering its streets on late nights to enjoy nightclubs with friends or find a great bowl of homemade udon noodles. I'm also viscerally reminded of when I first discovered the music of Arabia, Pakistan and India. Much has changed since I first started enjoying what is now called world music, and when I listen to the various artists on this fine CD, I feel the musical sound of the rest of the world is finding a home in the west.

Much of the music on the CD is the creative work of DJs, mixing western technology, beats and sound with the trance-like and transformational sounds of the Middle East and central Asia. Here we have sound from the islands of Indonesia to the most cosmopolitan and independently creative areas of Japan. These lounge tracks are an expert blending and tempering of Sufi, Indian, Hindu, Arab, Japanese and Western electronica, all in one work of art.

It is abundantly clear that the youth of today could care less about cultural or political boundaries when it comes to the crucible of music and its creation. We can only hope that attitude prevails until it permeates every other endeavor they undertake. If anything can unite people or cultures, it's music. This CD's artful fusion is proof of that.

Music can instantly relate cultural identity, you can hear a beat and instantly know the region or the influence, a history can unfold in your mind. It's in such moments that real music appreciation happens.

All good lounge music, in my opinion, sets a mood this way, and that mood is predominantly introspection. You don't really want to dance to lounge; if you're alone you want to sit and think, gazing at inner vistas of snow-capped mountains in Japan. With friends it makes for an excellent soft background to casual conversation. Good lounge will set the mood for a party after everyone has met, and a few drinks have lubricated the conversational tone.

I really do love this CD. It's 11 tracks of pure East/West melding to form a sound I think would be enjoyed as easily in a far eastern nightclub as it is in western living rooms. So for me, being a longtime fan of Japanese music, classical, folk, jazz and modern, the first track on the CD, titled "Kukaki Umi No Kanata (Beyond the Deep Sea)" by the Yoshida Brothers, reminded me of the long strolls I used to take on Japanese beaches. I had many wonderful chance encounters while doing that, and plenty of fond memories. This song took me back to those moments. You can build bonfires on Japanese beaches in the north, no one cares, and it always seems to lead to a party. This tune is full of ancient and modern Nippon accents, blending the sentiments of both seamlessly. This would have been the perfect song to have along for those long and winding north-country Japanese roads I used to travel so often.

"Campuhan," by Blue Asia and featuring Yoichi Ikeda, is strongly derivative of early work by Enigma, but the chants are Far Eastern, so while the tone is clearly Western, the sounds that reach your ear just might feel a bit alien but always well fused. It makes for a familiar experience brought to your senses with a distinct Asian feel. The name means two rivers meet, and that deftly embodies the feel of the whole CD's sound: familiar and foreign or the new, always enjoyable. Asian chanting music is simply an incredible experience, and one I highly recommend.

Track eight is a song titled, "Funky Guru," by Prem Joshua, and is clearly a tribute to Sufi singing. It reminded me fondly of my most favorite singer of all time, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He's credited as being the voice of world music, and I know he certainly was for me. It really is satisfying to hear the younger generation of DJs honoring Qawwali music. This song is a great blending of the Sufi song language and electronica.

All of the tracks are winners in my opinion, but if I could only mention one more, I would have to recommend to you track nine, "Eastern Journey" by Biddu Orchestra. This song is a masterful blend of modern sitar usage and dead-on tabla artistry that even the mildest fan of Indian cultural sounds will flat out dig. It is fast paced, carefully westernized and nicely blended to quicken the pulse while elevating the spirit, a key quality in almost all good Indian and Pakistani music. As a side note, Biddu has had a long career, which includes co-writing credits on the 1970s song "Kung-Fu Fighting."

Fusion is a word often used to describe music like this, and it's a perfect term for the fit. In this CD you will find plenty of Asian world music identity, and truthfully that is the album's strength. There's also just enough of the western technical side of lounge music to make anyone born in the West feel very much at home.

By your fifth or sixth listen through, you might be thinking you'd like to find more of the amazing contributions Asia has been making to music since music was born. That would indeed be a personal journey well worth taking.

The company logo for Putumayo World Music is "guaranteed to make you feel good." They're right, it does, and you will. Enjoy.

by Jack Myers
17 March 2006

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