Album Review: Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving

I sought out More Arriving on the strength of ‘Mumbay’ which was released ahead of the album. It’s an infectious track which opens the album. From its rhythmic opening of drums and percussion a baritone sax floats in before the urgent vocal bounce of Mumbai-based rapper MC Mawali. The title is derived from mashing up Mumbai – the city’s current name, and Bombay – the city’s old colonial name and has the line “Mumbai or Bombay/doesn’t make a difference to me”. It’s about ‘growing up and learning to navigate the streets and bustle of city life and ultimately going beyond the name of a city’ and, like a busy city, it becomes more chaotic and clamouring as the song goes on.

Stepping back a bit to the 1990s I worked at HMV in London’s Oxford Street and was surrounded by so many musical lovers/experts who helped expand my knowledge of everything from Reggae & Dub to Easy Listening, trip-hop and ambient (like a living Spotify recommendations playlist). Through those amazing people I was introduced to UK/Asian dance music and, for ears that had been full of rock, punk and AOR, discovering the likes of Badmarsh & Shri, Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney, Joi, Black Star Liner and Asian Dub Foundation (one of the loudest gigs I have ever been to) caused my brain to nearly burst with the excitement of hearing a style of music unknown to me (tabla and sitar in joyous symphony with electronics and voice). For a greater sense of what this was like you can read this excellent Guardian article by Ammar Kalia ‘The birth of Asian underground’.

Nostalgia aside, hearing More Arriving was extremely uplifting for me; it’s an amazing collection of songs. There is a jazz spine running through the album fleshed out with hip-hop, classical styles of singing, harmoniums, synthesisers, tablas and drums but everything sits in perfect harmony. The only tension comes from the album’s subject matter: racial conflict, multiculturalism, the duality of having a foot in each culture. In the song ‘Bol’ Zia Ahmed comments on this duality in powerful spoken word diatribe with lines like “I am En-ger-land, I am an England shirt made in Bangladesh, I am Brick Lane, I am curry house of the year 2005, I am Rogan Josh, I am so damn lost, I am so damn lost’. The power of Zia’s words is underpinned by a brooding, swirling arrangement that is only alleviated by flashes of the incredible singer Aditya Prakash who soars over the music. Zia Ahmed also features on the track ‘Mango’ with chilling lines like “Are you indigenous though? Are you indigenous though? If not, you’d better be vigilant bro”.

There is more spoken word on the album’s closing track ‘Pravasis’ which features an hypnotic combination of guitar (or harp?) and tabla and writer Deepak Unnikrishnan juxtaposing words associated, for ill or good, with Indian culture. It also includes the line which gives the album its title “Teaboy. Mistress. Temporary. People. Illegal. People. Ephemeral. People. Gone. People. Deported. Left. More…Arriving”.  Elsewhere there are tracks like ‘Coolie’ which has the raw energy of a dancehall track due to collaboration with Delhi Sultanate (an Indian reggae/dancehall artist from New Delhi) and Hip-Hip artist Prabh Deep. ‘City of Words’ has a fast rhythm and seemingly yearning saxophone. The tabla-driven ‘Good Ol’ Vilayati’ features another outstanding vocal performance from Mirande a singer from Ahmedabad trained in the Indian classical tradition.

I fear there will be reviews that use terms like World Music and Fusion but these are descriptors I struggle with as all music comes from the world and all music contains nods, references, homages and influences from the artists that artist has listened to. Sarathy Korwar may be weaving cultures together but this must come from being born in the USA and growing up in Ahmedabad and Chennai. He listened to American music on the radio and heard jazz coming from a local music shop. He studied as a classical tabla player before switching to the western drum kit.

Music and politics can sometimes make uncomfortable companions but Korwar and his musical collaborators have made an album with musical depth and breadth and packed full of ideas that hold up a mirror up to a world that, although I might not directly inhabit, I now appreciate a great deal more.

Review by Paul F Cook

Sarathy Korwar on tour:

WED 25 SEPTEMBER: Moth Club, London
THU 26 SEPTEMBER: Band on the Wall, Manchester
FRI 27 SEPTEMBER: Metronome, Nottingham
TUE 15 OCTOBER : Ancienne Belgique (AB), Brussels
THU 17 OCTOBER: The Crescent, York
FRI 18 OCTOBER: Wild Paths Festival 2019, Norwich
WED 23 OCTOBER: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
THU 24 OCTOBER: Ramsgate Music Hall, Ramsgate

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