Reviews and Suggestions

CD Review: Hui Ward – The Way (Self-released)

hui wardI have to admit reviewing this CD by Hui Ward was one of the more interesting assignments I’ve had in quite awhile, but also one of the most rewarding. Singer/songwriter Hui Ward has managed to come up with a wonderful debut CD inspired by her inner dialogue with the Universal Mother and featuring an intruiging musical hybrid combining traditonal Indian music with elements of house, pop, trance and New Age. Since my listening experince with most of these genres is limited, reviewing this CD properly seemed to be quite the daunting task. I mean, up to about three years ago my entire previous exposure to Indian music mainly consisted of (and I kid you not) one-off songs by bands of the ’60’s who experimented with Indian music because they were influenced by the Beatles’ use of Indian instruments and influences on their album Revolver, most notably the song “Norwegian Wood.” I mean, the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” was a hugely influential song back in the day as no other mainstream band had embraced Eastern musical influences and turned them into a pop song complete with sitar and tabla before the Fabs’ attempt. That the song is regarded as a classic and many other bands copycatted them to record their own Indian music-flavored psychedelic rock only proves the point of the accessibility of Indian music if blended with a form familiar to listeners. Thankfully, over the past couple of years, I’ve checked out a few Indian-influenced rock and funk artists (Ananda Shankar being one) and found a decent amount of similarities between Ward’s music and some of the other American pop/rock-influenced Indian artists to which I’ve listened. In fact, if Shankar had just started making his brand of funk today, I believe it would sound much like Ward’s music as it has quite a bit of dance and funk influences.

Ultimately, the result of Ward’s musical experiments with her fusion of traditional Indian music with American pop styles is a pleasing mix of Indian-drenched dance music with sprightly beats and an emotional grip that an once enlivens and relaxes the listener. Not only did I find myself grooving to the sounds but I felt a calm and relaxational mood come over me, which intrigued me immediately as I am not prone to listening to music for the sole purpose of relaxation or meditation per se. While I love music and music helps me to relax or puts me in a positive mood has usually not resulted due to the music itself but more or less that I have the free time to listen to music or am excited by the particular artist or other minutae around the music. The calming reaction I have felt was not so much a meditative thing, yet still something that made me feel strangely calm yet focused. Interesting, as this is a first for me.

Where to begin? First of all, despite the definite Indian influence, there is pretty much something for everyone on this CD. From H.N. Bhaskar’s exquisite violin playing and other classical music influences, the disc runs the gamut from New Age-sounding bansuri (flute) and instrumental sounds to house beats to bhangra to various Indian percussion sounds that lend a sound pleasing to those who love any genre of music from world music to pop to pure Indian music, often all in the same song. Many music business professionals would tell you how hard it is to write a simple pop song and make it resonate and come alive to the listener – now think of how daunting the chore to construct something with the vast musical scope of this CD, one that encompasses many different influences, both musical and geographical and have it be compelling and fulfilling to the listener and you will get the idea of how expansive and exciting a listen this CD provides. That’s not to say the CD won’t cause some consternation to the average listener used to American pop forms. While the vocals feature inventive melodic lines and show an extensive range, the bansuri and violins will sometimes serve to jump all over Ward’s vocal melodies and vice-versa. Unfortunately, my inexperience with Indian music shows as this might be the norm for the genre, but to me makes the arrangements seem cluttered as the competition for the listener’s attention drowns out the impact each individual instrument could have made. Also, while musically very complex, the lyrical aspects of the CD are very simplistic, with verses being very basic and repeated ad nauseum in some cases. It could be Ward is using her lyrics like a mantra, which is normally repeated to lull a person into a more meditastive state, but the beats are often so lively that it would seem juxtaposing the two would be counter-productive. Nonetheless, despite the disparate elements, I found this to be quite an extensive tapestry of sounds and cultures and each listen revealed something new, which I find rarely happens in the world of cookie-cutter pop music most of us are exposed to on a daily basis.

In all, despite my ignorance with the genre, having the chance to hear Ward’s music has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a music journalist. Not only is Ward’s album one of the most interesting, invigorating listens I have had in a long while but I found her mix of pop musical forms with Indian music very relaxing and something I have listened to many times. I do not have much biographgical information on Ward but I am hoping to search out other work by Ward immediately and also hope she will follow this set of songs up quickly with another installment. While I feel this album will have a relatively hard time being accepted by a mainstream audience, rock and most recently rap producers have flirted with Indian instrumentation and interludes in their remixes and Hollywood has been taking much notice of Bollywood over the past decade so I believe there is a definite audience for progressive music with an Indian flavor. While some my be put off by the vocals which are often sung in English but have a distinctive Indian flavor, I tend to think of them as another instrument in the mix, not so much to tell a story, but to add accents and dynamics and melody, much like another instrument would do. I am very impressed with this disc and hope those with open musical minds and tastes give this CD a chance as it may be one of the most impressive CDs I have heard this year.