“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It’s a powerful statement (attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche), although not always true. Fortunately it does apply to Iranian artist Ash Koosha, who has been jailed for his art and seen others killed for it. Currently living in exile in London, the artist has now emerged with an original artistic vision, a means of demonstrating that his spirit is not only unbroken, but unbowed.
While the artist’s history is profound, and the attention to his causes well-known (he has been the subject of a documentary and is currently producing his own film), his music remains the key factor. His synaesthesia influences his art, as well as the fact that he is self-trained. Since no one taught him how to make this sort of music, he was never constrained by traditional modes of songwriting. This leads to an album rife with sonic juxtapositions, in which deep bass and dark drums rub up against bright bells and spiritual tones. The album cover (by Negar Shaghaghi) is an apt reflection of his life and music: the artist’s face is obscured by pattern and color, which swirl around him like his medical condition and political situation. The new image becomes his new identity.
The album descends down a hutch as it progresses. Early tracks such as “Feather” offer familiar classical chord progressions over intricate textures, while “Eluded” and “Mudafossil” take Persian melodies and mangle them until they become nearly unrecognizable versions of their former selves. But by the industrial/choral “Hex,” we are in uncharted territory. This is so far from club music that one shudders to think what might happen if it were played in a London club. At least he wouldn’t be arrested. Some of the finest rhythms are buried in otherwise experimental tracks: one such segment is found in the second half of “Snow,” deep in the album, but it only lasts 79 seconds, from 1:21 to 2:40. It’s as if Koosha is saying, “I want to dance, I want to let go, I want to celebrate my home country and my history, but there’s too much going on; I can only do it in short bursts.” The contrast between desire and reality, thought and execution, creates the tension that makes I AKA I such an effective document. (Richard Allen)