Talvin Singh doesn't dwell on his talents as a tabla player, though he's up at the master range on that particular instrument (and he also plays the electric tabla). He doesn't dwell much on his role as a producer either, though he did just invest in an Indian studio for his personal use. Take his work alone, and it's good. But when he collaborates (with Bjork, for example), things get very interesting.
Consider his partners on this disc, from the hills of Morocco. The position of "Master Musician" is something you inherit paternally in Jajouka, along with a lot of practice and schooling. There may be plenty of Attars in this band, but Bachir Attar is the sole and undisputed leader. Jajouka is a place nestled far enough away from the mainstream that these master musicians have managed to properly keep up their tradition. The musicians of Jajouka have had meetings with the Rolling Stones, Ornette Coleman, and others; by now they're something like stars in world music. (By the way, I advise that you steer clear of that Ornette disc: it's Prime Time at the wrong time.) But the master musicians of Jajouka always retain their signature style, which consists of droning notes on wooden flutes and a drum-rich, fixed rhythmic pace. It's relentless and spiritually piercing.
And now the bottom line: Talvin Singh has been working with Bachir Attar for a decade.
(One caution: you need to be careful to avoid confusing this Master Musicians with the disc produced by Bill Laswell with the same moniker but (sub)titled Apocalypse Across the Sky. They are quite different.) On this disc, Singh steps in and out of this profound musical tradition, pulling samples of vastly different lengths for his own purposes, performing alongside, and offering just about all other permuations imaginable. Sometimes it's mostly Singh, mostly it's Jajouka, but it's never one without the other: a wonderful meeting of partners. (Even if those partners remain clearly unequal in the end.) And check out track 6, where the Attar women, most unexpectedly, have something to say as well.
Don't buy this disc if you want to hear the undiluted tradition of Jajouka. But if you're curious to hear what someone with a futuristic outlook can do with this traditional music, this disc is required listening. It's may be a year old, but it's one of the most profound discs I've heard in a while. The world needs more Talvin Singh. Soon. Ha.
Track Listing: Up to the Sky, Down To The Earth; The Truth Forever; Searching for Passion; Taksim; You Can Find the Feeling; The Blessing For the World from God Only; Jamming in London; The House of Baraka; Above the Moon; The Magic of Peace; The Magic of Peace (D.B.A. Remix)
Personnel: Master Musicians of Jajouka: Bachir Attar, Mustapha Attar, Hadj Mohammed Attar; Mohamed Attar Larbi; Amin Attar; Tahir Boukzar; Abdullah Boukzar; Abdullah Attar; Abdullah Attar Sandoui; Ali Rtoubi; Moktar Gajhdal; Ahmed Elhamdi. Produced by Talvin Singh.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.