I’ve always, like many people, hated the term ‘fusion’ music. There’s an Indian restaurant down the road from where I used to live that advertised itself as a ‘fusion’ restaurant, blending Indian cuisine with fresh, innovative recipes. “Yes, you can have Tikka Masala but we have some new ways for you to enjoy it” – a quote from their website. But in its desperation to distance itself from the ‘old’ and fuse it with the ‘new’, it ended up being a Frankenstein’s monster of a restaurant, with elements picked out from two cultures but without any cohesiveness, an amalgam of references without any soul.
So what does Dynoman, co-founder of the Forever South label and musical alter ego of Haamid Rahim, do differently? How do you escape the awful tag of creating ‘fusion’ music?
On Naubahar, his debut LP that was nominated for a Lux Style Award for best album, it sounds like Dynoman doesn’t even know what fusion music is. It’s such a refreshing take on things that, on my first listen through the album, I spent the whole time anxiously waiting for the whole thing to come crashing down. But it doesn’t.
The album holds up because Rahim seems totally and blissfully unaware of any distinction between a tabla sample and a snare sample, or a sitar and a synth. They both treated as exactly the same things – paintbrushes for this sonic tapestry. Every instrument and sound is democratised, just another tool in Dynoman’s vast shed.
Take Kiran, for instance: a lovely vocal floats on top of jittery percussion, accompanied by a weaving synth line. The tabla joins in the fun. Then there’s the disarming sound at 1.20, like a mix of a record scratch and a cheap synth laser that dominates the mix. It’s strange, and a little uncomfortable to listen to. When the exact same synth sound reappears as the outro, it sounds oddly beautiful. It almost feels like you’ve just been fooled by a magic trick.
Another standout track, Naubahar, shows off Rahim’s control of texture and atmosphere. The track begins with the distant sounds of children playing and a lovely, nostalgic melody fades in, like flipping through old photographs. It’s gorgeous and emotional. But listen at 1.40 – where you would expect trap-inspired hi-hats (like the ones you hear on Kiran), they’re replaced by a tabla sample and it makes perfect sense in the context.
The album is at its weakest when there seem to be too many influences and elements crammed into a space, all vying for attention. Rustom, for instance, doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. It moves between dancehall and r’n’b and, while there are interesting ideas here, particularly the mixing of two vocal samples, it ends up feeling a little half-baked.
Nevertheless, it is sometimes this same abundance of ideas that allows for tracks like Escape, Mugen and Lathi Charge. These tracks often appear like complex machinery, with multiple moving parts and transitions. The lo-fi piano sample in Escape, for instance, or the dramatic strings in Mugen – they’re all discerningly chosen and perfectly placed. It helps that Rahim has an almost architectural knack for structure. It leads to some stunning moments.
On Naubahar, Rahim blazes a new trail for indie experimental pakistani music, utilising a plethora of influences and sounds, and creating something that is ultimately cohesive, complex, and deeply emotional. Released in 2012, Naubahar is still Dynoman’s first and only full length LP. Frank O’Hara, the great American Beat poet, when asked by his friend and editor about manuscript delays would reply, ‘it’s cooking’.
One hopes that Rahim is doing the same; still cooking.