Home Music World music review: Asia

World music review: Asia

by Allie Mason April 3, 2012
World music review: Asia

7he Myriads (Russia): If you think space disco is a kind of theme party thrown by Russian cosmonauts, then you’re missing out on quite possibly one of the most enjoyable new hybrid genres, and the dual-continental band positioned squarely at its forefront. 7he Myriads, formed by Vitalic Teterin and Alexey Krjuk in 2007, are more than just an electronic group. Adding Yunusov Ilgiz to the band, the Ekaterinburg (Asia) natives draw upon disco, funk, deep house, rock and electro, while combining live instrumentation with electronic staples like the ever-trusty laptop and MIDI keyboard. Now based in St. Petersburg (Europe), the intergalactic rock threesome released their debut album ∞ in 2010 and an EP, Running Man, soon after. Although they haven’t released another album since, they’re constantly updating their SoundCloud online where you can stream almost 30 tracks for free.

The Raghu Dixit Project (India): Combining traditional Indian vocal styles and instrumentation with unconventional musical styles including funky basslines, reggae rhythms and crisp, clean electric guitar, the Project is more than just a name—it’s an “open-house” for musicians and artists to come together and express their craft, regardless of genre, style or nationality. While the majority of his music is inspired by Shishunala Sharif, a saint from Karnataka, India famous for his poetry, Raghupathy Dixit’s lyrics, which are mostly in his native tongue, speak to the masses and deal with everyday experiences and emotions. The self-taught composer and musician believes Indian folk music is not a genre, but a state of mind. “We’re all untrained musicians,” said Dixit on his website, “and singing a song, because it’s innate, is a basic instinct.” The RDP’s debut self-titled album, available to stream online, includes eight full-length tracks that were composed over the past 12 years. The quintet that currently makes up the Project also has a new album in the works.

Morphy (Singapore): This collective, represented by vocalist and guitarist Lilia Yip and supported by Eugene Wong on synth and bass, lead guitarist Alexius Cai and Chua Yingtze on percussion, is not for those who enjoy mainstream folk music. The ambient, electronic, folk-pop band melds genres and risks melding your mind with their psychedelic ambient potpourri of sound. Stepping beyond electronica, the band uses traditional instruments from all areas of the world, including the wooden folk flute, and the African thumb piano, also known as the mbira. Their seemingly rule-free composition stems from their open approach to their music, inviting musicians from all corners of the globe to contribute to their sound. Their first album Pink Ashes (2004) set the pace for what was to come in their 2010 release Just Like Breathing, which featured U.K. guitarist Timothy Lloyd. Their presence in the scene, however, is reminiscent of their music—rather ambient—so if you want to hear them, you’re going to have to do some digging.

Kabul Dreams (Afghanistan): Here in the Western world, the music market is oversaturated with rock bands trying to make it big. Afghanistan’s first rock ‘n’ roll band, Kabul Dreams, is only three years old. They have become somewhat of a novelty on a global scale, purely due to the fact that they’re the first ever in their country, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a listen. While their sound ranges from generic to melodic, they do have talent and a whole lot of gusto. As the self-proclaimed voice of Kabul youth, their ciphers deal with post-Taliban messages of peace, unity and love. Groovy. Although the trio lived outside Afghanistan during Taliban rule—singer Sulyman Qardash in neighbouring Uzbekistan, bass guitarist Siddique Ahmed in Pakistan, and drummer Mujtaba Habibi in Iran—they moved back to Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed from power. What’s interesting about these three Afghan boys is that they come from different areas of the country, so they all speak a different native language. Instead of trying to work with that, they decided to sing in English.

Niraj Chag (England via India): This British musician of Indian descent has spent his life in London. His family’s strong ties to their heritage and homeland inspired him to create what BBC Radio 1 host DJ Nihal calls “some of the most beautiful British-Asian music ever created.” Chag composes in multiple languages, including six different languages on his debut album Along the Dusty Road (2006), after which he was awarded the “Best Underground Act” award at the U.K. Asian Music Awards. His next release, The Lost Souls in 2009, drove home this fusion artist’s talent, blending major South Asian styles with Hindi and by combining over 50 vocal layers on one track alone. The songs themselves are relaxed; it’s the type of music you can picture yourself listening to while smoking fragrant Mu‘assel from an ornate hookah in some tucked-away lounge amongst the crowded streets of New Delhi.

Eli Walks (Japan): Producer extraordinaire Jeff Lufkin has long had his hands in Japan’s thriving popular music scene—it’s a family affair. Both of his sisters are established musicians; Olivia is a fairly successful J-pop songstress, while Caroline is a vocalist for indie rock’s Mice Parade. Lufkin had an early affinity for heavy metal, but after his sisters introduced him to electronica à la Kraftwerk and Massive Attack, he searched for a method that would allow him to meld the two, and found it in club music. Lufkin worked as a producer, guitarist and composer in Japan, but moved to L.A. and birthed the moniker Eli Walks, as he studied sound design, engineering, and mastered Ableton Live at the California Institute of the Arts. His 2012 debut, Parallel, is delicate yet abrasive, overlapping atmospheric dance music. This is music to fill your ears; it works equally as an isolation soundtrack/solo travel companion or setting for a chill, alternative dance floor. He will make his Fuji Rock Festival debut this summer alongside the likes of Radiohead and the Stone Roses.

BoA (South Korea): K-pop girl groups have steadily grown in popularity, breaking into Western and Japanese music markets on the heels of BoA (Beat of Angel), or Kwon Boa, the reigning “Queen of Korean Pop Music.” BoA’s dance electropop first hooked South Korea in 2000 after she caught agents’ eyes while accompanying her older brother to a talent search. In 2002, she became the first South Korean musician to break Japan since the World War II entertainment trade embargo, opening the doors for girl groups like the Wonder Girls and 2NE1. BoA secured a fan base in the U.S. with the 2009 release of her self-titled English debut album and after spending much of 2010 touring the states and promoting her single “Eat You Up.” The pop starlet is it still maintaining her presence in Japan and South Korea, but is also set to make her Hollywood debut in the dance flick COBU 3D, so brace yourself for a K-pop invasion.

Modern Dog (Thailand): As the victors of the Coke Music Contest in 1992, college mates Modern Dog were instantly thrust into a world of bright lights and flashing cameras to sell over 500,000 copies of their debut album. Their introduction to the Thai music market may seem near effortless, but their sound was over a century in the making. For years, Thailand borrowed music from its neighbours India and China, resting at a crossroads of traditional Greek and Roman trade routes. But Thailand’s popular music format, known as “string,” wasn’t developed without the influence of American R&B, shipped overseas courtesy of American and Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam. Modern Dog broke through the sticky sweet boundaries characteristic of string and brought heavier, American influenced experimental rock featuring English and Thai lyrics. With That Song (2004), produced by Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian), and a 2006 U.S. tour, they tried to break into the Western world, but failed to gain much steam. Still hailed as the leader of Thailand’s indie rock music scene, Modern Dog paved the way for alternative rock’s presence in popular Thai music and have sold over two million albums to date.

Hedgehog (China): Despite China’s well-documented, swelling population, it has never been considered a major producer or consumer of popular music. Due to state restrictions, cantopop and mandopop commercialized love ballads pollute the radio waves, for an alternative hasn’t yet broken into the mainstream. Inspired by Western bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, a black/thrash metal scene developed among youth in the ‘90s, and heavy rock music has now grown in popularity in Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing’s Hedgehog was born out of those same punk/grunge roots, and they developed a fan base playing shows underground in 2005. Fans now flock to their shows to see Atom, the petite yet aggressive female percussionist, peeking through a mop of hair, behind a towering drum kit. The guitarist, Zo, sings most lyrics in Mandarin and English, and they recently recruited a new bassist, Xiao Nan, for their 2011 U.S. tour with Californian synth pop collective Xiu Xiu. Hedgehog recorded their upcoming 2012 release, Sun Fun Gun, in New York with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s John Grew and Russell Simins, and the album’s first single is now available for free download on Bandcamp.

Hiromi Uehara (Japan): Hiromi Uehara is known as one of the world’s most talented, game-changing musicians for her ability to bring raw, emotional rock to the piano—a relatively peaceful instrument. She began playing the piano at six years old, joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at 14, and has now broken into the more mainstream alternative Western market. Hiromi first worked as a jingle writer in Japan, but travelled to the United States to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music to study jazz piano. Since the release of her debut album, Another Mind (2003), she has travelled the world, developing a reputation for her inventive, high-energy fusion of classical and hard rocking jazz. With the Hiromi Trio Project, she will bring her latest release, Voice (2011), to this summer’s Fuji Rock Festival and both Montreal’s and Toronto’s jazz festivals.

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