Bombay Dub Orchestra – Tales From The Grand Bazaar
Journeying has long held sway over man’s mind—the idea of travel can be as seductive as traveling itself, though never quite as instructive. The story behind Bombay Dub Orchestra’s new album, Tales From the Grand Bazaar (Six Degrees Records), was created over many years throughout five countries. Wherever Andrew T. Mackay and Garry Hughes might have started, they ended up somewhere completely unexpected.
“The vision is the end product,” says Mackay from his London home. “But how you get there is the journey, and music can take you many places.” The team has hit the road plenty of late, predominantly for their film career. Garry scored the award-winning HBO documentary Marathon Boy; Andrew recently the Indian film Ballad Of Rustom and Pakistani film Josh. Together they wrote the music for the inspiring film, Project Happiness, featuring the Dalai Lama and George Lucas.
Mackay and Hughes formed Bombay Dub Orchestra nearly ten years ago after visiting Bombay. Both men loved their experiences working with Indian orchestras and decided to pursue their compositional skills in the form of down- to midtempo electronica and, as their namesake suggests, dub. Three years of germination lead to their self-titled debut, released to great acclaim in 2006; two years later, 3 Cities hit the shelves.
Alongside unique originals, they’re renowned for globally minded remixes, having reworked the songs of Bob Marley, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bebel Gilberto and many others. This worldly mentality continued as recording sessions for Grand Bazaar saw them bouncing around the United States and London, through the Bombay and Delhi they know so well, as well as into Kingston, Jamaica to work alongside the legendary team of Sly & Robbie.
“I’ve known Sly and Robbie for nearly twenty years,” says Hughes. “We’ve worked on quite a lot of records together. I’d been out to Jamaica twice to record albums with them, so really it was like getting together with a couple of old pals. We had a blistering session in Anchor Studios in Jamaica. They are very open-minded musicians and really enjoyed the music. They will certainly be on our next record too.”
While beats and bass are pivotal players, it is the composition and stringed instruments that really shine throughout these nine tracks. That is, in part, due to an unmentioned city thus far, which is the very meeting point of East and West—a perfect underscore for their entire career.
“Istanbul is a melting pot, literally,” says Mackay. “The Grand Bazaar was completed in 1461 and is a concrete-covered market with 5,000 stores and 60 streets. We imagined all the stories that have occurred in there over the centuries. The album was certainly inspired by stories that perhaps these traders and the many men or women in cafes and stalls were telling.”
Longtime collaborations as well as new sonic relationships merge throughout Grand Bazaar. The men were excited to work alongside the likes of Ujwal Nagar and Suhail Yusuf Khan from Delhi-based fusion band Advaita, Macedonion singer Tanja Tzar, sitar player Asad Khan and sarod maestro Soumik Datta, as well as a number of Turkish string players and soloists.
Stringed instruments play a prominent role, including the oud and sarod—the latter opens the album on one of the more beat-driven songs, ‘The Orange Terrace.’ Drones flank the percussion to open up plenty of space for composition from Mackay & Hughes. Mackay claims standing in front of an orchestra is one of his favorite places in the world, which makes for a great partnership with Hughes, who prefers being surrounded by his collection of vintage synthesizers and studio gear.
While Istanbul is a focal point, India is in no way forgotten. The duo’s greatest conceptual challenge was uniting their South Asian foundation with Turkish melodies. The challenge soon dissolved when they performed with their respective orchestras. ‘Blue Mosaic’ is reminiscent of their debut, a meandering slither through female vocalizations, violins and Hughes’ latest muse.
“I went to Istanbul a couple of years ago with my wife and did a bit of research,” he says. “I’d been listening to a lot of traditional music from the region, and I really fell in love with the qanun [a stringed dulcimer]. We went to a Sufi ‘Whirling Dervish’ event and I was hooked. Two tracks were defiantly planned around it although Andrew actually came up with the melodies.”
Aytac Doğan’s qanun performance on ‘Blue Mosaic’ is stunning—the strings dance effortlessly within the tabla. Their merger continues. The epic “Song of the Seven Towers” was nearly the album’s title, given a chance circumstance that lead to the song’s creation.
“The name was inspired by a painting that Garry had seen in London,” Mackay recalls. “I looked it up and they were the seven towers that surrounded Istanbul. It was totally random. But there was a dark history to it; it was too foreboding.”
Still, the dark ambience is definitively picturesque. The oud makes a virtuoso appearance on ‘Bohemia Junction,’ which may be the most percussive track on the record. Staying true to their name, it is also the most dub-influenced: bass takes over while synthesizers and violins dance around the perimeter. This is perhaps the most cosmopolitan of tracks as well, pulling its influences from Jamaica, India and Turkey.
What remains most provocative about Bombay Dub’s growing catalog is the imagery each song invokes: movements through medinas, riverside strolls (“Sea of Marmara”), even the scent of the spice markets Hughes loves walking through. “The sense of the unexplored territory is always very exciting,” he says, explaining that while one moment can leave a last impression, capturing it properly can take many months of detailed studio work.
For Mackay, who likens the experience of this album to being in a kind of Paris, Texas scenario—the 1984 film co-written by playwright Sam Shepard—it is impossible to separate sound from picture. He’s spent a lifetime doing it, and along with Hughes, eloquently captures the beauty and struggle of an entire planet on Tales From the Grand Bazaar.
“Music creates something visual,” he says. “When you have a subject matter of a piece of music, you automatically start having visions. From the day I left music college, I was doing music to picture in some way; for both Garry and myself there has always been an integral connection between music and images.”