Thursday, November 26, 2015

Layers of Thanksgiving: "Junun" Over Dinner

I was really looking forward to having a full week for Thanksgiving this year. I would have some quality time with the wife and kid before I went down for the big annual event on Padre Island with the extended family. Inevitably, having a lot of free time with the Little One eventually results in a little Netflix-for-Kids, and I was very surprised to find that there were absolutely no thanksgiving specials up. Not a one. There were, however, lots and lots of poorly animated b-rate Christmas features. The best I could find was a grainy, third-party posting of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on YouTube. It has been up for a couple of years, as if no one cares enough to challenge its legality!

I think that this, along with the scads of Christmas sale ads popping up in my feed early in the week, caused me to be a little defensive about Thanksgiving this year. I have always felt that it is its own holiday with its own feeling, and I dislike the sense that it is increasingly becoming subsumed by consumerism related to a totally separate holiday.  I am starting to get the feeling Thanksgiving has devolved into nothing more than some time off to let the public get some shopping done.

Taking matters into my own hands, I organized my own little informal Thanksgiving dinner and invited my bandmates from Ethnos over. We are all super-busy, and as we get closer to the end of the semester it is safe to assume that we would only get to be more so. It seemed like a good opportunity to hang out before the holidays scatter us to the wind.

One catalyst for our conversation was Junun.  I acquired this album with the intent of listening to it on beach walk like I did with Barrett a few years ago.  Long before its recent release, a brief article about the cross-cultural collaboration that produced Junun generated quite a bit of personal excitement.  Its authorship is so complex that it took the whole staff at Waterloo Records to figure out where the CD was filed.

The most visible contributor is Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame, and going into the store I was aware that he was working with an Indian ensemble called the Rajastan Express. The surprise, however, was Shye Ben Tzur, an Israeli musician who is trained in Indian styles.  Although a superficial listen to the album doesn’t bring traditional Jewish music to mind, his songwriting contributions placed the album in the “Israel” section of the international music.

The album as a whole is really quite incredible - perhaps even compelling enough to be considered a very late contender for album of the year.  Superficially, it is easy to indulge in the exotic aspects of the album, but the harmonic environment provided by the guitar work and the subtle electronic atmospheres frame Junun’s “Indian-ness” within a decidedly contemporary field. Even more layered is Shye Ben Tzur’s Hebrew lyrics performed in ecstatic Indian styles. Certainly, with the current state of the Middle East, his identity structure makes a political statement that should be read as particularly relevant.

This statement was not lost on us. My bandmates are a very diverse group, with members from India, Taiwan, and Pakistan, and each of us had different perspectives about the way the various contributions of Junun fit into a cohesive statement. I was enthusiastic about its textural overlap with Kid A, while our tabla player nodded his head in approval to its roots in Indian street music. The exchange was as layered and engaging as the music itself.  As I have said many times in the past, I am very grateful for the opportunity to know and create with these outstanding individuals. Spending time and conversing with them, however, reminded me of just how thankful I am for having such open-minded and diverse friends.

Oh, and shameless self-promotion: The band's website is right here.  Check us out....

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