DJ Cheb i Sabbah’s new album, Krishna Lila (Six Degrees), may well be the first collection of bhajans, or Hindi devotional tunes, constructed in Pro Tools. It was recorded over a two-year period on several continents, with accomplished Indian classical musicians like bansuri (bamboo flute) player Deepak Ram and violinist K. Shivakumar, as well as New York bassist Bill Laswell and percussionist Karsh Kale. The Algerian-born, San Francisco-based producer and DJ himself is a phantom presence: he’ll bathe a specific vocal or instrumental bit in haunting echoes or stretch it toward infinity, and on “Raja Vedalu” there’s a fierce shuffle of programmed beats beneath the Vedic chanting, but for the most part his role seems to have been to assemble the talent. That’s no small thing, though: in the so-called Asian Underground, where the default MO is to drape stale samples of Indian classical music and love songs over drum ‘n’ bass, he deserves credit for trying harder. The performances on Krishna Lila are mostly superb, and the end result is far better than it should be, considering how much of it was diced and spliced in the studio. Laswell’s dub-steeped bass, heard on five of the collection’s nine tracks, is anything but traditional, but half the album is electronics-free–it’s not a club record. For this performance, part of the MCA’s annual Summer Solstice celebration, Sabbah will DJ; he has nearly four decades of experience on the decks, and will draw on music from all over the Middle East as well as the Indian subcontinent. Friday, June 21, 9:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-280-2660.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christopher Woodcock.