Brooklyn Shanti is widely regarded as an accomplished producer, emcee, and pioneer of Global/Tropical Bass/Dancehall fusion, and is hip-hop’s official cultural ambassador to India (UZN). Over the last decade, Brooklyn Shanti’s unique and innovative artistic voice has enabled the transformation of South Asia’s appreciation for hip-hop. His diverse and wide-ranging talents have led him to work with some of the world’s leading artists including Bollywood legends A.R. Rahman and Sohail Sen, electronic gurus Karsh Kale and the Midival Punditz, the Dum Dum Project, as well as Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin and Wood), Afrika Bambaataa, Thomas Blondet, and the Foreign Beggars, among many others. This spirit of collaboration defines and informs Brooklyn Shanti’s larger vision as an artist and a musician. Of note is a project that came out on the infamous Rawkus Records and his involvement with Brooklyn’s vibrant Dutty Artz collective which has cultivated a Latin/South Asian collaboration with DJ/producer, Geko Jones. He is also currently working on an album with Afrika Bambaataa and Karsh Kale for the South Asian market, with Camp Lo on a Bengal vs Bronx fusion project, and he has enlisted Cumba Mela’s Thornato to work on a Bengali dancehall album. Shanti has also written and released a song based on author Vikram Chandra’s stories, which Chandra has publicly stated that he wants played at his funeral. Shanti is also in the process of putting together a band with Karsh Kale to tour his current album, Bedstuyle.
Bedstuyle is Shanti’s most recent album (released 9/9/14). Ambitious, gorgeous, and pulsating with range and verve, it is as much a travelogue of human emotion as it is an undeniable head-bobbing and foot-tapping musical experience. The title is a play on words derived from his neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bedstuy. Of Bedstuy’s influence, Shanti states, “This album is a reflection of Bedstuy’s past hip-hop heritage ranging from Biggie to Mos Def, its current incarnation as a hybrid space, and its future pulse electronically.”
From loneliness to longing, love to civic responsibility, Bedstuyle dreams big and pulls no punches. “Midnight in Paris,” the stirring and quietly powerful first track, prepares us to find ourselves in all manner of contexts, both geographical and emotional. Its slow build to crescendo is enchantingly layered with choral voices and rich beats, and segues pitch-perfectly into the sultry depths of Bollywood starlet Evelyn Sharma’s debut, “Something Beautiful,” an electric ballad balanced by glimpses of Shanti’s own voice. Its lyrics encourage us to remember that we all have radiance within us, no matter how difficult it is to believe.
One would be mistaken in thinking, however, that Brooklyn Shanti is all intense profundity. The tracks “This Feeling,” featuring the Reggae vocal styling of Jahdan Blakkamoore and fellow Cumba Mela co-founder Thornato, as well as “She,” which features Brooklyn Shanti’s own unique voice, are playful and summery promises of an album that is as willing to have as much fun as it is thoughtful. Such exuberance balances perfectly against nakedly melancholy tracks such as “Let It,” featuring Karsh Kale and the Midival Punditz, and “Intervention.” Shanti’s impressive range also extends to the more meditative and spiritually minded “Sun Salutation,” featuring the elegant Spanish vocals of Vanessa Beatriz and “The Rain,” a dreamy track marked by Dani Mari’s astounding voice and stirring orchestral instrumentation.
Bedstuyle is also characterized by a sense of global and emotional awareness. Tracks such as “Garden of Ghosts,” for example, featuring Dani Mari, was written during a moment of phoenix and represents the reluctance to move on from life’s transitional states. It moves seamlessly between Mari’s haunting and ethereal vocals and a more electronic beat, in contrast to the purely acoustic track “33 1/3,” which looks beyond the West to the realities of poverty and pain elsewhere in the world as it maintains its sense of the difficulties of personal life. It’s also an artist’s anthem, one that adamantly insists that the act of music making is essential to living. As Shanti insists, naming himself, “Nabin will never die/I’ll remain alive/through the energy in these sounds.”
The energy in the sounds of Bedstuyle showcase Brooklyn Shanti’s spectacular range as a singer/songwriter, emcee, and producer, as well as an impressive curatorial ear in assembling a supporting cast of guests who help the album be more soundtrack than a loose collection of songs without correlation. His mastery over human emotion and daring rings clear and true in every moment of every song. A thought provoking and consuming musical experience, Bedstuyle is a delight, and singles out Brooklyn Shanti as one of music’s most fierce and necessary talents.