Dijf Sanders first popped onto my musical radar when I discovered his stunning 2018 album ‘JAVA‘. On that album, he merged together various Indonesian folklore and musical traditions with field recordings and electronica. It was a melting pot of exotic ancient flavours and modern technology. Sanders revisits this style but moves to Nepal for ‘Puja’, his 2020 follow up. It is equally as impressive.
The beauty of ‘Puja’ is that the album feels as much of a travelogue and a personal diary as it does an album. Each song takes on a different element of Nepalese music – showcasing different instruments – often in a modern setting. Everything feels organic and exotic whilst being ‘plugged’ at the same time. Its a careful balance that Dijf Sanders has mastered over his albums.
‘Murugan’ opens the album with a rousing opening chant before ‘Hanuman’ and ‘Ravana’ bring in increasingly more electronics. The former plays a lot on epic sweeping melodies whilst the latter creates a synth rhythmic Asian scale of pipe and reed chaos. One feels naturistic and dynamic, the other industrial and harshly clipped together. Both absolutely nail their mood though and provide a great introduction to the melodic side of the album before it moves towards more textured pieces.
Those textures begin with the mechanical ‘Citipati’. The track uses bass tones alongside cinematic percussive smashes to create a rhythmic industrialised heartbeat of the world. The utter flipside of this is the very traditional ‘Mahakala’. Here sitar, brass, wooden percussion and digeridoos like bass lines call through the jungle and field recordings of crickets and fauna. It is very evocative as it gathers momentum and rallies into a spiralling conclusion that slowly floats away. As if you’ve been swept away into a fever dream, ‘Kali’, which is Hindu for doomsday or Black Goddess, begins life as a haunting vocal cry in a cavern. This explodes into a ceremony of brass, drums, synths and chants that feel as alive as it does wild. It’s a fantastic way to conclude the dreamier sequence of music.
Quirky Nepal electro-rock piece ‘Santoshi Mata’ is an absolute standout. Its infectious synth razors away over crunchy drums and pockets of chants before it switches up into funky organs. It feels like a celebration of birth and life – the complete opposite of where we were a few minutes earlier. Perhaps, as the song is named after The Mother of Satisfaction, that’s why everything feels so full of life. Travelling back through time via ‘Jvarasura’ and ‘Vishnu’ – all the electronics are stripped out for a pure live recording of a Hindi piece sung to a single ringing bell. In an album that is so densely produced, its a moment of clarity. This purity is then turned into a moment of seduction with ‘Parvati’. The track means love or fertility and the saxophone, which is key across the album, steps into the melodic role here as chants transform into distant washed synths. The track is like a serpent, ever coiling around the heart.
The album then enters its most luscious track with ‘Lakshmi’ – The Goddess of wealth and luck. Here, a suite of strings and a beautiful female vocalist brings a lot of tradition to the huge drums and lullaby harps running alongside the melody. It is a song I can listen to over and over and tune my ears into new things. The album then closes out with the spitting fire of ‘Kameswari’. Here entwined wind and reed instruments cleverly play out a duet together as if we are left to think over the journey we’ve had. The spitting fire makes me feel like the whole album was told like a fable around the campfire too – its a lovely touch.
As always with Dijf Sanders, you get a real mash-up of old and new, culture and technology and everything in between. I love diving into his work and getting to know different musical ideas and directions of the places he visits and ‘Puja’ is a wonderful insight into Nepal and its musical heritage. It is one of my most played albums of 2020 for a reason. It keeps drawing me back time and again to experience it – like a Goddess that’s enchanted me with her music. If you want to explore exotic electronica – ‘Puja’ is possibly the best place to start.
Recommended track: Santoshi Mata
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