The 2020 album from Ammar 808, Global Control/Invisible Invasion, is a stunning cross-cultural exploration that seamlessly blends traditional Indian music with futuristic electronic production.
The Brussels-based Tunisian electronic producer Sofyann Ben Youssef has created a rich and complex soundscape that draws on Hindu mythology and the rich musical traditions of Tamil Nadu, the southern Indian state where the album was recorded. For 24 intense days, he collaborated with top local artists to adapt their polyrhythms and Tamil songs inspired by Hindu mythology.
Youssef's previous work, including his critically acclaimed album Maghreb United, showcased his ability to blend traditional North African music with modern electronic production. With Global Control/Invisible Invasion, he turns his attention to the classical music of southern India, delving into the intricacies of Carnatic music and incorporating it into his unique sonic palette. The result is an album that feels both otherworldly and deeply rooted in tradition. But his ability to blend diverse musical styles and cultures is impressive. It is also timely, as he tackles the themes of its title. In an interview, he explained that "global control" and "invisible invasion" are metaphors that are both very old and very current, pointing to the Hindu belief system that "the invisible invasion happens in the brain, the soul. We're invaded without ever seeing it externally, and this system decrees our fate." The sonic journey of Global Control/Invisible Invasion juxtaposes throughout in perfect accordance with this theme, featuring both unease and introspection, micro and macro, from the personal to the universal.
The album's opening track, Marivere Gati, is a haunting melody that seamlessly blends traditional South Indian music with futuristic sounds. Vocals from Carnatic singer Susha float atop a pulsing beat, creating a hypnotic soundscape that transports the listener to another realm of cultural singularity. The Mahabharata-inspired Ey Paavi follows with its hypnotic 303 beats and Tamil vocals filtered through electronic effects. Featuring Kali Dass's soulful singing and a dynamic rhythm section, it is a song with an almost rap battle intensity between mythological rivals Duryodhana and Bhima. Dass adds a South Indian touch to Arisothari Yen Devi, where the combination of his stirring voice and a powerful bassline results in a heavy, almost industrial feel.
The album's centerpiece is Geeta Duniki, a stunning track with Susha's vocals again taking center stage, this time set against an upbeat melody of glitchy electronics and thundering drums. On Geeta Duniki, Ammar 808's production is masterful, weaving together layers of percussion, drone effects, and digital manipulation to create a rich and immersive sonic landscape. Susha appears again on Pahi Jagajjanani. This time her voice takes on a more ethereal quality, floating over a bed of shimmering electronics and subtle percussion. Slower and more contemplative than the rest, Pahi Jagajjanani is a beautiful and calming interlude before the album's introspective final track, Summa Solattumaa.
Despite its complex and often experimental nature, Global Control/Invisible Invasion never feels inaccessible or pretentious. Instead, Youssef's production is both lush and spacious, giving the album a sense of openness and room to breathe. At times, the album feels like a journey through different sonic landscapes, with each track offering a new perspective on Youssef's vision. Throughout, Youssef and his diverse range of artists expertly balance the traditional and the modern, creating an album that feels both timeless and forward-thinking. It's a testament to his skill as a producer and his willingness to push the boundaries of what's possible in music. Whether you're a fan of electronic music, traditional Indian music, or just great music in general, Global Control/Invisible Invasion is an album that deserves your attention, transcending borders and merging cultures.