Vancouver is a city synonymous with cultural fusion, particularly from Asia. While most would first associate the city with its large Chinese population, there is also a large thriving Indian culture throughout the city. For decades now Indian music has infused itself with Western music to the point where it is not merely a neat eclectic gimmick in a British Invasion tune.
Mohammed Assani’s latest record Wayfinder is a transcendent blending of traditional Indian instrumentation with modern electronics to create a South Asian-style trip-hop. The album is named for the Polynesian tribesmen who would guide their people by the map of the stars and the behaviour of the elements. The cosmonauts of their time. Captured under cover of darkness between midnight and 5 a.m., the hours when the Wayfinders would observe the skies, the record was recorded in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia. Those rainforests serve in proxy of Indian landscapes. Both full of wildlife and teeming with flora. Wayfinder provides a glimpse into the wonder and adventure of these resourceful explorers.
A curious arpeggiated synth is met by languid sitar lines under the consistent bassy thud of the beat. Assani expertly sits far behind the beat, kneading out time, playing with it to show its elasticity. Tensions ramp up gradually before being released with a half time drop that would light up any serious trap fan. The sitar’s reputation as a conduit for the psychedelic is well earned. The droning pedal tones and swirling melodics can’t help but conjure up imagery and Assani works them with a seasoned mastery on ‘Awakening’, the powerful opener that initiates the listener to Assani’s transportive space.
‘Black Sugar’ is the Indian equivalent of a slow jam. Ticking drum machine, sexy synths pads, and a sensuous slinky sitar to hold it all down. As the track unfolds, the synthesizer gets progressively more pervasive and spacey. A welcome massage for the mind. ‘Lullaby for Guli’ begins rather inauspiciously with the soft reedy woodwind you’d expect from a traditional lullaby. Then, like being swept to slumber, the savage animals of your mind awaken and things get interesting. Eventually, a wash of fuzz comes over the sitar and the band moves in big tempestuous waves before settling back down again to calm seas.
The album’s final track is its most experimental. ‘Transit’ races with the suspenseful cyber-thriller of one of Juno Reactor’s contributions to The Matrix soundtracks. The tablas, mridangam and kanjira craft a racing rhythm while Assani nimbly weaves between the speeding cars. Alien folding synths, hurried grunts, and hollow bone shakers all contribute to the track’s inexorable pace.
Mohammed Assani’s Wayfinder takes traditional Indian musicality and seamlessly weaves it into a futuristic hybrid sound. Not a passing gimmick or hook but the true melding of styles to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever creative conjurings are going on in those B.C. mountains, let’s keep it up.