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Cheb i Sabbah: Devotion

Chris May By

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This is the seventh album Algerian-born DJ and producer Cheb i Sabbah has produced for world, ambient and beyond label Six Degrees and, like its predecessors Shri Durga (Six Degrees, 1999) and Krishna Lila (Six Degrees, 2002), it takes its inspiration from the music of India. Other Sabbah discs have drawn on African and Arabic source material.



To anyone who doesn't know Sabbah's, or indeed Six Degrees' work, this may suggest that Devotion is but another looming dose of cultural tourism, dance-floor fodder made up of plundered vocal samples, loops and beats. There's a lot of it about.



Instead, Devotion is an act of cultural obeisance in which the musicianly Sabbah—amongst the heavy-hitters with whom he's worked are bassist Bill Laswell and the late trumpeter Don Cherry—has created groove music of real substance; and which, despite being dressed in audaciously contemporary clothing, wears its provenance—Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religious and ritual music— in plain view.



Part of Sabbah's secret is the way he approaches his projects. Unlike other DJs turned producers, Sabbah—who at the relatively venerable age of sixty radiates the sense of discovery of someone in his twenties—starts not with a bank of MIDIs but with a blank canvas, creating his music from the bottom up. For Devotion, he traveled to New Delhi and engaged six leading vocalists, together with top local players of traditional string and percussion instruments, adding keyboards, guitar, electric bass—and on one track, banjo—to the mix.

Each of the singers leads on one track (Anup Jalota, India's pre-eminent singer of Hindu kirtans and bhajans, takes two), rooted in his or her own religious tradition and set to a gorgeously orchestrated melange of Indian and western instruments, rhythms and textures. The closing title track was recorded in the pilgrimage city of Varansi, and is an evocative collage of street sounds, temple bells and devotional music.



In defiance of composer Morton Feldman's dictum, "I always leave the concert hall when I start tapping my foot," Devotion—loftily conceived and brilliantly realized—works on several levels, from the visceral to the spiritually uplifting.


Track Listing: Jai Bhavani; Koi Bole Ram Ram; Kinna Sohna; Qalanderi; Haun Vaari Haun Varaney; Morey Pya Bassey; Aaye Bhairav Bholanath; Devotion.

Personnel: Anup Jalota: vocals (1, 7); Rana Singh: vocals: (2); Master Saleem: vocals (3); Riffat Sultana: vocals (4); Harnam Singh: vocals (5); Shubha Mudgai: vocals (6); Gaurav Raina: keyboards (1-7); Balkrishan Sharma: keyboards (1-3, 5-7); Ajay Prasanna: bansuri (1, 3, 6, 7); Karsh Kale: guitar (1, 3, 6, 7); Ustad Asif Ali Khan: sarangi (2, 5); Murad Ali Khan: sarangi (4); Saeed Jafar: sitar (1, 7); Nasir Khan: banjo (3); Priyamba Vashishtha: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Rupjeet Kaur: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Sapna Roy: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Sangeeta: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Piyus Raj: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Mohinder Pal: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Sukheet Singh: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Bupinder Sharma: vocal chorus (1, 5, 7); Nirmal Singh: tumbi (2); Rakesh Bhardwaj: duff, dholak, dhol, ektara, madal, ganjira (1-7); Prashant Tirvedi: tabla, dholak, pakhawaj (1-3, 5-7); Bubby: tabla, dholak, dhol, tambourine, ganjira (1-3, 5-7); Richard Michos: guitar, bass, keyboards (4); Salar Nader: tabla (4); Yossi Fine: bass (1, 2, 6, 7); Chintan Kalra: bass (3, 5).

Title: Devotion | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Six Degrees Records


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