Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Language Barriers

According to Karsh Kale, the London born and New York raised producer/dj/musician, the title of his third studio release (and most recent album) entitled Broken English, was based on the concept of trying to

"create songs in English, but to give them a sentiment and a sense of universality, so it works in places where English is not their first language. But at the same time, you still understand the sentiment of the songs. That was the original idea of Broken English (link)."

I must admit, I was really looking forward to this third album. To this day Kale's debut Realize continues to be one of my favorites, and I love its remixed incarnation Redesign. I was however slightly disappointed with Liberation, the follow-up to Realize. For me, Realize had set the bar so high that no follow-up could have topped it. Don't get me wrong, Liberation was good, just not great. Perhaps it was Kale's departure from the familiar drum and bass and dance vibe that I was used to, or maybe it was that I thought the cinematic feel of the album was a reach.

In any case, I approached Broken English anxiously, mainly because I had found many recent diasporic desi releases to be trite and mechanical. I was hoping Broken English would be different, and different it was. Wait, is that innovation and musicanship I hear? When I first started listening, I heard hints of Nitin Sawhney through the innovative and non-overtly desi touches in the production, vocals, and instrumentation. Yes the album has Bollywood and Bhangra, as well as the tablatronica that Kale is known for, but it also incorporates hip-hop and rock. All of which work surprisingly brilliant together. While overall, the album presents an eclectic and lush soundscape, Kale stayed true to his roots and kept a few tracks purely South Asian, including among others, the nicely paced "Drive," and the beautiful duet "Some Things are O.K," featuring vocals by Sabiha Khan and longtime Kale collaboratorVishal Vaid.

This album is clearly no East meets West hybrid, and there is no American curry or other Indian food adjectives available to describe the sound. It is what it is: purely American in every complex way that makes an American, an American. You get that sense immediately with the opening track, Manifest (click here for free official download): where MC Napoleon raps alongside Vaid's vocal, while a dhol loop echoes in the background. This is followed by one of my favorite record's on the album, "Dancing at Sunset," featuring Todd Michaelsen's English vocals alongside Carnatic strings and an eloquently placed tabla break and Hindi vocal.

And it doesn't stop there. Sunset is followed by another amazing track, "Beautiful, " which is followed by another and another. Like any solid album, Broken English isn't a couple of good tracks followed by some mediocre fillers. It is instead a solid line-up of thoughtful and diverse music, and will undoubtedly join Realize as part of my life's soundtrack. You can sample the entire album by clicking here.


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