By Simon Warner
We are all, in a literal sense, citizens of the world. But how far can that notion be reflected in the way we live, the tastes we display, the customs we practice? As our planet shrinks metaphysically ｭ communications make the Earth a much smaller place than even our recent ancestors could ever have imagined ｭ most of us remain wedded to our own, relatively limited, experiences.
Yet music is one means by which we immerse ourselves in cultures that are geographically removed. If Europe and North America have shared a musical melting pot for a century or more, today the sounds of Latin America and West Africa, the tempos of the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent, frequently color our aural palette, on the web, on the radio, on MTV, on the dance floor.
And few groups operating on the international stage at the turn of the new millennium typify this age of assimilation better than the US band Liquid Blue, an act that not only strives to explore the possibilities of musical inter-marriage but also takes that cosmopolitan blend across oceans and plains, over mountains and deserts, in fact to most corners of the global village.
Liquid Blue’s live odyssey has taken the San Diego-based group to six continents and 60 countries since the seven-piece announced an artistic intention to escape the somewhat restrictive straitjacket of rock’n’roll and soul, pop ballads and rhythm and blues, and add the flavors of many of the places they now regard as part of an annual itinerary.
Not that the styles that have made American popular music a dominating force for decades have been jettisoned. Instead, they have been enlivened, enriched and ornamented by Asian additions, Latin decorations and modes from Arabic lands. The results, framed on the bandｹs debut album Supernova, are usually exotic and frequently exhilarating.
The title track, with principal singer Nikki Nova to the fore, provides a potent example of the groupｹs versatility, displaying vocal and instrumental prowess in a dizzying array of styles ｭ rock rhythms touched by sub-Latin beats, and hints of the Middle East are entwined in a cocktail that is both surprising and exuberant.
It is refreshing, too, that music as determinedly upbeat and good-time as Liquid Blueｹs material most certainly is, does not rely merely on the banalities of lyrical clich・ The group’s words reveal an awareness of broader issues and a political consciousness, expressing anti-war concerns and pro-green messages that transcend the usual fare of dance-oriented pop.
Not that the band is weighed down by the burden of soapbox manifestos. Arms of Love, with Layla Loxa on lead vocals, is simply a powerful romantic anthem but with a twist, again incorporating a wealth of references ｭ a touch of Bollywood, a hint of bhangra, a shot of sitar, potent with Eastern promise.
The political re-surfaces on Kashmir, however, with Scott Stephens in the vocal spotlight, as the natural wonders of a troubled land, caught in the territorial crossfire of India and Pakistan, are celebrated in a splendid concoction with touches of tabla and scratching and even Celtic hints in the mix, but Rhythm of Love returns us to that rich hybrid of Middle Eastern trills and pulsating beats, an ideal addition to the soundtrack of club international.
Liquid Blue’s debut CD has been overseen under the watchful eye of Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli, whose credits range from Zappa to Baez, Annie Lennox to the Kronos Quartet, Tori Amos to Enrique Iglesias, a suitable resume, I’d argue, to take on the harlequin shades, the carnivalesque vigor of this groupｹs eclectic repertoire.
There has been much talk of World Music in the last 20 years, even some passing references to the idea of World Jazz, suggesting that musical form can transcend the barriers of West and East, the globeｹs developed and developing territories. But the cynics have been quick to characterize such concepts as the constructs of the record corporations’ marketing departments.
World Pop has hardly been uttered in the same breath but if there is a group personifying such a universal spirit and not merely with an eye to the commercial main chance, Liquid Blue gets pretty close to the blueprint. Hereｹs a band which represents a new wave of performers and composers unbounded by the old restrictions of state, culture and language.
Variety, they say, is the spice of life: Liquid Blue with an expansionist eye and an open door to the musical menu of the planet, has taken the old saying well and truly to heart. Check it out.
Simon Warner is a lecturer, writer and broadcaster on popular music. He teaches at the University of Leeds in the UK, pens the “Anglo Visions” column for the webzine Pop Matters and is founding editor of the electronic publication Chapter & Verse: A Journal of Popular Music and Literature Studies. He published Rockspeak: The Language of Rock and Pop in 1996 and he contributes a chapter to the forthcoming collection Remembering Woodstock due to appear in 2004. Currently he is working on the title Text and Drugs and Rock’n”Roll, a book concerned with the links between the Beat writers and rock culture, and a BBC radio documentary reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.