The world we live in is made up of many diasporas, with each one bringing their own rich and unique cultural experiences to the music, art and culture that they create. Today, musicians around the world use technology, history and tradition, to find ways in which to create work that has global appeal, and a sense of adventure while retaining its sense of cultural authenticity.
Unfortunately, when many people think of global/world music, the phrase conjures images of soccer moms in line at Starbucks to pick up the latest Putumayo compilation CD. For the duo Turning Jewels Into Water, Hatian-born drummer, DJ, educator and electronic music artist Val Jeanty and Indian-born drummer, composer and educator Ravish Momin, make music that comes out of the deep reservoir of their respective cultural experiences, and flies in the face of mainstream assumptions about global music. As a solo artist, Jeanty is known as a leading creative mind in the space of experimental electronics. Melding cutting edge electronic percussion with adventurous sound design, Jeanty’s work reveals and explores the spiritual implications of experimental electronic music. Tapping into the impossibly deep and old tradition of Vodou, Jeanty’s music is infused with spiritual fire and a rich, healing energy. Ravish Momin has a similarly open-minded approach to experimentation, but comes from a completely different cultural context. A respected composer and improviser in the Jazz, experimental and traditional Indian folk music idioms, Momin’s fusion of beats banged out on live drum kits, and loops twisted and processed in Ableton live attack the senses, lending to an ecstatic sound like nothing else in music.
As a collaborative project, Turning Jewels Into Water began when Val Jeanty participated in a jam session at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, NY while Momin was artist-in-residence there in September of 2017. Their collaboration, rooted in improvisation, evokes the esoteric realms of the creative subconscious. Drawing from the Vodun religion, Val recreates the ancient rhythms and pulse of Haiti through digital beats, while Momin, whose own musical background is rooted Indian, North African and Middle-Eastern traditions, has developed an original blend of electro-acoustic beats, drawing together the improvisational traditions in Jazz and Indian folk music. Together, they employ cutting-edge music-technological tools such as acoustic drums outfitted with Sensory Percussion triggers, Force Sensing Resistor (FSR) drum pads and Smart Fabric MIDI Controllers, but still emphasize the ritual aspects of creating music in the digital realm.
For Our Reflection Adorned By Newly Formed Stars, the follow up to their 2019 full-length Map Of Absences, Momin and Jeanty take their dynamic musical partnership to even greater heights and more intense depths. Imbued with the spirit of collaboration and influenced by cutting-edge sounds like South African Gqom, Our Reflection… reaches across oceans and continents, connecting the ancient with the modern. Opening with the dark and pulsing epic, “Swirl In The Waters”, the album immediately sets a sacred tone, preparing listeners for a journey into the unknown. “Flower In Flames” brings to mind the bass-heavy, globally-minded experimentalism of artists like WE™, Badawi and Bill Laswell who were active in New York’s illbient scene of the mid-late 90s. “Whispers Under Dal Lake” combines crunchy, distorted drumming with dubbed-out vocal effects to create a truly dark and mesmerizing sonic experience. Like much of the music on Our Reflection Adorned By Newly Formed Stars, “Whispers Under Dal Lake”, seems to be utilizing electronic beats and conjuring textures to pull from a set of much older musical traditions. “Janjira In A Flash” finds the duo constructing a series of rhythmic motifs that beat against chanted vocal samples and synths that dash in and out of focus. With hypnotic rhythmic groove and robotic vener, “Janjira In A Flash” could cause the listener to imagine what Computer World-era Kraftwerk would sound like if their music prioritized Afro-Asian influences over European experimentation and minimalism.
Speaking to the collaborative approach they took to making the album, Momin explains that he and Jeanty lead an ensemble of musicians from around the world, with the end product being a challenge to the ethnic fetishizing that far-too commonly comes along with global/world music.
“During the album planning phase, which began in early March 2020, I had already tapped artists in other locations for remote contributions to the record. I’d approached Iranian singer/daf player Kamyar Arsani (based in Washington DC) who is just as comfortable with Punk Rock as he is with traditional Iranian music. I also invited my friend Mpho Molikeng, a master musician of South African indigenous instruments (based in Lesotho) who also works with electronic musicians. Val had already set up a base in Boston (for her newly appointed position as a professor at Berklee College of Music) and was also planning on collaborating remotely. Therefore, once mandatory quarantines went into effect across the US and the world in mid March, it had little impact on our creative process. The resulting album has elements that are at once familiar and unfamiliar, as we evoke a digital folk music from nowhere.”
With Our Reflection Adorned By Newly Formed Stars, Turning Jewels Into Water uses forward-thinking electronic music and experimentation to tap into a continuum of folk music that is as old as time itself. Also, containing remixes from Laughing Ears (“Crushing Petals”), and EMB (“Flower In Flames”), the music here is Indian, African, Afro-Caribbean and global all at once. By combining their unique cultural experiences Jeanty and Momin are bold enough to allow all of the tensions and commonalities to play freely and resolve themselves in the music.