Dakshin Khun (Southern Man)

Equus
Indian, Middle Eastern, Mongolian
Blue Mountain Sound
www.bluemountainsound.com.au
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2014

This is one of the most evocative albums I’ve heard this year. The opening track, Altain Magdal evokes that area of Asia stretching from Nepal to China. It will be a challenging album for some: the vocals are Mongolian throat singing – a guttural, seemingly toneless sound, with a remarkable range. However, we hear a range of instruments from all over the world, and a marvellous collection of songs that may actually give a meaning to that often meaningless term ‘world music’.

Even the title Dakshin Khun derives from two languages, so the CD liner notes state. ‘Dakshin’ is an ancient Sanskrit word which refers to ‘South’, and ‘Khun’ is a Mongolian word meaning ‘Man’: hence the title. The musicians call the album a meeting: many cultures, many traditions. They meet in the Southern Land: Australia. As their website says ‘We are all Southern Men, regardless of where we came from’.

Equus.ARTIST(LtoR Andy Busuttil, Bukchulun Ganburghed (Bukhu), John Robinson,Tunji Beier; photo John Robinson)

The instrumentation is a trip down the ancient trade routes: from the drums of southern India, to the Irish tinwhistle (actually invented in England, but anyway…), the middle Eastern saz from the baglama family, the Greek Bouzouki, the Tibetan horsehair-fiddle and even some Australian instruments from the workshop of Linsey Pollack: the saxillo and something called the Olive. The percussion is South Indian.

I’m not sure the music has the energy of punk, as they claim: it is far too nuanced and skilled for that type of comparison, but it is certainly among the most challenging and beautiful CDs I’ve heard this year. They are not scared to expand the style: Be Midghul has elements of blues, and a touch of Celtic across a Middle Eastern riff. Unusually, and perhaps a bit refreshingly, there is no guitar. Guitar is not missed. I say this as an enthusiastic guitarist and teacher of guitar.

There are moments of real musical beauty: Khumain Turul is a mid-tempo song which slowly drew me in to its world. When it ended, I hit the ‘repeat’ button. Long Song, the second shortest song on the album at 2:55, is another lovely piece. It is an almost solo horsehair fiddle piece; notes slide up and down scales, and cadences, and tones jump out, hide and slyly insinuate. To those not used to the musical approach, it may take some getting used to. But, throughout the album, the drone-ish riffs under the linear melodies are hypnotising.

The design of the packaging is pleasing enough, but to focus on the external packaging is a mistake. This is pure musical pleasure: exciting, fun and challenging, all at once. It, like much ‘world music’, is not to be listened to as a disposable commodity – heard once or twice and discarded for the next trend. It is music to be absorbed, to be drunk in slowly. As a Westerner with pretentions to scholarship and rationality, I’m torn between wishing for a lyrical translation and just letting the shape of words tell the story.

This is an album worth purchasing, and listening to repeatedly, not as background noise, but as an experience in itself. We are all Southerners. I look forward to the next release.

 

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