A pair of new tapes from London’s Chinabot collective highlight the ethnicity of its artists while exploring new sonic territories. Lafidki‘s Derichan (Bestial) embeds field recordings in abrasive textures, while Sabiwa‘s 輪迴 (Reincarnation) blends vocal acrobatics with harsh beats.
Lafidki (Saphy Vong) has never lost touch with his Cambodian roots. His home nation is still in turmoil, threatened by oppressive politics and environmental degradation. “The Death of Chut Wutty” calls attention to the demise of an environmental activist, in the same manner as Frank Horvat’s recent For Those Who Died Trying serves the voices of the slain. Both artists work in miniature, but Vong’s work indignant where Horvat’s is elegiac: an angry protest march instead of a sea of candles. Stark rhythms and off-kilter synth imply a crowd at the gates of government, demanding change. As two of the pieces deal with displaced ghosts, one can imagine vengeful spirits causing as much damage to their tormenters as their tormenters have to their habitats. The term derichan is flipped on its head, referring to those who wield the epithet rather than to those injured by its bile. Who then is the beast? Yet despite the violence of the subject matter and corresponding music, Vong still finds time for beauty. “The Ceremony of the Drowned” is built around a gorgeous synth pattern that offers dignity to the disconnected, while even “The Death of Chun Wutty” contains a snatch of song. The album’s closing cry (translated “some millions”) is a call to decisive action.
While 輪迴 also utilizes field recordings and rough beats, the Taiwanese voice of Sabiwa is the album’s main ingredient. Whether slowed, chopped, echoed, looped or whispered, the voice acts as an instrument in the arsenal. Ironically, the first audible English lyrics are “don’t make any sound.” As deep bass invades the opening “Jia,” Sabiwa’s voice is transformed into a wailing wall, a constant in a churning sea. In the unusual “Wo de shijian,” the artist runs chants over cowbells at the start, then dives head-first into blocks of percussion and breath. But by “Caronte” it’s back to the big, heavy beats, until a new incantation enters like chalk on slate. “Surely you are not afraid?” the artist asks, but we are, especially when the ensuing piece starts with something stirring in a wet grave ~ this is, after all, a funeral. One might call the artist’s process reinvention rather than reincarnation, but the effect is the same. Despite the fact that Sabiwa declares, “I am a human” (after brief periods as a jellyfish and a bird) this is something new: as she writes of her sophomore set, “It’s like jumping into the void and not knowing what will be next.” Those turned off by the proliferation of Asian pop may find an antidote in this vial of liquid rhythm. (Richard Allen)