moksha : joi

“… this is not the sound of the asian underground. this is music …” – ‘tacadin’

this epitomises the spirit of joi: many years ago, when the young shamsher brothers moved down to brick lane from bradford, their father ran a traditional music shop, and would record tapes in a back room to sell on the street. even back then, haroon and farook would manipulate synthesisers and echo chambers for their father in between playing tablas and flutes. as farook stated: “we still have the same crossover vibe – it’s a natural fusion of growing up listening to nusrat fateh ali kahn, and being influenced by reggae, hip hop and soul.” that was, and still is, the spirit of joi.

this fusion of all sounds east and west became the boys’ trademark: in 1983 they conceived a collective under the name joi bangla, shortened from the ‘league of joi bangla youth organisation’, which was set up to promote bengali culture to local kids. mixing up traditional bengali music with james brown riffs and funky breakbeats on a regular basis at various underground parties, they quickly established themselves as the best djs and party organisers in london’s east end.

a couple of early vinyl releases followed, including the neatly named asian acid vibes of ‘taj mahouse’, produced by tony thorpe (klf) in 1987, whilst the late eighties rap, ‘funky asian’ appeared a year later. however, it was the classic ‘desert storm‘, released on rhythm king records, which gave the band their first taste of critical success, with nme declaring it not only ‘single of the week’, but also ‘one of the most inventive records ever made’. the band looked poised for great things – until they were lost in the aftermath of their label’s subsequent absorption into bmg.

understandably cautious after such an experience, and despite being offered large sums of money by various majors, joi returned to their first love: djing and running their club nights. their sound system allowed the brothers to mix up exclusive dats with vinyl, and feature on-line sampling and live percussion. from 1992 for three years, their rule at the bass clef club (later the blue note), every thursday, was little short of legendary. attracting nearly every credible artist of it’s time, from orbital to the klf & goldie to bjork. moving to a monthly session at the dog star (brixton) in 1996, their residency finally came to an end on 19 august 2000, after four years of celebratory nights and guest appearances by the likes of plaid, spring heel jack and barry ashworth.

It was also at this time that a certain peter gabriel caught their live act at womad, and subsequently invited them down to work with bengali musicians in one of his real world recording weeks.

signing in 1997 to real world records, the only label joi felt happy to be involved with long term, in 1999, Joi released their critically acclaimed debut album ‘one and one is one’ (a quote from the nobel peace prize-winning poet rabindranath tagore). an aspirational melting pot of melodic harmonies, tabla rhythms, electro beats, chants, and vocal snatches, the album was hailed across the board by critics from Q (‘inventive and hard-hitting’) to time out (‘a smooth, accomplished collection’). limited edition remixes of ‘fingers’ by lion rock and ‘asian vibes‘ by way out west, and the use of their music in the tv programme sex and the city, also helped to spread their appeal further.

tragically, on 8th july 1999, haroon died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of thirty-four. after a period of mourning, farook completed work on the second album for real world, using recordings haroon had made earlier that year, when he traveled to bangladesh to work with local musicians and also tape local sounds.

‘we are three’, recorded in just thirty two days with spring heel jack producers john coxon and ashley wales, was released on october 16th 2000, its title a reference to joi’s belief in the powers that surround us. a tribute in every sense to haroon, ‘we are three’, like it’s predecessor, takes the form of a journey: its opening track (the aptly titled ‘journey‘) immerses the listener in the sounds of the brothers’ village in bangladesh, and the album takes in asian vocals, contemporary breaks, funky riffs, dub ragga, mellow vibes and tabla rhythms, before the closing plea of ‘we need your vote‘, which is farook’s exhortation to believe in his band, and sign on the dotted line if you do. farook says: “haroon’s vibe is not only still there, it’s there on every single track. it’s his legacy. his tribute gig last summer was to benefit the brick lane community workshop and get other bengali kids into mixing up traditional music with western electronica – and this record is a testament to that.”

the joi live act is as hypnotizing as it is spectacular, with a full show that incorporates vocals, keyboards, guitars, percussion and a dancer: taking in such events as womad, swaraj, big chill tribal gathering and wembley conference centre, they have also toured successfully in both europe and america. annie lennox even invited them to support the eurythmics on their european stadium tour, in which they played to 200,000 people and they kicked off the millennium in style with a show on the south bank in front of 10,000 party-goers.

2000 saw the joi story grow even bigger. a bbc asia music award was fitting recognition for a sound pioneered by the brothers fifteen years ago. having already played celebratory gigs in their homeland of bangladesh, three womads (south africa, germany and uk), the release of ‘we are three’ last october saw them put in storming performances on bbc2’s ‘later with jools holland’ and radio 1’s ‘one world’ two hour joi special, as well as playing gigs throughout the uk, holland, belgium, france, italy, turkey, and a fantastic gig in sicily for the new year.

2001 saw the release of remixes by the likes of top dance remixers andy gray & es dubs as joi continued their ascent as one of the most innovative bands in the uk.

early in 2007, joi’s third album to appear on real world, ‘without zero’, saw joi joined by a cast of musicians including sitar player nildari kumar, long-term collaborators spring heel jack and vocalist apeksha dandekar. tracks ‘come back to me’ & ‘what you are’ were built on the traditional bedrocks of live sitar, pipes and tabla, propelled by western beats and lifted by celestial indian voices, real world said “…it’s a giant step in an already groundbreaking journey…”

in june 2015, real world released ‘a best of’ joi album; ‘joi sound system’ – a beautifully packaged double cd album compiled from ‘one and one is one’, ‘we are three’ and ‘without zero’.
‘joi sound system’ also includes three bonus tracks: ‘a desert storm’, ‘world of colours’ and ‘fulfilment in dub’
‘…joi sound system is a gift and a blessing for the multitudes who know and love joi – as it is for new fans…‘