With his debut sitar/ambient EDM fusion album Wayfinder earning high praise from both camps, Mohamed Assani and his producer Adham Shaikh have definitely stepped it up a few notches with two new tracks. “Ayesha and the Mullah” is a re-imagined take on a classical Afghani epic set to music, while “Lucid Dreaming” is an original piece of work composed by Assani.
Something really must have clicked during production between Assani and Shaikh because, while Wayfinder was already polished with beautiful ambient electronic music to accompany Assani’s sitar, “Ayesha and the Mullah” and “Lucid Dreaming” are even more dialed in. Marrying any kind of Eastern music with electronic beats and melodies is exceptionally difficult because Eastern music, especially in the region of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, operates on completely different and much more complicated scale and rhythm systems. Trying to jam the extremely complex tapestry of interwoven notes and time signature that is a sitar piece is an immense challenge to any musician, especially in a genre like EDM which depends so heavily on 4/4 time.
All this makes the true fusion track that is “Ayesha and the Mullah” all the more impressive because as a traditional epic, the structure of this song was likely very difficult to unravel and rearrange. Assani and Shaikh have chosen an interesting two-pronged approach to the electronic adaptation. During the intro/tuning, only ambient nature sounds can be heard, connecting the song with its roots as a story to be told around ancient tribal campfires.
Once Assani really gets going with the melody, Shaikh drops a very modern and heavy trip hop-style beat with a sine wave drag as well as some more modern ambient components. The small vestige of a synth drives some of the more complex parts of the melody. All these additions have an interesting effect: parts of the song become so modern that they’re almost urban. Western listeners may even forget they’re listening to a traditional Afghani classic as in parts, Assani’s work sounds almost like a complex metal guitar. The switch is subtle but that’s why the way this track was composed is so interesting. Just like the journey Ayesha took in the original story, this track takes the listener on a journey around the world and through time.
Surprisingly for a completely new piece, “Lucid Dreaming” sounds like it’s much more traditionally constructed. A tabla drum provides the primary beat and the electronic beat is much more subtle than in “Ayesha and the Mullah.” That said, the notes and chords that Assani uses don’t sound as traditional as many other tracks and lean heavily on what we know in Western music to be minor keys and scales. It’s subtle once again but the effect is that of an indie rock guitar solo by a metal guitarist. Heavy, full of minor keys but expertly played.
Towards the end of “Lucid Dreaming,” Saikh gets a little funkier with the beat and what would technically be considered a trap progression emerges. He also adds some heavy backing bass synth to really amplifiy the eerie quality of Assani’s minor keys. The overall effect is anything but traditional. Assani and Saikh must have had a lot of fun making this track.
Truly great musicians are not only masters of their craft but they’re also constantly learning and progressing. As a true master of the sitar and Eastern music composition, Assani decided to challenge himself by fusing his music with modern and Western styles and it shows how he’s not only progressing his own work but also the genres within which he’s operating. This isn’t a sitar accompaniment tacked onto a Beatles song; it’s full integration at its finest and truly a great way to push the boundaries of both traditional and modern music.
“Ayesha and the Mullah” and “Lucid Dreaming” are both out now, available only on Bandcamp.