Afro-Cuban music inspired pianist Kishon Khan as a young man, and the result is this inspired album of Latin-South Asian fusion
While the music is always the most important part of an album, there are certain extraneous details that can be important as well. Things like the album title or cover art by no means affect the quality of an album’s contents – indeed, one of the greatest albums of all time is a self-titled release with an entirely blank, white cover. However, a memorable name for visual image can help an album stick in the mind. The haunting painting depicting the visage of an obeah practitioner on Exuma’s debut album, the gorgeously infectious joy conveyed by S.E. Rogie’s beaming face on Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana, or the striking minimalism of French electronic duo Justice’s album † are all great examples, in my mind, of how album art can add to the music. Here, however, it is the title of the album that makes it stand out, and as such the album has remained longer in my memory than other albums of a similar quality. It is also an extremely evocative album name. Che Guava’s Rickshaw Diaries, a tongue-in-cheek reference not only to the Argentinian revolutionary and his fabled trip across Latin America but also to the origins of some of the band members, it also manages to tell you what the album is about – South Asian music meets Latin jazz, with sprinklings of other genres in their own irreverent style.
“This magpie-like grasping onto different sorts of traditional music makes for a compelling listening experience, as while it is all in a similar jazz-oud style, the subtle improvisations and changes in each song are beguiling.”
The London-based group specialise in this particular brand of musical fusion. It should come as no surprise then that the band’s founder Kishon Khan spent time as a young man in Cuba, where he became enamoured with a particular style of Afro-Cuban music named Timba. In an interview with The Daily Star, he stated that he “fell in love with Afro-Cuban music, and that love affair continues to this day”. The music of Che Guava’s Rickshaw Diaries feels this influence keenly. Songs like Bhromor Koiyo are excellent examples of this, as the tablas fit in seamlessly with the slinky, Cuban backbeat and the distinctly Latin horn section, while Sohini Alam and Aneire Khan’s smooth vocals elevate what is already a very good track into a great one. Though all the tracks are very good, perhaps the third song Amae Proshno Kore is my favourite, as Khan’s piano is simply stunning, the vocals are pitch perfect, and the saxophone solo exactly fits the mood. Khan gets to shine on the keyboards throughout, but Kunjo, the closing track, deserves a special mention, what with it being a rather excellent piece of jazz piano with no overt Latin or South Asian influences. It’s a simple piece with little to accompany the piano, but it’s a beautiful break from the more complex and energetic songs that surround it. It almost has the feel of being in a jazz club after the main show has ended, and a lone player has taken the stage to play a solo piece.
Fusion music can sometimes seem on paper to be too confusing or strange for its own good, but in my experience, it rarely is when it is in the hands of capable musicians, and Lokkhi Terra are more than capable. One may raise an eyebrow at the idea of Latin jazz going hand-in-hand with South Asian music and instrumentation, but one would be completely wrong to do so. The music is intertwined with great skill and the result is a charming album that introduces the listener to music that is at once familiar and new. It is consistently strong throughout all eight songs, and at 45 minutes long, it does not outstay its welcome. While it may not have an earworm I find myself humming, it does nonetheless connect with me on an emotional level, entertaining and engrossing me in the intricacies of the music as it goes.