Reflecting his South Asian heritage and a fascination with electronic music that began in high school, Basswalla is the result of Canadian musician Adham Shaikh's 25 years of creating original electronic music. In India, the suffix "walla" indicates mastery in a particular discipline. Its use in the album title refers to Adham's pioneering work in the "global bass" style – urban-flavored, electronic, bass-centric music featuring ethnic sounds. The title also nods to Adham's return to his Indian roots in both method and material.
Basswalla marks Adham's first release of original material in five years. Its 10 cuts are split evenly between new tracks and updated versions of songs put out over the past 13 years. Wanting to offer more than a "greatest hits" collection, Adham took a fresh, improvisatory approach to reinterpreting the earlier songs. As he puts it, "Inspired to move beyond the notion of simply remixing, I discovered a place more akin to jazz or Indian classical music, allowing me to keep the scale and overall song structure intact while reimagining everything else."
With a couple of ambient electronic albums already under his belt, Adham's musical path took an auspicious turn in the early 1990s, when he heeded his adopted father's suggestion that he marry his love of electronics to the music of his father's (Kashmir) and biological mother's (India/Guyana) cultures. In search of exotic sounds to sample, he heard a recording by bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) master Hariprasad Chaurasia "that wrapped around my spine in a way that I'd never heard [before]," reconnecting him with his long-dormant South Asian roots. From then on, sounds from India and other parts of the Global South became mainstays of his music.
The opening title track fuses global bass culture with devotional trance, capturing the essence not just of the album but of the artist as well. Says Adham, it "sits squarely at the intersection of prayer and dancefloor" and expresses his steady commitment to "living in service and dedication to craft." From there, the majority of songs focus on a single element designed to center the listener's attention.
"Sabadub (Floating Soul Mix)" takes a track from his 2002 album Essence and strips instruments away until the bansuri part performed by the late Catherine Potter (a disciple of Hariprasad Chaurasia) takes center stage. "Collective (Yogi Dub Mix)" is transformed from a piece driven by tabla, conga, and bongo percussion to an atmospheric dub track. Vibe Hunter (The Elders Dance Mix) replicates a haunting Armenian violin performance set against lively beats and keyboard work. Featuring two flamenco-sounding guitar loops that had lain dormant for years, "Rumba Dub" took shape once Adham discovered samples of duduk (a clarinet-like Armenian woodwind) to pair with the guitars; the track's power was confirmed for him when it inspired tears from audience members at its live debut.
Split evenly between updated originals and new material, Basswalla affords Adham Shaikh the opportunity to simultaneously examine where he's been in his career, and what the future might hold for an artist well into the third decade of a successful life in music. With a raft of awards for his studio work and a bevy of devoted fans eager to hit the dancefloor whenever he drops the bass, things continue to move forward for Adham. In the end, it's the tension between the studio and live shows that propels his musical journey. "It's pushing a pea over a mountain with a chopstick. Every now and again you hope for a plateau and every now and again you wish you weren't on a plateau and more in the drama of action."
1. Basswalla - 6:51
2. Sabadub (Floating Soul Mix) - 7:23
3. Collective (Yogi Dub Mix) - 7:05
4. Cultivation (feat. Shamik) - 5:15
5. Vibe Hunter (The Elders Dance Mix) - 4:54
6. Beyond I (Desert Sky Reframe) - 9:07
7. Still Shakin - 7:00
8. Rumba Dub - 6:07
9. Crossroads (Deep South Mix) - 9:04
10. Water Prayer (Deep Crystal Mix) - 4:45