The 1996 Grammy-nominated album has never been available on vinyl before
Thu, 28 February 19
Released 16 October 2000
It’s June 2000 and I’m having a pretty similar experience, I imagine, to what my brother Haroon had a year ago— going to Bangladesh to meet up with musicians. It’s brilliant to see so many people in Sylhet who’ve heard of Joi’s music.
Haroon came to Bangladesh with a mission to record because we wanted traditional Bengali roots in the second album. We wanted to do something alternative and we knew we came from a Bengali village that was very raw and different. We knew artists that had jammed with my father a long time ago, so we thought we could get a lot of good stuff.
I was doing gigs in England and Europe while Haroon was in Bangladesh recording some beautiful, traditional artists— excellent flute players and tabla players; a beautiful 14 year old girl from our village who sang from her heart a wonderful song to Haroon on his little mini-disc which became the track ‘Prem’. The first track recreates Haroon’s journey, travelling in a rickshaw from Sylhet town to the village— lots of cycles, people in a workshop, blacksmith’s sounds, taxis —with a beautiful flute that takes you through this blissful ride.
We never knew that Haroon’s story would be so tragic and that he would pass away six weeks later. I always thought we would go back to Bangladesh together, to work in a studio and record. This was the last project that Haroon did while he was alive; he spent so much time and effort recording all these artists under such pressure that I couldn’t have done anything else but this album. We’ve always been influenced by other Asian styles but I have tried to keep this album more Bengali because it feels appropriate to the work my brother did and I wanted to dedicate it to him. I’ve got lots of music on disc that we wrote together —thirty to forty tracks of harmonies and melodies that are unreleased— but this album was more to do with Haroon’s time in Bangladesh and the last moments of his life. A lot of people say it’s good that he got to visit his home country before he passed away.
He was my brother, my best friend and my working companion as well —so we spent a lot of time together. The way my father brought us up was to be brothers together and to look after each other, and he named us both after two kings. We started out as a community organisation called the Regal Joi Bangla Youth Organisation, to publicise and promote Bengali culture. My brother and I then progressed it into promoting the musical side of Joi —doing festivals in various parts of the world, putting on a series of clubs to promote Bengali Asian music and charity gigs to support a variety of causes.
We weren’t quite militant— we were very political and community based and believed in doing things with your parents’ acceptance, rather than going behind their backs. The time when Joi came out was fundamentally around the Bangla movement and a lot of people were going to discos against their parents’ will. But Joi wanted to get their parents involved —to have a magician and classical dancers, and to interact that with what we did with decks and mixing in other people’s music; having different visuals, like Bengali films and Indian movies mixed in with street footage of Brick Lane. This was the beginning of the British Asian music scene— the Asian Underground, as people call it. We were quite at the forefront of that, of putting on clubs as various different DJs. Whoever you were you could come to a Joi gig, it was quite an international vibe— you didn’t have to be Bengali to come along. It was about being proud of your own culture.
“My love wanders the rooms, melodious, flute-notes, plucked wires, full of a wine the Magi drank on the way to Bethlehem. We are three. The moon comes from its quiet corner, puts a pitcher of water down in the center. The circle of surface flames. One of us kneels to kiss the threshold. One drinks, with flames playing over his face. One watches the gathering, and says to any cold onlookers: This dance is the joi of existence.”
We used to go through certain areas and get abuse thrown at us. That was basically why Joi was set up —to combat that sort of stuff and to say that we’re just the same as you, basically we’re all human beings, and through our art and through our music to try and entice people to like what we did.
Racism is something that non-white people face —it exists and it exists everywhere. My brother and I were more fortunate than other traditional Bengalis because we’re half Bengali and we look different. You always get the attitude “You’re OK but it’s the rest of them.” It’s only a matter of time before the new breed come forward of second generation people, where they fuse different cultures and they mix different traditions —and hopefully get the best of both worlds and become a new breed and spread, and become even more united.
Haroon’s importance to me —his existence— was everything. Basically, I wouldn’t be doing this job without Haroon and my father influencing me. Haroon was the DJ —he was the one who went out and got all these electro records when he was about twelve and started mixing them with traditional stuff —he was the electronic gadgets man. Out of all the DJs that were around— lots of Afro-Caribbean DJs and English-Western DJs, there were no Asian DJs anywhere never mind Bengali— he was the best mixer in town, completely. He could synchronise two digital tapes, practically impossible to do —the way he got his polyrhythms in with the Asian stuff with a Western beat. That’s why he got such good recordings in Bangladesh, because people knew that he knew his stuff. My brother was the Godfather of DJing and professional mixing, he was right at the forefront of all of that. He was definitely one of the originals to fuse different styles and use it —no one else ventured out and wanted to do it— but it must be right, must be perfectly in time; if it wasn’t in tune he wouldn’t use it.
I don’t know what my brother’s favourites were on the album because I didn’t have his notes, but there is a track that we recorded together seven years ago called ‘Don’t Cha Know That’ and that was definitely going on the album. It’s something that Haroon and I mixed together with vocals by us, and it’s got a really nice funky kind of energised jazz —done a long time ago. The album’s a mixture, from contemporary beats to traditional beats— hopefully we’ve got a good fusion there, and with the tabla different rhythms and recitals, intricate yet simple —melodic things that you can get into.
The producers, John Coxon and Ashley from Springheel Jack, have worked with Joi on various projects in the past. It was an honour that they came forward and offered to help and to produce this album and co-write some of the songs, because they knew Haroon and understood the music and the way that we came together and structured our thoughts. These epic songs happened so spiritually and naturally that it all just fell into place. We would start with one of Haroon’s references and it would automatically be in the same tempo, the same pitch and the same tune of the track that we were doing, and we’d say “Wow, that’s weird!”. Things like that made it possible, made it happen and gave the album a serious vibe.
It was very emotional and difficult for me to think “Am I doing this right?”. This is why I had to have some assistance with producing, because the second album had to be better than the first —there’s no way I could’ve done something that went back on what my brother had done because he was such a genius. With those beautiful recordings that he brought back for me he’s made it easy for me to do this new album; spiritually and technically he brought the vibe to me and gave me everything on a silver platter, all I had to do was to pull it together.
It was tragic for me, losing my brother, but from that comes an inner strength of him wanting me to carry on. I still always feel he’s there, and I feel the same with my father who passed away only seven years ago. This has made it possible for me to do things like go on tour with the Eurythmics all over Europe playing to 15-20,000 people each night —completely sold out venues; to play to over 100,000 people in England at Wembley Arena, Docklands, Manchester, Birmingham, Ireland. It was a total honour to do all of these, but the strength only came from my brother and I always felt a vibe, and still do today, from him when I perform or I do gigs.
So I feel a great sense that I must carry on— for Haroon’s legacy. Hopefully I can go on to make more beautiful music in respect and in tribute to the whole world.
Released 19 June 2015
Released 06 October 1997
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