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Karsh Kale 

Realize (Six Degrees)

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
The explosion of the '90s Asian underground inside British clubs revolutionized dance music far more than its innovators could have imagined. What was originally a way to recognize the South Asian Londoners' dual cultures and respond to racism in British society soon became a far-spanning phenomenon, with English producers like Talvin Singh exporting their East-meets-West sound to distant shores.

Up till now, there have been few stateside Indian-influenced acts, save for New York producer Bill Laswell and Bay Area outernationalist DJ Cheb i Sabbah. The arrival of New York-based percussionist/producer Karsh Kale (pronounced "Kursh Kah-leh") diminishes that deficit somewhat. Although born in England to Indian parents, Kale was raised in America -- and classically trained on the tabla. Hoping to bridge the ancient and the modern worlds, he invented an electronic tabla, which allows amplification of the instrument's hollow-note sound and induces effects similar to those of an electric guitar.

Kale's solo debut, Realize, comes on the heels of several storied projects: collaborating with Laswell and Singh for the Tabla Beat Science album, producing Herbie Hancock and Ethiopian pop singer Gigi, and remixing Paula Cole and DJ Spooky. But Realize is the first true example of what Kale calls "urban raag," an atmospheric sound that splits the distance between the dance floor and the chill-out room. Molding traditional Indian elements and raga structures to drum 'n' bass beats, Kale counters the tokenism of today's multiculti dance music, in which the wayward sitar sample denotes authenticity. By using eons-old tabla rhythms and cellolike sarangi textures, Kale creates songs somewhere between East and West.

In the end, Kale's strength is his ability to fuse seemingly disparate elements. The album's best track -- and a likely contender for a club set near you -- is the dubby centerpiece "One Step Beyond," a percussionist's answer to "Dueling Banjos." Other less club-oriented songs, like the couch-ready "Conception" or the raga-derived, English-sung "Fabric," recast classical and folk traditions in their own image. Realize deftly weaves together variant eras and cultures -- and that's what revolution is all about.

About The Author

Todd Dayton


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