Without Zero

Joi, 2007

The shamelessly upbeat Without Zero deepens and continues the Joi family vibe – with minimal use of samples. Real playing values are what count here: the blinding sitar of Mumbai-based genius and ‘Asian Hendrix’, Niladri Kumar. The pure Hindi and Urdu language vocals and chants of London’s Apeksha Dandekar. The zorna, oud and banjo playing of Algerian-born Yazid. The guitar-stylings of Keefe West and long-time Joi collaborators/producers, John Coxon and Ashley Wales of jazz/electronic duo Spring Heel Jack. Oh, and composer, programmer and co-founder Farook Shamsher, of course.

“I’m the spice chef. I grind the spices,” says Farook from a coffee shop in Brick Lane, the beating heart of East London’s Bengali community. “The master chefs put it all together. But I have the final say on how it tastes.” He is justifiably proud of the end result. “There is dance and drama and passion throughout this record. We’ve highlighted Asian culture. We’ve extended our electronic roots. And this time there’s a distinct Arabic influence,” he adds with a smile. “Asian music and Arabic music merge beautifully. They’re actually very similar, which people don’t tend to realise, and Joi is about uniting different cultures.”

“Club culture is really interesting at the moment,” Farook muses. “There’s a lot of Asian music, a lot of bhangra. A lot of Asian-only gigs. Young Asians are feeling really proud of their culture.” He pauses for a beat. “Look out there,” he says, gesturing towards the street. “I love what’s happened to Brick Lane. It’s become what Joi was always about - a place where you can party, buy cool clothes, eat cool food and mix with a traditional Asian population. It’s multicultural London at its best.”

Farook had already written a lot of new material when he met the progressive sitarist Niladri Kumar in Mumbai (“India’s Miami”) over two years ago. He promptly ditched most of it and started all over again. “Niladri blew me away. He’s this dynamic guy who has played with Ravi Shankar, and who is reinventing sitar rhythms. He understands modern music as much as he does traditional so he improvises really freely. He shows a entire range of emotions.” The admiration was mutual: “He told me, ‘Farook, I’ve played for you like I’ve never played for anyone else’.”

Come Back to Me is a paean to Haroon. ‘Wapasaja,’ sings Apeksha, her golden voice soaring over a drum’n’bass beat. ‘Come back to me’. “I sat down with Apeksha and explained what the album meant to me, that this track was about someone who didn’t get to say goodbye but whose light we know is still shining. I’ve played this at gigs in Mumbai and Bangladesh and the people love it, understand it.”

The potent, thoughtful Forget Me Not is a mind bending, space guitar-instrumental, save for a sample of one of Haroon’s village recordings – a Bengali man intoning that one should never forget. My Love is a stomping club track that sees Niladri exploring and celebrating different raags and scales; The Blessing makes the most of Keefe West’s pentatonic, African guitar rhythms. Cha Cha Cha is an effervescent culture clash, a sort of Run DMC- style collision that drops a sample of electronica guru Man Parrish’s Two Sisters in with choppy rock guitar, banjo excursions and a cheeky cha cha cha rhythm.

Without Zero opens with the shimmering instrumental, Praying For You - “It fuses Indian rhythms and Arabic rhythms, and creates a message of peace, love and hope” – and closes with Show Me Love, a track that gives thanks as it brings the Joi story together. “Niladri plays the same rhythm in different ways on that one, very fast, very beautifully, very mathematically. It’s transcendental. The icing on the cake.”

Joi have always said that their message is in their music. On Without Zero, an album filled with unions, epiphanies and creative meetings of minds, their message is palpable.

Reviews

  • Full of energy, great hooks & contemporary beats Celebratory and devotional, progressive and respectful, Joi's albums were raved over by the critics and clubbers alike and are considered key moments in the development of UK-based Asian music. Full of energy, fun, amazing playing, great hooks, and contemporary beats. Play.com (UK)
  • Spirited, experimentally minded soundclash that's as fun as it is inspired Without Zero marks the return of some true veterans of the Asian underground. ... But despite the death of Haroon in 1999, Joi have continued to spearhead a sprit of East/West cultural fusion, integrating two decades of British club and evolution from acid house to drum ’n’ bass into their flexible, loose-limbed design. The band’s third album to appear on Peter Gabriel’s Real World imprint, Without Zero sees Shamsher joined by a cast of musicians including sitar player Nildari Kumar, adventurous drum ’n’ bass duo Spring Heel Jack, and vocalist Apeksha Dandekar, who offers vocals and chants in Hindi and Urdu. Whereas many modern UK club genres have pillaged ethnic music for vaguely ‘exotic’ sounds, Without Zero approaches the culture-clash from the opposite direction. Eschewing samples, the likes of "Come Back To Me" and "What You Are" are built on an essentially traditional bedrock of live sitar, pipes, and tabla, beefed up with propulsive rhythms and techno bass. That’s not to say, however, that Shamsher is averse to a spot of studio trickery – see how he digitally chops up Dandekar’s mournful wail and presents the pieces soaked in echo on “Amar Kahani”. Nor is the live instrumentation here exclusively Asian: “Praying For You” drops snatches of what sounds like bluesy slide guitar to amongst thudding, Chemical Brothers-style beats, while “Cha Cha Cha” blends the wail of vocalist Apeksha Dandekar with heavy, chunky rock riffs. The pick here, however, might just be “What You Are” - a deft crossbreed of mid-90s chart house and Bhangra peppered with dramatic, organic drum rolls. A spirited, experimentally minded soundclash that’s as fun as it is inspired. Reviewer: Louis Patterson BBC World review (UK)
  • Thrilling Big Beat Farook Shamsher's Joi are the Faithless of British Asian breakbeat. Both grew out of late-'80s rave, both unite weird electronica with the Whirl-Y-Gig end of crusty rave... And, like Faithless, they're still making dated but often thrilling big beat with a trancey, shamanic edge. The Bollywood strings ("Praying") and loungey sitar breaks ("Forget Me Not") are still there, but are joined by more wordly African and Arabic sources. The highlight here is "Come Back To Me", Farook's genuinely moving tribute to his late brother, Haroon. Uncut (UK)
  • Inspired The first Joi album in, well, far too long. Five years have brought a refinement to the sound, to the point where East and West mix well, often (as on the opener, "Praying For You") with palpable excitement. It might not seem as exotic as it once did, but there's an individuality to the music now, so there's no Asian Underground tag attached. This is just world music for the club scene, handsomely crafted and sometimes inspired. Chris Nickson Global Village Idiot webzine (UK/International)
  • A Zero That Deserves Full Marks! Joi aka Farook Shamsher, is back. Not that he'd ever really been away. But this latest offering, Joi's third album for Real World, has been in production for a few years....Farook and long-time collaborators/producers Spring Heel Jack have here produced an amazing fusion album...There's no doubt that Haroon would have been proud of the musical fruits Farook and co have harvested. It's largely dominated by Western beats, with the programming of the tracks giving a space to allowing the ethereal Indian voices to really lift the music. The traditional Asian and Arabic instrumentation - tabla, flute, sitar, the zurna and oud - add spice and colour on tracks such as 'The Blessing', 'My Love' and 'Amar Kahani'. It's been a long time coming but it's worth the wait. Treat yourself to a magical journey of sound. Songlines (Top of the World album choice) (UK)
  • Fantastic return. Next time don't leave it so long Heroes of the Asian underground, this East London collective return with their first album in five years. Frenetically upbeat, 'Without Zero' deepens the Joi family vibe. The Shamsher brothers filter their love of Bengali, Bollywood and qawwali music through modern urban dance.... Like their Brick Lane home, a vibrant meeting point for a thousand ideas. Multiculti London at its best.... Fantastic return. Next time don't leave it so long Swell Music (UK)
  • Joy at Joi comeback Throw a ticker-tape parade, do a Mexican wave, hold a party and ready to turn up the volume on your stereo because legendary band Joi are making a comeback. Due for release later this month, their highly anticipated third album Without Zero fuses Western beats with Indian voices and traditional Asian and Arabic instrumentation. In addition, a number of magical musicians have made guest appearances on it.... Here's hoping the London-based band, who laid the foundation for commercial fusion music as we know it today, are back for good. Eastern Eye (UK)