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Go to the Various Artists website  Various Artists - Harmika Yab-Yum: Folk Sounds from Nepal [Sublime Frequencies - 2005]

A couple of years ago, Alan Bishop set up the Sublime Frequencies label in order to rewrite the history of what has become, after a clever marketing decision in the late 1980s, known as "world music".

Dissatisfied with the division of the world music market between academic releases carrying extensive ethnographic and musicological liner notes on the one hand, and often ill-advised fusions with Western formats (the "bring a French bass player into the studio" type of affair) on the other hand, Bishop and his compadres set out to offer the unexpecting listener the real deal: raw, unedited snippets of sounds recorded on streets, at festivals, at religious ceremonies, during day and night, from all over the world. Sublime Frequencies brings to their releases an almost punk or rather Situationist aesthetic, whereby the source material both retains its original meaning, while at the same time it becomes something bigger because the material is detourned and given new meanings by a constant recontextualization through the process of editing and juxtaposition. Bishop also destroys the boundaries between high and low art, as he has been doing with his seminal outfit Sun City Girls, one of the best and most inspiring bands currently operating, since the early 1980s.

The release schedule of Sublime Frequencies is such that a few batches of CDs and DVDs are unleashed each year. The February, 2005 batch contains some of their best material yet: the second volume of Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra, which this reviewer unfortunately has not been able to hear yet, and Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan are already recognized as amongst the finest releases in a series which gives new meaning to the words "quality standard". Another exquisite CD comes in the form of Harmika Yab-Yum: Folk Sounds from Nepal. Behind bright, sky-blue cover art, showing some kind of carnivalesque ceremonial mask, lies a musical world that has been hidden from the outside as much as the country of Nepal, squeezed between its giant sisters India and China, has geographically. The material on this CD, collected by Robert Millis from that other great world-travelling band Climax Golden Twins, ranges from field recordings (a pony train, dogs barking, people shouting, etc.) to 7-minute call-and-response hypnotic trance pieces to Bollywood-inspired craziness. Safe to say that little of this stuff is amongst the usual listening experiences of Western audiences, so we extend our warmest welcome to this marvellous CD, which makes it clear once again how rootless our modern civilization has become. Sublime Frequencies is doing to world music what ethnomusicologist Harry Smith has done for American folk music.

When listening to the recordings of the Dunja Purga festival (photo shown above), one is reminded of what music can actually mean when it is not solely used as a route to escapism. A slap in the face to denouncers of "primitive cultures," this and other Sublime Frequencies releases are colorful windows into a world that we can only hope will survive Westernization.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

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