Stunning, revolutionary, cutting edge are all words that would have described Karsh Kale‘s debut solo album Realize – had it been released eight years ago. But in 2002 its mixture of ambient, classical Indian and modern dance floor sounds no longer carries the shock of the new. Since the fourth world experiments of musicians such as Brian Eno, the clash of musical cultures has become an accepted part of music’s lingua franca and the early ’90s saw a slew of bands taking these experiments one-step further and merging music from around the world with hip-hop, house and techno – with varying degrees of success.
On labels like Nation, bands such as Transglobal Underground and Loop Guru forged a powerful blend of the exotic and the everyday and soon every producer with a sampler started to throw in lazy tabla loops and sitar samples to add some spice to their mixes. The exotic was beginning to become the everyday. As a result, Asian instruments and sounds were often being shoe-horned into Western styles, rather than truly merged.
But from this emerged a new generation of British Asian artists, determined to genuinely fuse Eastern and Western musical cultures, and not have their heritage reduced to a set of pre-sets on a synthesizer. Artists like Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney and Badmarsh and Shri brought a genuine understanding of Asian music to the scene and raised standards.
Realize, though, sounds like a step backwards. It sounds too clean, too produced, it’s too polite and nice. It’s hard to be cutting edge when it sounds like you’re auditioning for the next Sting album. It sounds like any chancer with a stack of sample CDs could have produced this album. Karsh Kale may well be a dab hand with tabla but only rarely does that shine through – most of the time though we’re left with a new age mush that could happily soundtrack your crystal chakra shopping trip.
It’s pleasant enough, but Karsh Kale needs to push the boundaries further, weird things up a bit, take a few chances, and maybe listen to some proper cutting edge dance music than the dated trance-lite he seems to be drawing inspiration from. Tracks like ‘Distance’ could easily fitted into the first album from Eat Static – dance music, and techno in particular, has moved on light years since. Perhaps it’s time Karsh Kale did so as well.