On Thursday, globally-oriented digital arts organization Norient launched its newest iteration, Norient Space, at Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Weltwirtschaft venue. Readers interested in global and digital arts of all kinds should follow them to their new site at norient-beta.com. Along with a preceding talk and panel discussion about the future of music publications, Norient invited London-based eclectic instrumentalist and political proponent Sarathy Korwar and his band to help them celebrate the launch of their global mission. Rounding out the festivities with a club-appropriate DJ set from Berlin’s own Dis Fig, Norient forced concert attendees to reconsider HKW as a serious contender in the Berlin’s music scene despite its infrequent shows. Seekers of diverse sounds looking for a multimedia and often academic perspective would be advised to check out the rest of the culture hub’s On Music event series.
Focus on the challenges of migration and the hypocrisy of globalization
Korwar and his accompanying personalities brought immediate voice and energy to Norient’s multicultural mission. Korwar himself has been known for his ability to unite diverse musical traditions since his 2016 career debut LP Day To Day, in which he flows in and out of styles in a manner that is both effortless and passionate. The band leader’s position as a drummer, too, naturally creates a platform for which he is dependent upon other performers to complete his vision, but also creates a stage onto which he can easily invite the people whose talents and voices he believes need to be heard. His most recent 2019 LP, More Arriving, demonstrates just this quality, averaging more than one feature per track on top of the core band lineup. The album’s explicit focus on the challenges of migration and the hypocrisy of globalization required this list of costars for its diversity of musical traditions and the contribution of poignant lyrics.
Interweaving of many musical traditions
Live at HKW, it was clear that Korwar’s objective was perfectly aligned with that of Norient’s ambitious event. The band rattled through its set with a mix of high-flying jams and straightforward cuts from the record, but all were underscored by the common theme of no common theme—the interweaving of many musical traditions in a tapestry that acknowledges both their differences and value. The band’s foundation in the young London jazz scene established a baseline for the varied tones that shot from among it. The saxophone covered an incredible spectrum of sounds for the three-piece, taking on everything from a free-jazz wail to the monotone or half-step bass of contemporary Theon Cross’ tuba. The only other melodic element consistent to the band was the keyboard, which blended incredibly tightly with the sax in their shared effort, sometimes literally trading tones beat for beat with one another. The keys also brought a refreshing electronic element that both accented songs with hints of sci-fi electronica and also allowed for the shift in tone necessary to match the nasal pitch closely associated with arabic maqam singing. All supported by Korwar’s drums, the band could quickly rouse to match a big band sound or fill out a melodic chorus at the cue of a flurry of blows from the back.
Unparalleled vocal acrobatics and a ferocious physical stage presence
While the band built up a veritable sound of its own, it also made efforts to highlight the two rotating vocalists, giving each his own unique and suitable treatment. Zia Ahmed took turns delivering simple and straightforward spoken word monologues that grappled with the band’s declared theme of immigration’s difficulty without leaving any illusions. Kushal Gaya (Melt Yourself Down), on the other hand, dragged the band along with him as he roared through songs in Mauritian and French Creole with unparalleled vocal acrobatics and a ferocious physical stage presence. The band adjusted course accordingly, sliding back to the restrained and structured for Ahmed and unleashing the tumultuous and frenzied for Gaya. Amidst these many scenes, the audience was treated to a few serendipitous glimpses of the performers trading open grins with one another. Despite the heavy subject matter and some technical difficulties, it was clear that all parties involved loved to do one thing: play.
Deep, pulsing bass kept beats hot
The set ended on a politically disquieting duo performance between Korwar and Ahmed, and then the players shuffled aside to make room for closing act Dis Fig. The locally-based DJ and producer’s true techno sound was a noticeable departure from the headliner’s, but a remarkable reward for all who were willing to shift gears with her. A deep, pulsing bass kept the beats hot no matter whether the samples and sounds above them were closer to minimal industrial or all out house. This reviewer found the small fraction of the crowd that stayed for her set to be truly unjust for such a talent, and I would encourage any real Berlin techno fans to chase Ms. Fig around the city for upcoming dates at Monarch and Urban Spree.
Sarathy Korwar’s set at Haus der Kulturen der Welt brought exactly the grade of intercultural communication and political content that Norient and astute concertgoers were hoping to see. While he is not currently on tour, English fans and travelers among us should keep an eye out for Korwar’s short trot around the island starting in mid-May. The album More Arriving is available now on Bandcamp and streaming platforms.