We Are Three
A Potent Message from the Asian Underground
It started as a test-kitchen experiment: Take elements of traditional Indian classical music, add beats prepared on samplers and drum machines, slip in a hit or two of Ecstasy, and serve in a warm club environment. Lots of musicians and DJs experimented with variations on this recipe in London during the 1990s, where the "Asian Underground" first took root. Amon Tobin, Talvin Singh, and others created a kind of suave backbeat pastiche, a mingling of cultures you'd never expect to hear together.
When this got into the hands of musicians with a conceptual bent—like Joi, brothers Haroon and Farook Shamsher—the dish became a little more gourmet. Joi's approach was cinematic, with lots of murky stuff happening in the background and odd, keening vocals in English and Bengali swerving through the mix.
The first Joi album, One and One Is One, generated buzz in London and beyond. Encouraged, the Shamshers—two DJs who'd studied tabla and traditional Indian percussion—set out to make a much more elaborate follow-up. Haroon Shamsher was in Bangladesh recording snippets of native instrumentalists and singers when he suffered a heart attack and died. Farook took the material on his older brother's hard drive, and, after a four-month period of mourning, used it to fashion We Are Three, arguably the most rousing, musically intricate album to emerge out of the Asian Underground.
While it's designed for clubs, this is dance music that's also perfect for listening—or driving. The beats are straightforward, and, at times, as relentlessly repetitive as house music. On top of them is a multitracked smorgasbord of sound—buzzing flutes, synthy strings, and guitars all vie for the spotlight, but often lose out to the tastefully synched tabla drums, and the amazing vocal samples. (The sidewinding "Prem," for example, is built around a melody sung by a fourteen-year-old girl who, happily, doesn't have much use for the tempered scale.) In interviews to promote this album, Farook explained that his brother had left lots of tape, but few written notes. This meant he had to intuit what his brother intended for each snippet, a job he found to be second nature. "I almost always knew where he wanted to go. . . . I feel in some ways that his hand is in all parts of this album."
Genre: Electronica, World
Released: 2000, Real World
Key Tracks: "Prem," "Journey," "Don't Cha Know That"
Catalog Choice: One and One Is One
Next Stop: Amon Tobin: Supermodified
After That: Talvin Singh: OK
Book Pages: 406–407