Fri., Feb. 5 (7:30pm) & Sat., Feb. 7 (7pm)
The Studio Maui, Haiku
575-9390 or www.thestudiomaui.com
In the early midmorning, when there is no threat of rain, the warming ground of Wailuku town heaves up a unique smell. It’s an aged, earth-meets-industry smell—of asphalt, wood, exhaust and lava-grown green. Just the memory of that smell is enough to get you through the hot, helpless belly of the day, when the dusty hues of the office building color everything in old, tin-biscuit colors. On such an afternoon, Mike Krall of The Stuido Maui walks into my office and finds me clinging to my desktop fan.
I like seeing Krall, so I pause from my fan. He sets a pair of 2003 Grammy-nominee Jai Uttal’s latest releases on my desk, sliding one in particular toward me. “This one is more MauiTime style,” he says.
“Oh! Well, if this one is more MauiTime style, what’s that one?” I ask, pointing to the other disc.
“This? It’s his latest. It’s World.” Krall pauses slightly before adding, “It’s super World.” His reply is a swirl of enthusiasm and sheepishness.
“Super World. OK… I like the sound of that.”
Our chuckle-filled chat ends and Krall departs. I stick my head back in front of the fan. The blades catch and chop up my words, as I repeatedly roll over that funny phrase: super world… super world… I like it. It’s a fun phrase—maybe even a mantra.
As for the use of the word “World” as a genre of music, I’m unconvinced. Or, more than unconvinced, I’m confused.
What exactly is World music? Here’s my limited impression: the music you push your cart to in health food stores; the stuff they pipe into boutiques smelling of sage; the satellite radio station in galleries and fancy kitchenware shops. Fine, but not necessarily for me.
Nonetheless, I’m open. Uttal is one of the biggest names in the biz and sells out show after show—as his prior Maui appearances have, and assuredly the two forthcoming will. There’s got to be something to it.
For Uttal specifically, I’m catching up on an over 20-year career. Meanwhile—for the very first time—probing my views of the genre he’s credited with pioneering. Daunting, yes. But, I’ve got a pretty good toolbox. Notably, a phone interview with Uttal from his from his California home, after which he personally mails to me a two-disc set titled Kirtan! The Art and Practice of Ecstatic Chant (2003). Add that to the “more MauiTime” Dial M for Mantra (2007) and the “super World” Thunder Love (2008), and I’ve got a nice spread of releases for review. Not to mention streaming audio of all his work, from his site.
I listen thoroughly—much of it played multiple times, on various players (Uttal is partial to a good sound system, “if you’re really listening”). What I hear generally supports my impressions, but of high-quality execution, thanks to Uttal’s musical prowess and the uniqueness of his multi-instrumentalism. His work is clearly accented by the influences Uttal speaks fondly of—notably Indian and Brazilian, dashed with “old-timey Appalachian.” Though there’s undoubtedly strong crossover to New Age (whatever that is, too), he possesses an unguardedly hip colloquial, and his band is called the Pagan Love Orchestra.
With Kirtan!, the essence of his music—and spirituality—is most evident. Kirtan itself is a musical practice that in repetition invokes the names of Indian deities. Best live, it is music that is highly participatory, experiential for the audience. Though I’m not a fan of the second track—a flowery monologue of kirtan and its practice—I love the explanatory liner notes, and stories Uttal shares of his experiences with gurus of the East.
With Dial M for Mantra, the element of the industry’s “whole DJ culture… [the] world of taking someone’s music and reexamining it,” as Uttal says, is manifested. It’s my least favorite album—there are too many elements layered at length. I ask if there are any particular challenges with relinquishing his music to reinvention by someone else’s hand. Collaboration, Uttal says, is always an exciting challenge (he speaks highly of everyone he’s worked with). As for the remixes, he says that “because the albums were complete, they were out in solid form,” it wasn’t so much an issue.
In the “super World” Thunder Love, I find the biggest divergence—and what I don’t initially like grows on me. Uttal says the album—which took two years to record—is “an expression of who I am and where I am now, an attempt to really open myself.” He speaks abundantly (as in all matters) about the influence of his Brazilian wife, Nubia and their five-year-old son, Erza, to who he dedicates the album, referencing to me the “joy of meeting your soulmate” and the “thrill of having a child.” These elements translate strongest in the album. It bears a warmth and paternal earnestness that is sweet and ‘ohana friendly, which makes Uttal’s next planned project—a kids’ album—fitting.
Yet for all this, I’m still uneasy about my understanding of World music. Time to turn to a new source.
“The term is a catchall that commonly refers to non-Western music of any and all sorts, popular music, traditional music and even classical music. It’s a marketing as well as a pseudomusical term,” writes musician David Byrne in a 1999 The New York Times article titled “I Hate World Music.”
“In my experience,” writes Byrne, “the use of the term world music is a way of dismissing artists or their music as irrelevant to one’s own life… Maybe that’s why I hate the term. It groups everything and anything that isn’t ‘us’ into ‘them.’”
And he’s right. It would have been so much easier for me to say something to the effect of: “Hey! A renowned, New York-born musician is coming to Maui. Raised in the music industry, he’s mastered a bevy of wild, international instruments and is primarily influenced by some fascinating, spiritual experiences abroad. I’m sure you’d agree that, though born Doug, opting to go by Jai was a good choice. His latest album…”