In an arts world that constantly leans towards secularism, it’s all too common to see musicians attempt to distance themselves from culture and indigenous/traditional music in an attempt to present themselves as some kind of futuristic cosmopolitan ‘post-culture’ artist. However there is something to be said for those musicians who actively reimagine the sounds of tradition, reworking them in contemporary form while preserving a clear lineage and tradition, which is exactly what Tunisian producer Sofyann Ben Youssef (aka AMAAR 808) does on his latest record Global Control / Invisible Invasion.
While Ammar 808’s previous album, 2018’s Maghred United blended Tr-808 bass with North-African beats and voices, on Global Control / Invisible Invasion Ammar 808 has looked towards the city of Chennai in the Tamil Nadu region of Southern India for inspiration, drawing upon the rich musical history of the city and collaborating with local artist to reimagine the city's “rich and resonant musics”.
Recorded over just 24 days, Global Control / Invisible Invasion was made possible by the efforts of musician/producer Paul Jacobs, who connected AMMAR 808 with a number of local Chennai singers and musicians.
In his formative years, Sofyann visited Delhi and spent many months recording music, learning the sitar & tabla while absorbing the rich hindu culture and mythology. Reflecting on his own identity in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, Sofyann looks inwardly in the creation of Global Control / Invisible Invasion, culminating in his return journey to Chennai and the production of the record, which fuses massive bass-driven percussion with the “traditional legends and soundscapes” of the region.
For example, the second track ‘Ey Paavi’, which fuses 303-acid with rumbling bass hits and deconstructed traditional percussion, has its roots in the Mahabharata, a 2000-year-old Sanskrit Epic and central text in Hindu folklore: “it’s a kind of street theatre […] one where the electronic melodies push harder and harder in a battle against the percussion, the lines increasing the tension.”
In contrast to northern India’s largely instrumentally-based music, Southern India’s rich Carnatic (vocal-led) tradition lends itself to a completely different mode of expression, as heard on the tracks ‘Marivere Gati’ and ‘Pahi Jahajjani’, where vocals set the rhythm and energy of the composition, with drums and percussion taking a secondary role, layered just below collaborator Susha’s singing.
The extensive bandcamp description for the project — which is worth a full read in it’s own right — sheds some light on the deep influences that pervade throughout the length of Global Control / Invisible Invasion.
“Some of the stories [in Hindu mythology] are like a science-fiction movie…filled with tales of global wars, gods with flying machines and divine weapons and extinction level events…a subtle and more mysterious history of mankind.”
A much “brighter” sound than the quarter-tones and Arabic scales of Maghreb United, Global Control / Invisible Invasion dials the rhythm and melody up to 11, taking a maximalist approach to sound design and composition, and despite the extensive lore behind the songwriting there are rarely any moments of respite Global Control / Invisible Invasion, which brings track after track of club-ready, bass-heavy thump.
Instrumentally speaking, Global Control / Invisible Invasion holds its own as an contemporary electronic record, and keen-eared listeners will hear the sonic ghosts of other TR-808 influenced genres such as trap and footwork scattered across the project’s 8 tracks. That being said, the music of Invisible Invasion is so deeply inseparable from the storytelling and mythology of its source material, coming through less like an attempt to coin a new genre, but rather an organic modern-day reimagining of ancient musical tradition.
Despite the name, the phrase “invisible invasion” isn't actually a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic: “To [AMMAR 808], in the Hindu belief system, the invisible invasion happens in the brain, the soul. We’re invaded without ever seeing it externally, and this system decrees our fate. And usually we embrace it, instead of fighting against it.”
“Then Covid-19 happened, of course, but this name precedes it. This year just emphasises how vulnerable we are.”
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