Transglobal Underground - International Times (1994)

«It's not hard to recognize good Middle Eastern music when you hear it: Like effective blues or gospel, the good stuff both weeps and rejoices. In their never-ending quest for the exotic, many Westerners enshrine Middle Eastern melodies in incredibly pretentious surroundings (Brian Eno and David Byrne) or make them as foreign and mysterious as a fictional opium den (Led Zeppelin) or simply treat them as the decorative icing on plain white cake (the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian").

Transglobal Underground are one of the few pop bands to actually get it. International Times proves that point. It's this London outfit's second album and its first one available in the United States. While the band's vocalist and three DJs turn traditional Middle Eastern music into British dance hits by way of samples and syncopated beats, Transglobal Underground also respect their Arabic sources as an expression of actual, living people.

Sonically, the band is edgy, sleek and soulful. The bellow of a horn, the kind that has resounded from the tops of mosque walls for thousands of years, signals the approach of snaking melodies and lots of beats, from house to dub to techno. The mesmerizing drawl of a tabla syncs with street-savvy hip-hop, while imperfect tabla beats mix with recorded snippets from Western media and even a silly sample from an answering machine.

Singer Natacha Atlas tops it with lines in Arabic, her voice sailing and dipping like a runaway scarf on a windy day. Hers is not the only voice on this album: The rapping of Heitham Al-Sayed spices the pulse of "Lookee Here," while the booming Jamaican patois of T.U.U.P. adds an angry edge to the bass-heavy "Holy Roman Empire." T.U.U.P.'s fury is juxtaposed against the delicate singing of children in the background.

The subtle mixtures of various other music – Indian, African, Asian – work because Transglobal Underground let each culture breathe rather than melting them down into one seamless, multiculti swill. The result is as inexplicably intricate and contradictory as your average human.» (Lorraine Ali, Rolling Stone)

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Radu said...


avocado kid said...

Kool - dig these guys and don't have this one yet! Natacha A is amazing too.

Andrew52 said...

thanks for the share, love the blog

samselton said...

oh man, i love them
and that was so true about middle eastern singing
its great
im searching desperately for their next north american tour which apparently are pretty rare but i love love love them
natacha atlas has a great voice too c: