Reviews

Review by Charles de Ledesma, (ex-Songlines Magazine)

Mela– Beyond Tradition explores three levels within the loosely defined space of Global Fusion music – the lineage, the contemporary and the joyful: Hindustani folk and classical raga elements inspire the core of most of the ten tracks, while imaginative dub and trance productions explore the interplay of old school acoustic modes with modern technology. Thirdly, a chiaroscuro of joyful shades seep from the sonic into emotion and spirit. To quote Osho: ‘Be loving to the earth, sow the seeds of love on the earth. The question is not for you to enter into some paradise in the sky. On the contrary, the question is how to transform this earth into paradise.

The set kicks off with an emphatic mission statement – setting the pace, scene, mood and sense of a journey underway. On Mori Lagi in Kaunsi Ben Fordham’s exhilarating intro brims and shines with production elegance before Chinmaya Dunster’s itchy, fret-strong, circular sarod melody leads into a trance-style drop and interwoven vocals from Goa-based Sandeep Srivastav and fellow Indian, Sukriti Sen. The up-tempo pace and rich mix continues as Fordham assembles a palette of echo, dub effects and ambient color.

After such a cracking start, the pace lightens. Sufis and Gypsies (Om Pharoah mix) opens with a duet between Jordanian Rawan Roshi’s vocals and a syncopated sarod line. Over a mid-tempo beat the vocals rise into a reggae-ified pulse, anchored by keyboard stabs, and intricate elaborations on oud.

Circle Makers (Celtic Mandala mix) then doffs a cap to the Celtic and folk base of Dunster’s musical and cultural education, harking back to the mid-70s southern England festival circuit as well as Mela’s current roots in the pagan South-West. An exuberant, hypnotic sarod melody dances with Sudhi Salooja’s sweeping violin, as we cavort round a bonfire, the fizzing and popping of the other instrumentation and Fordham’s studio inflections adding to the bacchanalian vibe.

On Chance Finding (Aloo Partha mix) we arrive at Osho, who speaks gently of a beguiling, bequeathed paradise within reach right here – a wonderful reminder, especially for the trying times we are all living through. The tracks patterns weave around a stirring melody (sung in Maori by New Zealand teenager Prayer Skinner), initially sparse and airy, before Fordham pulls the weave together in tighter threads, broadening into a deft jam over a trance-y bass line. All a reminder of the many exhilarating Celtic Ragas Band sets of old – or the sort of post-satsang party sannyasinshave enjoyed many a time at Pune’s Osho Commune or, closer to home, at Devon’s Osho Leela.

Next, we are at a Wedding in Kotree (Gundappa mix), an imagined celebration in a Pakistani setting. The mix begins with sarod flowing into a keyboard wash, before Kiran Kumar’s bansuri flutters amid a whistling commotion – perhaps the newly weds have just arrived, or we are back in the days of the Ramayana, evoking a pastoral celebration underpinned by tribal drummers.

Mori Lagi (Quepem Rolla Mix) sets vocals in an ambient mode, before Fordham adds a drum ‘n’ bass pulse, where hang drum is teased through a shady grove of pastel elements, and free floating vocals instill a dreamtime mode. On Ocean (Palolem Breeze Mix), we are indeed back on a beach in Goa – perhaps busy Palolem in the south, or the Dunster family’s favourite beach, Little Vagator, in the north – with seagulls ducking and diving, and tropical life bustling around. The romantic warmth flows smoothly through a folksy guitar line and classical-leaning tabla/kamanche interplay.

Our journey ends joyfully, the lights of home turned on to welcome us, as the set concludes with Jai Jai Surnayak (Little Paradise mix), a ruminative Hindustani vocal foray that takes us from outer movement to inner reflection.