Presenting the 2018 February edition of Ethnofusion blog, we bring you another month’s worth of hard-earnt discoveries and thoroughly-selected world electronic music; from avant-garde experiments of Iranian producer, Mahdyar, to downtempo bliss from Bwoy De Bhajan, a mixtape by Chinese trendsetter, Howie Lee, & much more. While we’ve sacrificed quantity to hone in on the quality of each feature, it’s safe to say that this month is absolutely stacked with heavyweights.
Hope y’all enjoy the words and sounds. – Баxтак
Mahdyar – Seized [Kowloon Records]
For those who are not in the know, here’s a little background about Mahdyar Aghajani that is required to give full analytical depth to this feature. Mahdyar is an Iranian producer who’s most famously renowned for his productions for Iranian hip-hop mega-star, Hichkas, and his work on the latter artists’ debut album, Jangale Asphalt in 2006 which saw the birth of authentic Persian hip-hop. For the first time in the country’s music and to some extent Middle Eastern hip-hop, an artist stripped down hip-hop instrumentals to traditional local instruments, fusing the two musical words together in a formidable mixture.
Since then and Mahdyar’s subsequent move to France due to the politicisation of the artists’ work (which includes music through his Moltafet imprint featuring several other renowned conscious Iranian hip-hop artists), Mahdyar went on to score the Cannes-winner, No One Knows About Persian Cats, a remix for Birdy Nam Nam, a Hichkas single featuring British-Iranian UK hip-hop legend, Reveal, and hip-hop OG, Kool G Rap, and many other experimental works.
Perhaps due to the widespread and almost household-name success of Hichkas’ music, as well as the eccentricity of his own work, Mahdyar’s solo music has never been as extensively covered as his production works for others, however, as heard in ‘Seized’, you can now listen to 11 of his compositions since 2006 that have finally been released and collected in this new album. The concept behind all the songs have been covered extensively in an interview with Drowned in Sound, and accordingly, this Ethnofusion article will only offer overall takeaways instead of regurgitating the aformentioned article.
First, it should be mentioned that Mahdyar’s music has always come with a particularly strong dose of melancholia and to anyone who’s experienced a diaspora or significant trauma in their life, the shear rawness of how he executes this emotion is instantly relatable. As can be seen in his track, “Money Money”, his avant-garde take on music provides a social commentary for the deepest cultural trenches and often darkest corners of society.
The artist’s ability to manipulate the already sorrowful vibe of Middle Eastern vocal wailing and twist it even more in a dystopian futuristic narrative is clearly visible in tracks like “Vow”. In “Iran Iraq”, Mahdyar twists a sample of Hichkas, sonificating the shear brutality of the war between the two countries in the 80s, and he further envisions the balance of this high entropy force with the harmonic equiliberating samples of the Kamancheh as a duality of the self in “Khakis”.
Overall, Mahdyar’s experimental mind is a valuable force in Middle Eastern music and to this blog, he’s considered as a top regional ambassador. An example of ingenuity in his music include his psychological sound design ethos to intrinsically represent ideas through every moment, such as how basslines side-chained to a beat that isn’t present in a song represent “belief in a hope that doesn’t exist so that one can move on with life”. Other examples can be heard in his “Weasels and Warcries” which premiered at the University of Oxford in 2010, featuring a before&afternote voiced by Reveal. ‘Seized’ is a celebration of Mahdyar’s often complex and conceptual solo offerings and a voyeuristic insight into the unsung experiments of this true pioneer.
For fans of Amon Tobin, Ash Koosha & Kai Whiston.
Eccentricity = 10 (unique trendsetter artist and instantly recognizable sound)
Lucidity = 9 (dynamic mixes balancing a large number of sounds with a touch of lo-fi aesthetics)
Intricacy = 10 (expect foley, samples, sound design and organic insturments, all glued with style)
Cadence = 7 (not really music to dance to but still considerably cadent for experimental music)
Sentiment = 10 (very few artists can conceptualise Middle Eastern trauma as well as Mahdyar)
Median = 9.2
Havelock – “Chimes” (with Deft) [20/20 LDN]
Repping the half-time heavy and Ivy Lab-led 20/20 LDN imprint, Havelock and Deft team up on Chimes, delivering the haunted spectral tribal feels over this minimal instrumental. The detail is all in the percussions, and future ancient aesthetics and the ever-so-slight nudge to the ethnofusion genres.
For fans of Tsuruda, X&G & Ivy Lab.
Eccentricity = 8 (ambient and drone-y new school half time)
Lucidity = 9 (subtle dynamics and crispy balance of a distant melody and nearby percussions)
Intricacy = 8 (foley-led and minimal-sounding, yet surprisingly layered)
Cadence = 9 (heavy bumps to ensue and persist through tight syncopations)
Sentiment = 7 (not much there in terms of concept but definitely manifests some dark emotions)
Median = 8.2
Shadow People – Shadow People [Deep, Dark & Dangerous]
The combination of Kiwi dubstep royalty duo, Truth, and pioneering UK dubstep artist, DJ Youngsta has led to the formation of a new post-apocalypse-themed music project, entitled Shadow People. The 12-track album sits somewhere between deep dubstep, dark minimal 808-driven beats, and the odd experimentations beyond these genres.
For the most part, Shadow People have done an incredible job of bringing in collaborating artists in the form of female vocalists, producers and MCs, in order to switch things up while staying true to the stylistic direction of the project. For example, the vocals from Lelijveld on ‘Destroyed’ are a refreshing and soulful addition to the track and Ace Boogie & Alicia Kiah smash the UK grime, dancehall, drum n bass and Middle-Eastern-influenced ‘Ricky’. Some of the other standout features for this blog include Giza with its Egyptian-esque elements, and the saxophone work on Endlessly.
Conceptually, the album and each of its tracks are accompanied with excerpts which certainly accentuates the post-apocalyptic aesthetic character of the music. Talking from amongst the ashes of the old world, the artists explain the plight of the new and its similar authoritarian power, and the New Dystopian structure that followed through text and sound. Shadow People consider themselves torchbearers in the trenches; silent truthsayers who are keeping morality alive in these darkest of days. They seem heaven-bent on this narrative as was evident in their interview with The Untz and how they responded to every question in this light.
While the artists and their narrative is pretty consistent and the music and overall concept match well, some of the song titles such as Lemon Cake and Jazz Cabbage fall short of this conceptual dedication. Nevertheless, we’re stoked to see where this storyline will be taken in future projects and whether it will be developed further.
For fans of Truth, gisaza, Submassive Foundation, Oudjat, etc.
Eccentricity = 8 (OG sound, revamped by OG artists)
Lucidity = 10 (absolutely top-of-the-chain production quality)
Intricacy = 9 (minimal sound with plenty of subtle and intriguing layers)
Cadence = 8 (battlecry call to arms heard & received, & boots have been put on)
Sentiment = 9 (awesome consistency between artist names, album name & vibe, and written texts)
Median = 8.8
Dubnium – Dark Passenger [Rebel Traxx]
The Plymouth, UK marauder whose work we’ve previously featured in the form of an ethno-fused drum n bass track comes back into our limelight with this 140BPM heater, channelling dark, gritty and heavy-riding tribal wubs. Dubnium’s sound has crisped up, as is evident on the stellar percussion work on this one, and we are excited to hear more from the artist in the future.
For fans of FLO, Dub Killer & SubDocta.
Eccentricity = 7 (Principal genre sound with top-notch execution)
Lucidity = 9 (the definition of Pringles music production quality)
Intricacy = 8 (subtle yet evident dynamics and layering)
Cadence = 9 (unquestionable groove and incredible syncopation of all elements)
Sentiment = 7 (gets the dark dubstep vibe across through song title & musical vibe)
Median = 8
LiL FiSH – Mosaic EP [I.O.T Record]
Repping the French global bass scene that gave birth to CloZee, Scarfinger, Hugo Kant and much of the whole The French Touch Connection crew, LiL Fish is back with a new EP that stylistically incorporates all those elements that make this style revered internationally. Classy dream-hop meets euphoria meets influences from all over the planet meets modern bass music production; Mosaic EP is a stylistic cementation of this graceful domain of world fusion music which provides a great balance between the US-influenced crunk sound and the more trip-hop-oriented European aesthetic. A wholesome pan-electronic global bass EP by LiL FiSH with a lot to dig into.
For fans of CloZee, Hugo Kant & Bonobo.
Eccentricity = 8 (unmistakably a continental European affair)
Lucidity = 8 (well mixed and mastered overall with not too much off-the-walls sound design)
Intricacy = 10 (blending of many world music and electronic styles into 5 tracks)
Cadence = 9 (groove-laden and triumphant dancefloor tune galore)
Sentiment = 7 (no overbearing concept but certainly evokes a deep emotional response)
Median = 8.4
kyra – love 2 u
kyra simultaneously channels his inner J Dilla and Ravi Shankar with this one, giving us a simple yet blissful Sitar-laden hip-hop instrumental. Expect that lo-fi execution, herbal essence and cleansing vibes without reference to strong chemical products.
For fans of Amin Payne, Flying Lotus & The Gaslamp Killer.
Eccentricity = 7 (not the first time I’ve heard this fusion style, but it always works)
Lucidity = 8 (nice balance of lo-fi aesthetics and production clarity)
Intricacy = 7 (not too overly layered but great use of a limited selection of sounds)
Cadence = 9 (that stripped down golden age boom bap groove is the one)
Sentiment = 8 (definitely can feel the love; that baby-making incense-ladden sentiment, ya feel?)
Median = 7.8
Bwoy De Bhajan – Amazon Lily Hut
The Ethnofusion favourite and all-round genius producer Bwoy De Bhajan is back with a stellar new forest-themed piece, aptly titled ‘Amazon Lily Hut’. The song combines elements of Amazonian atmospherics with the Turkish oud, over a jazzy footwork-inspired beat that is simultaneously fast and slow. Bwoy De Bhajan continues to pave the way in all things tribal, innovative and accessible on a universal scale without jeopardising a shred of artistry.
For fans of Clap!Clap!, Helucze & Flying Lotus.
Eccentricity = 10 (meditative slow-fast Turkish/Amazonian ambient footwork jazz? That’s a 10 here.)
Lucidity = 10 (can almost feel the steam from the waterfall nearby through the speakers)
Intricacy = 9 (multi-layered yet elegant instrumentation)
Cadence = 10 (incredible manipulation of speed perception and groove accentuation)
Sentiment = 9 (full emotional response to a playful natural forest resort, i.e. the song name)
Median = 9.6
OZFERTI – Ta Na da Na Ta Na Da
A superbly unique song this month comes from a new discovery who goes by the name OZFERTI. Dubbed as ‘Nubian Bass’, OZFERTI takes the afrobeats sound, Ethiopian flavours and a footwork aesthetic to create an exceptional blend of the three. The tune comes with a handy free download and what it lacks in a bootleg lo-fi type attitude, it certainly makes up for in innovation. A new artist to watch for that strange polyrhythmic goodness.
For fans of Clap!Clap!, B-Ju & Kappah.
Eccentricity = 10 (unique blend of ethnicity, musical style and instruments)
Lucidity = 8 (coherent voice for each element, despite their mass congregation)
Intricacy = 9 (had the vocals been credited in the track description, full intricate value for this)
Cadence = 10 (superb groove maintained through the polyrhythmic attitude)
Sentiment = 7 (one can only assume that the sentiment is in the innovative and danceful novelty?)
Median = 8.8
Drumspyder – Jenny Nettles
Drumspyder has a new track and it’s on our blog; what a surprise!
On a real note, Drumspyder continues his exploratory path of harnessing influence from various types of European folk music, this time manifested through the Celt-inspired song, Jenny Nettles. The story of this character goes back to traditional Scottish folklore; a story about a pretty village girl who fell in love with an invading officer who in turn deserted her, leading to her consequent suicide by hanging from a tree. It’s admirable that googling the song adds another level of authenticity to the concept. It further accentuates Drumspyder’s careful attention to do the folk culture that he is influenced by in his music and gives that culture justice through proper representation. Aye, good on him!
For fans of psychedelic mid-tempo, Liquid Bloom & Byzantine Time Machine.
Eccentricity = 9 (Celtic midtempo bass with signature Drumspyder wubs & percussions)
Lucidity = 9 (top notch mixing and mastering, professional neat sound)
Intricacy = 8 (great balance of organic and digital elements)
Cadence = 10 (Drumspyder is all about ensuring cadence and the percussive power of the groove)
Sentiment = 9 (impressive influence from a local folklore story and its related cultural tune)
Median = 9
Martins Garden – Renaissance [Merkaba Music]
The psydub phenom known as Martins Garden is back with a new album through Merkaba Music that explores the intersection of classical European folk music and psychedelic downtempo. The result is a fluent principalist psydub release with a digital skanking sound, OG squelches, and an undoubtable influence from classical composers such as Mozart, as evident in Lacrimosa, the only rendition composition on this album by Marcel Umberg, a.k.a. Martins Garden. Renaissance is a purely endogenous affair, localised to Europe, and it is another refreshing take on ethnofusion music that explores the rich, yet often untapped musical heritage of this region.
Eccentricity = 8 (Traditional psydub with a welcome and unique classical influence)
Lucidity = 8 (highly spacious mix with breathable dynamics)
Intricacy = 9 (sparse interlinked instrumentation and plenty of carefully crafted squelches)
Cadence = 8 (fluid, steady and elegant progression with little rush)
Sentiment = 9 (serves the purpose of a renaissance-influenced Dub Orchestra very well)
Median = 8.4
Pablo Raster – Must Version ft. Don Fe [ODGPROD]
ODGPROD is represented again on the label, carrying the flag for digital ethnic dub in the form of Pablo Raster’ Must Version. There is something about that flute riff on this stripped-down riddim which caught my attention; probably that it fairs well to balance the hard 4-fo-the-floor kick patterns of the steppa-style influence.
For fans of authentic ethnic dub, Brooklyn Gypsies, Feldub & Celt Islam.
Eccentricity = 7 (Old school digital dubstep sound with the added influence of the flute)
Lucidity = 7 (the mix comes of a bit flat on the low end and the drums are slightly too sharp)
Intricacy = 8 (not too many elements going on but those there are used well)
Cadence = 10 (true skanking riddim providing the dancing vibes)
Sentiment = 8 (digital dub riddim on a digital dub label, with authentic digital dub sound)
Median = 8
Howie Lee – Socialism Core Value II
The Beat-beast from the east, Howie Lee uses the turn of the Chinese New Year to give away a 36-min chunk of edits and originals that he’s secretly been dropping in his DJ sets. Knowing the prowess of Howie Lee, these ‘throwaway’ beats are still way more flavourful than your average producers, and they have an authentic Howie Lee / Do Hits / post-everything vibe to them which fully encapsulates everything awesome about his productions.
Howie Lee’s music can be described as the machine learning outcome of what the national anthem of a dystopian future past society would be generated as, should one feed the system dank memes, post-communist China, technology, and the soul of a thousand dead hip-hop producers. Expect the odd influences from Africa, Salsa, Middle Eastern, and 80s Disco.
For fans of oriental trap, Do Hits, afrobeats, and instrumental synth-hop.
Eccentricity = 9 (unmistakably sounds like Howie Lee)
Lucidity = 9 (crispy, well-mixed and mastered tuna)
Intricacy = 10 (would need a microscope to see the stems of these project files)
Cadence = 8 (great effort to make experimental beats highly danceable)
Sentiment = 8 (authentic Chinese style, representing a feel of rave culture from the orient)
Median = 8.8
Spaniol ft. Barrio Lindo – Lavradio [Shika Shika]
Celebrating a distant memory of Barra Funda, a neighbourhood in Sao Paulo where Spaniol grew up, an EP has been crafted which includes this song featuring Barrio Lindo, and the EP is a testament to the full circle of musicianship, moving aboard to play shows and eventually returning to the memory of those places most dear or distant to you.
The sentiment is beautifully visualised on the album cover as well as through the collaboration with Barrio Lindo who is one of Spaniol’s earliest allies in musical excursions, tracing back to early meetings in Lavradio St of Barra Funda. Musically, the distant and highly processed sound of children singing is certainly reminiscent of a nostalgic sentiment that all adults will feel; a sense of a spacetime which only exists as a distant memory as it defies the now. Is this saudade that I’m feeling right now?
For fans of Nicola Cruz, Stanisha, NILLO & etc.
Eccentricity = 8 (brilliant use of subtle arpeggios and instrumentation on the downtechno format)
Lucidity = 9 (perfect balance of lo-fi aesthetics and hi-fi production skills and sound design)
Intricacy = 9 (subtle, layered and appropriately intricate instrumentation for nostalgic music)
Cadence = 8 (beautifully slow-paced yet consistent groove)
Sentiment = 10 (very strong and appropriate representation of a far memory of home)
Median = 8.8
Binder – Moonlight [Anahata Musik]
A feature request this month came from a Berlin-based artist called Binder who’s released the first offering from his label, Anahata Musik. The vibes are dark and blissful, and they fit the concept of moonlight pretty well with the lo-fi attitude, haunting vocals, and the hang-drum / marimba-esque arpeggios. The only thing that we can fault this song is mastering, but this is certainly a brilliant opening of this new label’s chapter. Welcome to the sphere, Anahata Musik!
For fans of Helucze, Nicola Cruz & Samarana.
Eccentricity = 8 (unique wubs for this genre sprinkled throughout)
Lucidity = 8 (very well mixed but unfortunately, a little too quiet for the OCD musichead)
Intricacy = 8 (highly layered and detailed for a minimally executed track)
Cadence = 9 (great medicinal star-gazingly slow rhythm to drift into etherealms to)
Sentiment = 9 (what is heard, what is on the tin and the emotional response connect well)
Median = 8.4
Fattini – Bolado [Solta]
These monthly findings would be void if we don’t feature at least one baile trap release and this month’s highlight feature comes in the form of Fattini’s Baldo, released through the Brasilian imprint, SOLTA. The EP mixes elements of funk, trap and bossa nova to create that premiun Brazilian 808 flavor. The beauty of this music is that it blends favela undertones with a graceful and classy organic feel, cementing a balanced output of smoothness n grit.
For fans of VHOOR, Sango & sunson.
Eccentricity = 8 (nice clean sound with a distinct bossa nova influence)
Lucidity = 8 (not crazy immaculate but a nice warm and clean mix of sounds)
Intricacy = 9 (healthy mix of synths, percussions & a ton of Brazilian vibes)
Cadence = 9 (captures the inescapable groove of favela trap perfectly)
Sentiment = 8 (pure feel good vibes, with no overcomplicated overbearing concept)
Median = 8.4
Dropical – Oden’s Raven [Gravitas Music]
The folks at Gravitas’s latest offering as a part of their Infusion series is a flute-laden score from Dropical titled Oden’s Raven. Unfortunately, there isn’t much included in terms of information about the ethnic influence but the song’s combination of the flute melody, the future bass synths and crunky 808s has led to a pleasantly positive result. It suffices to say that this sounds like a robot bird chirping as it traverses the canopies of a distant digital civilization.
For fans of VOLO, Kshmr & SOOHAN
Eccentricity = 8 (something about those flutes and chords makes the old crunk sound unique again)
Lucidity = 9 (really clean and punchy mix, as you’d expect from the Gravitas discog)
Intricacy = 8 (minimal and spacious mix but lots of nice details sprinkled throughout)
Cadence = 8 (the trill melody gets slightly repetitive but definitely a pretty fat beat)
Sentiment = 7 (feeling’s right but not much there in terms of concept / track details)
Median = 8
Qwasa Qwasa – Simba [LOWUP Records]
The Belgian producer, Qwasa Qwasa delivers this EP via Lowup Records, presenting a nutritious goulash of global bass music with specific focus on the afrobeats portion of the equation. The three songs on the EP are sufficiently different to qualify it as a dynamic release, progressively getting faster; from Nightstop’s trappy vibes to Simba’s Jersey Club influence and onto the footwork-inspired and highlight track, Kiss Me.
Overall the EP serves well to predominantly use the African template while sprinkling in sitars, and even the infamously cheeky Shakuhachi flute sample. Good stuff from this emerging 20-year old. Consider him under our surveillance now.
For fans of Clap!Clap!, Howie Lee & Bwoy De Bhajan.
Eccentricity = 8 (unique merging of styles across the three tracks)
Lucidity = 9 (produced with a clear aim of pumpage at clubs in mind)
Intricacy = 9 (lots of sounds, influences and elements going on)
Cadence = 10 (probably one of the most fun and dancy releases this month)
Sentiment = 8 (covers the happy and energetic vibe of afrobeats music perfectly)
Median = 8.8
David Starfire – Na Hearn (Delhi2Dublin Remix) [Amrita Recordings]
This Delhi2Dublin remix of David Starfire verges on the EDM side of the plate which we rarely cover, but beyond the candy-coated sound, there is a brilliant story to this song. Starfire recorded the original while collaborating with refugees on the border of Thailand and Myanmar and consequently, he has dedicated all proceeds of this release to supporting education of Burmese refugee children. Accordingly, this tune sits well in our blog for a number of reasons which are further explained below:
Eccentricity = 6 (Burmese vocals are a good trick to reclaim uniqueness in the EDM house sound)
Lucidity = 9 (masterclass cleanliness; full marks if the genre was harder to execute)
Intricacy = 8 (nice sparse elements to add to the main groove)
Cadence = 9 (pretty dancy moombah-inspired house wtith 80s touches. Burmahton anyone?)
Sentiment = 10 (high cultural relevance and most importantly -> charity cause)
Median = 8.4