swet shop boys guide us through the weird and wonderful qawwali influences behind cashmere
Take an exclusive listen to new single Shottin’ as Riz MC, Heems and Redinho take you on a journey of discovery through the South Asian devotional music that permeates their important debut LP, Cashmere.
Having already impressed people the world over with their T5 single, one which openly discusses the prejudice the artists experience during airport screenings, along with their ode to young role models in 2016, Zayn Malik, and party song, Tiger Hologram. London's Riz MC and New York's Heems - actors, rappers, activists and immigrants - have teamed up with producer Redinho to share their experiences, both creative and deeply personal, with the world via their own brand of musical gumbo. Dipping into their Indian and Pakistani heritages but keeping it dosed up on 808s, Cashmere borrows Bollywood strings, tablas, stirring sitars and Wawwali hand claps. Wanting to learn beyond the social commentary, we asked the trio to go in depth and share the lesser-known influences behind the record. The world is a cruel but beautiful melting pot of cultures and while the LP confronts some of the major issues faced today, musically, it is a celebration of said melting pot. Take an exclusive listen to their new single Shottin' before celebrating with them and educating yourself.
"The brown James Brown. He's in a pseudo cape, there are rhythmic vamps, a seemingly improvised structure, and a lot of crowd hype and flamboyance. This sparked my imagination and formed a conceptual palette in my mind - what if I arranged tracks a bit like this? With hand claps, harmoniums, drums… And some 808s? That's when 'Tiger Hologram' was born."
Sufi Dhol Drummers
"There was something beautiful about Sufi drummers that I wanted to incorporate somehow. I paid homage to this most overtly on a track called Sufi La, which we left off the album, but we'll drop soon."
"The harmonium is as popular as it is controversial in South Asia. Initially a colonial import, it was adopted more readily over organs and harpsichords which either perished en route, or deteriorated in the heat. Furthermore, tables and chairs weren't used in households or in music performances, so the harmonium made sense. When the Independence movement gained momentum however, academics argued that it was a symbol of the West, highlighting that you can't bend notes, and that the tuning was wrong. The instrument was banned for over thirty years on All India Radio, but remains a popular instrument in South Asian. This story highlights how a tool of expression can become a politicised symbol of conflicted identity, a theme of the SSB album. I used it quite a bit on the record, most noticeably on Tiger Hologram."
Roger Troutman and Zapp
"I've used the talkbox extensively, but I only used it once on this album, and that was on Tiger Hologram."
"I used this on Half Moghul, Half Mowgli. It's such a haunting and atmospheric instrument. With Riz's lyrics, and the way there's a call and response between his lines and the flute, it started to feel like he was having a conversation - with his heritage and traditional expectations (represented by the flute) and then staring at himself in the mirror and trying to make sense of his identity and place in the world. The track became very moving to me."
"I wanted to do a spiritual track, and the beat for what became Din-E-iLahi was initially called Thar Desert. The alienation that a lot of the lyrics touch on, and the sense of being lost, almost nomadic, made me think of the desert. The Thar is interesting because it creates a natural boundary between India and Pakistan, which is also another theme of the record. This track turned into one of the most moving songs of the album once Riz and Heems got on it."
The Sound of Wonder
"I only got into these amazing Finders Keepers compilations towards the end of the album process, but they're so amazing that I have to reference them. 60s & 70s psychedelic Lolywood pop. Wild."
"I didn't want to use the sitar on this record much because I felt it was too obvious, same with the tabla. I used it on a track which I didn't think much of, probably because of this reason, and left it to the last minute to show the guys. Riz immediately started singing the hook of what became 'Aaja', and the rest happened very quickly, which is the way we work. I find that the tracks I think aren't particularly special, someone else hears something in it sparks something in them. I'm so happy because this track has become special to me, especially when we were shooting the video for it in New York and I saw how people of all ages were reacting to it, from little babies to elders. Riz has told me that his Dad dances to it too, and this is perhaps the biggest honour of them all. I've hear him sing too, and I'm trying to get him on the next record."
Aziz Mian, Meh Sharabi
"Aziz Mian is a legendary qawalli singer - punchline maestro, crowd hype conductor, devotional singer and improvisational poet. This song is all about how he loves to get drunk....on god's love, of course, if any religious authorities ask."
The Firm, Phone Tap
"This classic rap super group influenced us to make 'T5', a track all about post 9/11 surveillance that's kind of honouring this classic joint. We're also a super group, technically speaking."
Mos Def, Umi Says
"Looking back I realise that this freestyle sung new skool spiritual was a sub conscious reference for me when I got in the booth to improvise our track Din-E-iLahi"
TLC, Fan Mail
"The idea of doing bars reflecting the fan mail and hate mail I get on 'Half Moghul Half Mowgli' has been done before of course, and I loved how TLC did it on this track."
Nazia Hassan, Aap Jaisa... (Baat ban jaye)
"Classic 70s/80s disco-influenced Pakistani pop. This kind of stuff, like this and Disco Dancer Inspired the style of the hook on Aaja. Altho Ali Sethi then made it much classier when he sang it"
"I always liked this song. I liked it when i was a little baby and it came out. Then I liked it when I was a bigger baby and it was featured in the Power Rangers movie. And then I liked it as an adult so we referenced it in our first single T5."
Sampha, Timothy's Prayer
"I think every time I wasn't listening to a Redinho beat to rap on the week we were recording in London I was sitting with my headphones on listening to this. It was really good 'walking around on a sunny day in London' music."
"Some form of this had released in April when I was performing in Ramallah, Haifa and Jaffa. I remember leaving the checkpoint in Ramallah, playing the Arabic station, my friend Mohammed explaining we should get off the settler highway because they shoot down at them from where we were just hanging out, and then MIA singing Yallah!!! on the radio."
PAM, Karenga Aayi
"I spent a lot of the last year in India, not rapping but thinking about rap. This song out of Punjab is my favourite Indian rap song."
Young Thug, Wyclef Jean
"This has nothing to do with our album or my time listening to music before I recorded. But I really like it."
Cashmere is due for release 14 October via their own Customs label. Pre-order here.
Text Frankie Dunn