(Published in NZ Musician May 2010)
I’d been trying to get jazz/soul vocalist Raashi Malik in front of a microphone for nearly a month. First I cancelled, then she forgot. But third time lucky. Mrs Rhian Sheehan finds a window of time to pop in to my Wellington Radio station studios to talk about her new EP. In the background her step daughter, Niva doodles on the back of a flyer while her 2 year old son, Ridley rearranges the magazines in the bookshelf. Malik displays an almost sensual calm describing her life as a mix of parent, singer and working mum.
Her name mightn’t be common in households jut yet, but you’ve already heard her graceful, honeyed silken tones on tracks by Wellington super-dub band Rhombus, especially the singles “Tour of Outer Space”, and “So Close”.
Recently, Maalik’s worked her own project, a mix of soul fusion and traditional Indian folk. In 2006 she and Sheehan made one of several excursions to India to catch up with family and to record a couple of songs that really ached for collaboration. “People heard them and told me I should head to India, and track down some musicians to play on them. I’d thought ‘no way!’. But with the help of a (Creative New Zealand) Arts Board Funding for New Work it actually happened!”
“We travelled extensively throughout north and central India, including Rajasthan and Varanasi, but ended up recording in Mumbai, Delhi and Sikkim. We also gigged in Mumbai at an elite Elle Magazine India fundraiser at the ill-fated ballroom of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (which was later bombed). It’s crazy to look back at footage and magazine photos of us there knowing what the future held in store!” We also played a 100 year old dao (Arab trade boat) on the Arabian sea. And a dance party Rajasthan desert under the threat of shutdown from officials, despite some handsome bribes!”
However, there was one highlight to top them all: when Sheehan proposed to Malik at the Taj Mahal. In the temple of the greatest love Story ever, how could she refuse?
Malik is a Kiwi, with Punjabi family ties, although “…most of us now live in Mumbai and Bhopal (known for the catastrophic Union Carbide gas disaster). Nowadays, it is difficult to tell that the city went through such a ghastly event…as it’s been totally rebuilt”
Malik spent 3 months in India recording six original tracks including an adaptation of a Nepali folk song, Ubo Jhada. “I was fortunate to work with Murad Ali who plays sarangi on Ubo Jhada (Sting, Anoushka Shankar) and Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Mumbai’s bansuri guru (famous for working with Jethro Tull), Partha Sarkar, Musarrat Ali, Praveen Sethi, Shailendra Kumar, and an 80+ Sajjad Ahmed. He tinkered along on the harmonium, slightly behind the beat but adding so much character to the music.” “The musicians were extremely proficient but found it difficult playing along with “songs” that had chord changes, etc because they were classically trained and used to playing a mode on a constant drone”.
“We owe a debt to our main conspirator in Mumbai, (ex-Wellingtonian) Jarrod Wood. Not only did he play but also helped find musicians, studios, gigs plus where to get a decent coffee or whisky!”
Back in Aotearoa Malik, Sheehan and the “meticulous ears” of Simon Rycroft (Rhombus) mixed and mastered the EP. Additional musicians were brought in on a couple of new tracks to flesh out the body of work. Thomas Voyce (Rhombus), Steve Bremner (Strike), Karnan Saba (soprano sax) ,Tim Beals. And vocalists Andy Hummel and Jess Chambers (Woolshed Sessions) add their dulcet tones.
The Raashi Malik EP is not the conclusion of any particular journey; more an open road. This is set of story-songs for the listener to revisit, drawing new conclusions and booking their own itinerary.