Earlier this year, as I swayed a few feet away from them, I was enthralled and heartened by the spirituality, tenderness and intricacy of Fun>Da>Mental‘s music. So when their latest record arrived on my doormat I was eager to hear it.
I unwrapped the package to find a CD cover picture of a small Asian boy sticking two fingers up. I put the album on the CD deck and listened, noting that a black and white picture of a small Asian boy sticking two fingers up adorned the back too.
As I listened to opener The Last Gospel, one of several tracks to benefit from the vocalisations of Rizwan Muazzan, a Qawwali group formed by two nephews of the late and very great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I began to read the sleeve notes.
“Some of us fear a loss at speaking out or challenging a system which denies humans to operate in harmony, this in every way and anyway is a lost idealogy, we all gain from shouting loud!”, writes Nation Records head honcho Nawaz. “There is and will always be those people who have no interest in bringing people together, who have no enlightenment or ambition to see from different perspectives, who will always say the most ridiculous and be entertained by the most powerful, these are the people we fear and must struggle against…” he goes on.
It’s against a backdrop of track two, Fire Water, an intensely rhythmic piece – but while The Last Gospel seems to owe arrangement to 2nd Gen‘s Wajiid Yaseem, in Sunday School, which follows it, the South African influence is immediately obvious in the vocals, the rhythm and the use of instruments. But Nawaz’s Sunday School is a million miles from Nitin Sawhney‘s take on South African school singing on Prophesy; Sawhney’s music is much calmer and uplifting than that of Fun>Da>Mental, whose offering is more intense and emotive.
Tagai Soul sounds like what would happen if you got the New Zealand All Blacks (yes, the rugger buggers) together with Afro Celt Sound System for a scrum… very macho vocals over a thumping rhythm are at once threatening and titilating. By the time Huun Huur Tu, the Tuvan throat singers, appear on More Than a Hundred Times alongside an Apple Mackintosh for surely the most experimental recording of Kaigal-ool’s Steppes collective since they met up with Frank Zappa, we are realising that Aki Nawaz has managed to assemble something rather special. Just as Sawhney toured the world in search of music for Prophesy, Nawaz has musicians from Pakistan, South Africa, Russia… and his own native Bradford, of course.
I’m still reading the sleevenotes; wondering precisely what he means by “border love” to “American flag burners”. It seems at the very least unfortunate timing to release an album with such sleeve notes around three weeks after the atrocious events in the USA which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.
As we enter an uncertain period of world history, Nawaz’s comments in 1994 offer an intriguing angle on events. “We’re living on the edge and that’s why there’s a massive rise in fanaticism especially amongst Muslims who are joining organisations like the Kalifah. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it’s a result of other things that are failing them, they’re being led that way because no-one is doing anything about what should be done. Then you get the white man going ‘they’re all fanatics’ but he has put them in the position of having to be fanatics.”
He’s also said that his music is secondary to his message and merely gives him a platform to get that message across. Fun>Da>Mental is of course a band that has been accused of racism by the inkies in the past, to which Nawaz said that they “have come out from day one as an anti-racist band with a no-nonsense attitude.” But one of their albums is entitled Why America Will Go To Hell; so it might be fair to say that their no-nonsense attitude is also a challenging one.
As Human Waves closes the album with a computer voice starkly contrasting with the rich diversity of the worldwide singing talent displayed earlier, one is left with much to think of, particularly in the light of events in New York; and an album that is impossible either musically or politically to dismiss.