One of the legacies of my enjoyment of the Rohail Hyatt years at Coke Studio is that I found that I enjoyed, amongst the range of fusions on offer, the Qawwali style of music and singing. So I’m pretty chuffed with myself when I now recognise it unprompted. Qawwali, Bollywood, brass and electric beats meld into a rollicking enthusiastic spiritual journey that is “Junun” , a collaboration between Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express.
I’ve seen this album, released in October last year, described as Jonny Greenwood’s new album. This is hardly fair but if his presence opens up doors for the artists who do all the donkey work then who is to deny them that ? Not being a Radiohead fan, I didn’t come at this with any fan baggage, and to be honest, I doubt that it would have made any difference.
All the music is composed by Shye Ben Tzur, performed by Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, with Jonny Greenwood adding electro beats, guitar here and there, and no doubt, presence. The lyrics are written in Hebrew, Hindi and Urdu and sung by Shye Ben Tzur and members of the Express. Shye Ben Tzur has been living and working in India for a decade or so and this latest output is his third album.
The title track, “Junun” (Madness of Love) is a collar-grabbing groove buster of a tune. Soheb Bhiyani’s trumpet is a clarion call to attention driving the brass section forward in a charge to arms. “Roken” follows this and is more electro beats but given my in-built aversion to such I have even grown to like it and forgiven them.
Balance is struck with the mesmeric “Hu” and melodic tunes such as “Allah Elohim” and “Ahuvi” before a brass driven reprise of the title track blasts exuberantly.
The trumpet is punchy. The brass swinging. The dholak and percussion just so infectious I guarantee it will get into your head.
The project was recorded in the stunning Mehrangarh Fort near Jodhpur, India with the blessing of the Maharaja. That in itself must have been inspiring and you will find a short documentary on the making of the album available on iTunes for a few cents/pence. Watching the film will certainly enhance your enjoyment of the music, and you will get some sense of the atmosphere at the fort, pigeons and all, but the music does stand alone as a satisfying collection.
Perhaps the presence of world famous western musicians facilitates the journey to my laptop and cd player through the interest created in the media and hence creates a wider audience generally. What I can say is that I have grown to love this album. In my opinion quite excellent. As a guitarist / strummer I wish I’d been sat in the circle too. Could be an early contender. Enjoy.