Cheb i Sabbah: Devotion

By: Josh Potter

During the same stretch of the '60s that Indian ragas burbled into the psychedelic status quo of Western pop music, a teenage Cheb i Sabbah started spinning in Parisian nightclubs. Now 60, he's spent the bulk of his career conjuring Eastern devotional sounds on Western wheels of steel. The Bay Area producer/turntablist is a master collagist with rare access to the musical traditions of Andalusia, India, Algeria and Pakistan. Forgoing the blitz and bump of electronica for pastoral Hindustani beats, Cheb i Sabbah's tracks glow in the elemental manner of Indian classical music. One cut climbs like the sun at dawn while the next crawls like a moon shadow. Recorded at the Ravi Shankar Cultural Center in New Delhi with support from some of India and Pakistan's most esteemed musicians, Devotion (Six Degrees) proves that East and West are only relative to one another, and so unified on the strata of sound.

"Jai Bhavani" is a dark kirtan in honor of Durga, Shiva's wife. Synthesizers float between bells and tabla as insistent Hindi vocals probe the ineffable with escalating urgency. Unlike the vocal advance and retreat of Krishna Das or Jai Uttal, Cheb i Sabbah lets each texture breath to the point that drums and atmospherics are as important as the gossamer croon of singers Shubha Mudgal and Master Saleem. Most tracks are organic to the point that the DJ's touch is nearly transparent. Live instrumentation often overrides turntablism and so the distinction between group-mind and productive-oversight becomes moot.

This is an album equally at home at the dance hall and the yoga hall. "Haun Vaari Haun Varaney" is a ten-minute Carnatic dubscape, while "Qalanderi" is ready made for a North African discothèque. Most impressive, however, is the title track, a walking tour of Varnasi, Northern India's musical hub. Over a bell-spangled drone, shreds of song and mantra loop and pan, not unlike Steve Reich's The Cave. There's thunder and rain, laughter and lamentation – all the elements that psychedelic music drives our attention toward without normally stating directly. Devotion is what happens when "world music" delivers what it ought to – music, and so, the world.

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[Published on: 5/25/08]

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Juan starstarstarstarstar Mon 5/26/2008 07:44PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great review! Cheb i Sabbah made an appearance in my playlist for my yoga class tonight. Steady bringin devotion to the main stream!

Hari Om

John Smrtic