Mughal-E-Funk’s debut EP occasionally comes up short, but when it works, it really works
With the name Mughal-E-Funk, you probably expect a mesh of South Asian classical and African-American funk music when you press play on their debut EP ‘Sultanat’. But the name is a misnomer of sorts; the 4-piece band from Lahore draws far more from jazz and 80’s synth-heavy pop music than they do from funk. The band, made up of Rakae Jamil on sitar, Kami Paul on drums, Rufus Shehzad on keys and Farhan Ali on bass, attempt to blur the lines between genres on Sultanat, incorporating electronic elements that sit alongside the sitar.
The result is a record that is exciting to listen to, twisting and turning, never really going where you expect. As soon as you settle into a groove, the band might up the tempo, or collapse the composition in a frenetic breakdown. It’s refreshingly off-balance and when it works, it really really works.
Take Shah Jahan, for instance, probably the best track on the record, and the most traditional in it’s composition. The track has a hopelessly romantic air about it, much like the emperor it’s named after. Everything about it is bittersweet. The ambient drone at the beginning drips with midnight atmosphere. The percussion comes in, lumbering and slow, accompanied by a mournful sitar. This is love at it’s most cruel and ruthlessly destructive. There’s a gorgeous sarangi and tabla thrown into the mix here, that add even more texture. It’s the most traditionally classical track on the EP -- until the band decide to mix it up. The tempo increases, the drums become frenzied and restless, infecting the sarangi with their energy. At some points it almost seems like a drum and bass remix of a classical song. But the sitar continues, unfazed by the chaos that’s going on around it. It’s a beautifully constructed track, architectural in structure and quietly experimental.
Akbar is the other standout track of the EP. The crunchy bass line and explosive drum fills exude aggression, while the sitar and keys provide some ambient respite. The track again seems to depict the Mughal emperor it is named after, a pretty impressive compositional feat.
Live at True Brew // 16 // Mughal-E-Funk - Aimen Taraana
However, in some places, the willingness to experiment also leads to confusion; the genre lines are so shaken up that it’s difficult to decipher what you’re listening to. This is perhaps most evident on the opening track Babar. While the track opens with a stunning ambient texture with a lamenting sitar and processional drums, there’s a mid track change-up. The bass gets darker, the drums fizz on the hi-hats. So far so good. But then a bizarre synth pushes into the mix, like a drunk keytar solo. The synth tone is so buzzing and abrasive that it completely derails the track. When the sitar rejoins later, the track regains some balance, but by then you almost feel like it’s too late.
This is an issue that recurs throughout the record. Occasionally the synth comes in and forces the sitar off the stage. The entire composition seems to reorient itself for the newcomer. Humayun feels like two very different songs smashed together and operating on different frequencies. It’s strange that the top half of the EP feels so off-kilter as to almost tip over.
Thankfully the album regains balance after these first two hiccups. Bahadur Shah Zafar is the perfect slow jam, incorporating psychedelic elements along with a sensuous texture. The keys play alongside the sitar here: they’re not trying to muscle each other off stage, but rather working in tandem. Along with Shah Jahan, it’s the most memorable track on the album.
Overall this debut EP is a successful interpretation of a traditional genre. Apart from the first two tracks, which perhaps overplay their card, the rest of the album blends electronic and jazz elements with traditional South Asian classical music to great effect, producing a record that’s exciting and always keeps you on your toes.
Sultanat can be streamed on all major music platforms. Support local artists and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. The album is distributed by rearts records.
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