If the name Joi is unfamiliar to some, then they were part of the Asian underground dance scene that included musicians such as Nitin Sawhney and Talvin Singh. This retrospective covers the period 1999-2007 with the emphasis firmly on the electronica beats and from a strictly world roots perspective this offers a somewhat limited view of the cross-fertilisation between more traditional Indian sub-continent instrumentation. Indeed some of the music contained within is largely outside the parameters of world roots music altogether. A first underground hit was scored in 1997 with the single ‘A desert storm’ and this comes across as a meeting between Kraftwerk (surely an influence here) and mid-1980s hip-hop. The three albums from which these tracks are taken and showcased pretty much replicates the same formula.
Part of the problem overall is that the instrumentation used is somewhat repetitive in nature and the power of the electronic beats so pervasive that it makes it difficult for the listener to enjoy the vocals which is a shame since they are on occasion excellent. The fusion between genres works best on wordless female vocals numbers such as ‘Amar Kahani’ where sitar and table are prominent and the driving uptempo beat makes for a thrilling dance track that can be enjoyed by all. Fast-paced dub step is the order of the day on ‘Esy-Shj’ with the use of dubbed sitar an interesting development and maybe an avenue to explore further.
Arguably the most interesting piece of all is an explorative fusion of East and South East Asian beats in ‘Deep Asian Vibes’ with sitar and table sitting very comfortably indeed with strings that one might hear in Chinese classical and the melodicism of the groove. A whole album that examines the relationship between different regions within the continent of Asia would be a challenging, yet potentially rewarding project for a future album. In marked contrast, the repetitive table and beat loops on ‘Journey’, certainly creates a trance-like feel, but does it actually accomplish anything of substance? The use of flute redeems matters slightly, but still there is too much repetition for this writer.
Joi are a sound system collective and with over fifteen hundred concerts including prestigious festivals such as the Bug Chill, Glastonbury, and Womad, their live track record is impressive. However, in the studio in order to widen their appeal, they might be better served taking a leaf out of the Gotan Project approach and discover more of the roots of the which are no less worthy and may ultimately make for an even stronger dance music sound.