DJ Cheb i Sabbah

DJ Cheb i Sabbah

Krishna Lila

Six Degrees

Krishna Lila is a great concept featuring some of the most beautiful music you would ever be privileged to hear in your life, but I cannot recommend it as highly as I want to because it’s fatally flawed.

It is the third album on which Algerian discspinner DJ Cheb i Sabbah works with the music of India, and it’s probably the most ambitious: he spent two years traveling all over that large and wonderful and fucked-up country collecting bhajan songs giving praise to Krishna, and then sought to re-dress them in modern electronic clothes.

And if he’d just done that, this would have worked for me. He’s got one of the best rhythm sections in the world on some of these tracks; you just can’t go wrong with Bill Laswell on bass and Karsh Kale on drums, and the dub coda they put on the ten-minute devotional hymn “Lagi Lagan” is absolutely the soul for real. I’m also digging the way “Maname Diname” turns into a chill-out anthem, with Baby Sreeram’s passionate Tamil vocal, skittering tabla, and a sitar drone that holds it all together.

But Sabbah doesn’t do anyone any favors by slapping the same four-four rhythm track on some other songs here, turning “Narajanma Bandage” from pretty to pretty boring. (Baby Sreeram also sings that one in the Kannada language, a fact I only point out so that I can once again write the name “Baby Sreeram.” Has there ever been a better name? Ever? Only Busta Rhymes and Exene Cervenka are even close to Baby Sreeram.) And “Rupa Tujhe Deva” is a nine-minute mess, a war between ancient and modern that only comes together towards the seven-minute mark.

And then on some tracks there is no evidence of Sabbah at all, just the original stuff by real live Indian musicians, with no tricks or only minimal accompaniment. Pandit Ulhas Bapat’s santur solo which comprises “Tum Bin Shyam” doesn’t get any kind of special treatment, and doesn’t need any, and a track called “Violin Solo” is both accurately named and emotionally important. But it’s like damn — either record, or create, or do both at once, but don’t keep switching back and forth! The album don’t hold together!

I dunno, maybe I’m just picky because I listen to too much Indian music; maybe I’m spoiled for graceful melds of Indian music with technostuff after hearing Karsh Kale’s album Realize and Susheela Raman’s Salt Rain and the Bhangra Beatz collection from last year; maybe I just don’t understand why Cheb i Sabbah couldn’t decide whether to wade in with both feet or just dip his techno toe in for brief moments. Way too disjointed and unfocused, Krishna Lila is the best album I can’t recommend.

Six Degrees Records:

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