Strange Land 1 / Various
Strange Land is the first in a series of compilation albums focusing on the current work of an international community of musicians and producers living in Singapore, a group of people of various races, ages, linguistic backgrounds, and musical talents. Unique convergences take place in Singapore. As varied as is the talent pool in a place like Los Angeles, or Paris, or Tokyo, most of the music on Strange Land couldn't have been made anywhere but Singapore. ARTISTS: Julaiha is a 34-year-old Singaporean woman of Indonesian descent whose jazz-pop world music maintains a strong Indonesian influence. "My Answer" is Julaiha's recommendation for dealing with adversity. It's Malay lyrics are about bravery and acceptance. What sounds a little like Rap is the influence of Dikir Barat, a traditional Malay music-and-movement form. The musical texture includes the sampled sounds of the Javanese Gamelan orchestra playing motifs from traditional pieces, and several subtle layers of Kalimba, the African "thumb piano", played by Mohamed Noor Bin Syed Yakob. What sounds like a drum set is a box drum. You might have seen one on American Idol - Singapore guys have been playing gigs with them for a long time, and Mohamed Noor started that. (His profile is below.) Zapin Besok is a hip-hop-influenced "update" of the traditional Malay music-and-dance form called Zapin, which is itself a localized "update" of a middle-eastern form. Julaiha's entirely improvised vocal floats between Arabic and a wordless approach. Alemay is one of Singapore's rising jazz talents, but here lends her soulfulness to a happy dance track called "Message Me", a song about love and texting. Tachikoma 7 only writes music when he's depressed, so it's a good thing he's depressed a lot. He names himself after a class of childlike robots in a Japanese anime series. They long for the day when they are grown up enough to be released from their guardians, and that is the inspiration for "Waiting For The Day". When asked to put a name to the genre of this tune, Tachikoma's answer was, "organic-electro." Amy Azizah, Singapore's dancing queen of hip-hop, is an up-and-coming recording star in the Malay language. Here she sings in English. Earl Norman, traveling producer-composer-instrumentalist, is an American whose Singapore experience has inspired volumes of challenging music. Two of his haunting short pieces are featured here. Transformasi is an evolving polyglot band led by Shawn Letts, an Oklahoma native in his 20th year in Singapore. The band, a pop music project, is heavily influenced by Malay music, and "Lookin For Another You", in particular, is built on the rhythm of the Malaysian theatre of shadow puppetry, a dying art. So, a pop-jazz song-of-lost-love on a funky Asian rhythm bed. On "Honeymoon With Demons", Malay multi-disciplinary artist Mohamed Herman presents his own Malay lyrics and a Javanese children's song in a futuristic context which makes those influences feel downright suspicious. His vocal effects are real, not electronic. The group shouts, horns and percussion were recorded on a portable DAT recorder in a hotel lobby in Cairo, Egypt during an Arab wedding party. This song scares some women and children and if you're going to dance to it, you'll have to dance pretty fast. Mohamed Noor Bin Syed Yakob is one of Singapore's most accomplished and well-traveled musicians. A true multi-instrumentalist, he concentrates on drums and percussion. On "Semangat Utan" (Malay for "Spirit of the Jungle"), Mat Noor tunes the Kalimba, an African instrument, to an Indian scale and then takes a loosely Indian approach to improvising on it. His accompaniment is his own ravishing work on the Indian drums called Tablas and a wooden flute which he had never played before this one take. Richard Philip is a Singaporean singer-songwriter of Indian heritage. He counts Bob Marley and Dave Matthews as major influences, but he doesn't sound like anyone but Richard Philip. "Brother's Keeper" is a response to a particular world problem, child abuse in Africa, but it's basic message is broad and universal. Producer-Writer-Bassman Will Wright of New York has considerable tenure in Singapore. In "Jungle Jazz" and "Just Chillin'", Will creates moody, funky hip-hop-jazz and keeps it melodic while still allowing his bass playing to influence the writing. Only a hint of a faraway feeling betrays his location. English DJ-producer Ben Galvin believes music, including his own, can change the world. In the case of his ongoing production project, FXion (pronounced like "affection"), the world changes and we can dance to it. Singer Nazneen is a half-Malay, half Pakistani Singaporean. "Amulet" is inspired by the Malay music-and-movement form called "Dikir Barat", in which a gender-specific group of hand-drummers and unison singers accompanies two lead singers (of the same gender, of course). Performances are ritualistic, but energy, humor, and improvisation within a framework are hallmarks. The unison singers perform rehearsed arm-and-hand movements which can be quite dazzling. RAJA LAUT is a male Dikir Barat group, DIRGAHAYU is a female one, and Mohd. Herman is a superb solo singer in this very Arab-influenced style. Adi Gajah Putih (King White Elephant) is the leader of the guy group and the lovely Shariffah Widad is the leader of the girls. The leaders call, their respective groups respond. There is more to Dikir Barat than that. "Amulet" is a fusion based on a conceptual snapshot of an art form, but the energy is authentic, thanks to a lot of young Malay people with a passion for Dikir Barat. The song is the brag of one who possesses a "lucky charm" and is therefore immune to most black magic. "Meditation" is a piece of music meant for meditation. The piano plays the part of the Saron players in a gamelan orchestra, the synthesized bass drone plays the part of the Tampura in an Indian ensemble, and the meandering melody is played on a succession of lovely keyboard samples of lovely Asian instruments. Woozyworld is a boring friendly guy who is always on time and has really short hair.