Release Date: Nov 13, 2015
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, International
Singer and composer Shye Ben Tzur was born in Israel but has had a strong affinity for the sounds of India since he was a teenager. After witnessing a performance by Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia, he fell under Indian music’s spell and has since spent his career chasing after the things that make it tick. Ben Tzur rapidly developed an interest in dhrupad then qawwali musics, taking up the tongue in which these styles are sung as well as using his native Hebrew to bend it to his will.
This latest venture from Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood finds him teaming up with Indian-based Israeli songwriter Shye Ben Tzur for an excursion into qawwali, captured on film by Paul Thomas Anderson in an hour-long documentary of the same name. Throughout, Greenwood contributes subtle embellishments – occasional electronic beats, as well as understated guitar and bass – rather than any scene-stealing showboating. Indeed, the real stars here are the Rajasthan Express’s six-piece brass section, who come into their own on the joyous Julus and Junun Brass.
Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood has teamed up with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and Indian group the Rajasthan Express in order to meld music of Western, South Asian and Middle Eastern origins into a varied and compelling collaboration. The process of making the album was even captured by Paul Thomas Anderson, featured in his film that's also titled Junun. Produced by long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, the music has a clarity and melancholy to it characteristic of his other production work.Particularly striking pieces on Junun include the layered build-up of "Allah Elohim," which features evocative vocals, brooding guitar and melodic trumpet embellishments.
There are a lot of creative forces to keep track of on Junun. Receiving top billing is the Israeli singer and composer, Shye Ben Tzur, who wrote the songs. Then there's his backing band: the 19 performers, hailing from distinct Indian-music traditions, who form the Rajasthan Express. And you've also got Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood contributing rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards, and drum-programming to the arrangements.
Pop and rock music have a history of artists immersing themselves in Eastern music. The Beatles are the obvious example, but everyone from Fleet Foxes to Britney Spears have taken cues from Indian music traditions in particular. Typically, this means taking some aspect of the aesthetic and culture and re-contextualizing it into a pop format for western listeners, like utilizing a sitar for “Norwegian Wood”.
This latest dispatch from the great musical world extending beyond American shores is dedicated to the inauthentic, with absolutely no pejorative connotations intended. Let the folklorists and preservationists continue their good work — attached you’ll find examples of juicy cross-cultural pollination: Senegalese visionaries swapping out koras for congas, Brazilian punks basking under the Kingstonian sun, and Cairo club rats running chaabi beats through the wood chipper. Guaranteed to annoy the purist in your household.
Last year, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur set up shop in northern Indian palace Mehrangarh Fort. Long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich joined them with the contents of the band’s studio. Documented by filmmaker Paul Anderson and together with The Rajasthan Express – a collective of 19 Israeli and Rajasthani-Indian musicians – they made a collaborative album of traditional Indian music.