Asa-Chang & Junray
Jun Ray Song Chang

By Elizabeth Wells

This is rather an unclassifiable oddity: a strange mixture of Indian percussion with a decidedly Japanese flavour, which harnesses modern digital technology and avant-garde electronic innovation to classical techniques of orchestration. East meets West and ancient meets experimental, and this strange marriage produces some incredible sound. This group has had a complex metamorphosis which is quite difficult to unpick, moving as it does through a number of collaborations and utilizing a number of instruments that are bastardized versions of the originals (such as Asa-Chang’s Indonesian bongo which he plays in the style of a tabla). Asa-Chang and U-Zhaan are self-taught tabla-bongo and traditionally instructed tabla masters respectively, whilst Junray refers to the band’s sound system, which they call Junreitronics. The latter is managed by the mysterious Hidehiko Urayama, who apparently never appears live. When you’ve got your head around the band’s complex makeup, the next step is the music.

Hana (Japanese for flower) opens the album (and has recently been released as a limited 12”) and offers a dazzling foretaste of the gifts to come. Asa-Chang describes the layering of spoken vocals over tabla as evocative and poetic, like a ‘love ballad’, and indeed in this track it sounds intimate and ceremonial. A lot of the tracks deal with vocals in interesting ways, layering them, cutting them up, putting them through various effects until they sound sinister or tinny, as on Kokoni Sachiari. Preach is a crazy track: with its creepy childlike voices, fractured tabla loops and big brass accompaniment, it’s as if Banzai have hijacked the school orchestra. Eerie robotic children’s voices make an appearance again in Kobana, which is set to a mournful harmonica. However Asa-Chang and Junray also know how to wig out, and the frenetic, exciting tabla breakbeat of Goo-Gung-Gung ought to make those lazy purveyors of so-called ‘ethnic’ dance music (stand up Pathaan) hang their heads with shame.
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