Let the rejoicing begin: Joi are back. Not that these mystical maestros, these Eastern-leaning experimentalists, have been away, mind you. Their legacy lives on in clubland, at festivals, just as their philosophy - spiritual unity through music - has continued unabated. But the arrival of their third album, the superbly crafted Without Zero, begs a fanfare. Propelled by Western beats, lifted by celestial Indian voices and coloured by traditional Asian and Arabic instrumentation, it's a giant step in an already groundbreaking journey.
Having blazed a trail in the mid Eighties with their DJ-led mix of brittle breakbeats and flowing Eastern grooves - a trail that the so-called 'Asian Underground' followed in droves - this British Asian collective released two compelling, intelligent albums, 1999's One and One Is One and 2002's We Are Three. Celebratory and devotional, progressive and respectful, laden with different emotions yet bound by a one-love aesthetic, they stole the hearts of critics, clubbers and exemplary music-lovers alike.
Many years ago, when the young Shamsher brothers moved down to Brick Lane from Bradford, their father ran a traditional music shop, and would record tapes in a back room to sell on the street. Even back then, Haroon and Farook would manipulate synthesisers and echo chambers for their father in between playing tablas and flutes. As Farook states: "We still have the same crossover vibe - it's a natural fusion of growing up listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, and being influenced by reggae, hip hop and soul." That was, and still is, the spirit of Joi.
This fusion of all sounds east and west became the boys' trademark: in 1983 they conceived a collective under the name Joi Bangla, shortened from the 'League of Joi Bangla Youth Organisation', which was set up to promote Bengali culture to local kids. Mixing up traditional Bengali music with James Brown riffs and funky breakbeats on a regular basis at various underground parties, they quickly established themselves as the best DJs and party organisers in the East End.
A couple of early vinyl releases followed, including the neatly named Asian acid vibes of 'Taj Mahouse', produced by Tony Thorpe (KLF) in 87, whilst the late eighties rap, 'Funky Asian' appeared a year later. However, it was the classic 'Desert Storm', released on Rhythm King Records, which gave the band their first taste of critical success, with NME declaring it not only Single Of The Week, but also 'one of the most inventive records ever made'. The band looked poised for great things - until they were lost in the aftermath of their label's subsequent absorption into BMG.
Understandably cautious after such an experience, and despite being offered large sums of money by various majors, Joi returned to their first love: DJing and running their club nights. Their sound system allowed the brothers to mix up exclusive DATs with vinyl, and feature on-line sampling and live percussion. From 1992 for three years, their rule at the Bass Clef club (later the Blue Note) every Thursday was little short of legendary, attracting nearly every credible artist of its time, from Orbital to the KLF, Goldie to Bjork. Joi had established themselves as legendary founders of what became known as the Asian Underground. In December 2006 Farook Shamsher collected to prestigious UK Asian Music Award 2006 for 'Commitment To The Scene' in recognition for seminal work of those early days and his long-standing work in the Asian music scene.