Developing a culturally rich repertoire that seamlessly translates internationally is a winning formula for captivating fans worldwide. Canadian vocalist and sitar player Mohamed Assani has achieved this in spades with his latest release, Wayfinder. It’s a fusion of Indian/Pakistani world influences with electronica, and the record is moored to Assani’s signature themes of peace and spiritual liberation.
The release is over an hour long yet only contains seven tracks, making for a deep and purposeful statement in each piece. As an ambassador of a long and rich musical tradition, Mohamed Assani continues to innovate by bringing the style into new territories and finding new applications and sounds, pushing the frontiers of both cultures and proving the diversity of applications with the sitar.
A steady synth beat and a charging sitar line kick things off on the uplifting ‘Awakening’. Throughout the track, it’s apparent how refreshing an approach Assani has with the instrument, and the piece progressively opens its shell in tandem with the more emphatic thumps and grandiose electro soundscapes. Over eight minutes, the music rises, dips back, holds the line, and barrels out again, making for a playful and engaging opener.
‘Serendipity’ starts with percussion and bass before orchestral strings join in. Here, the sitar offers a contrast to the bass notes and the mbira (an Indian percussion instrument), adding a lyrical flair with its unique accent patterns. Somehow, Mohamed Assani manages to create an endless series of variations on a recurring eight-bar theme packed with textural complexity. Another intricate entry is ‘Black Sugar’, which infuses chill R&B grooves with charming chords, an echoed sitar, and rhythmic electronic pulses.
Things take a more ballad-oriented turn on ‘Lullaby for Guli’, offering a serene and thoughtful atmosphere that takes a cue from classical music. It progressively keels into R&B style drums and clicks that settle the groove, and the sitar takes its time to be fully unleashed. What’s so interesting about this piece is how it marries two normally juxtaposed styles—Western and Eastern—and plays them off each other in harmony.
Wayfinder is a skilful meshing of modern and world classical that’s neither gimmicky nor competitive as both styles complement one another so well. It’s imaginative, ambient, spacey, droney, mysterious, and emotional all in one. Sometimes, the ideas take a little too long to develop and things drag, but when the tracks take off in full colour, the sound is incredible.