ASIAN TRAVELS 2. Compilation of various artists, produced by Robert Duskis. Available at www.sixdegreesrecords.com and at most record stores.
Whenever there has been a golden age in commercial recorded music, there has always been someone who has the power and the courage to say: “I like this. Let’s back it.” Unfortunately, once the music discovered by these visionaries becomes commercially successful, they are followed by a swarm of gray-suited bean counters who measure everything the visionaries do, and calcify their inspiration into a formula. The bean counters never bother to ask themselves whether they like or dislike the music they are selling. They are too busy doing surveys to determine which music is bought by people between the ages of 20 and 35 with incomes of over $50,000 a year. What people are buying, of course, is the music that was first introduced by the visionaries. The bean counters thus decide that the way to make money is to copy the visionaries, not realizing that the essential factor—creativity—is the one thing that cannot be copied. When the public decides that there is no point in buying new albums that are indistinguishable from the ones they bought last month, the music industry plunges into a financial decline—which lasts until another visionary manages to restart the cycle with a record that makes the public want to buy music again. The visionaries who create the market for music are called impractical idealists. The bean counters who destroy the market are called hard-headed down-to-earth business executives.
When Bob Duskis and Pat Berry left Windham Hill to start Six Degrees Records, they had just seen this cycle take place. Windham Hill founder Will Ackermann had created an entirely new market for solo acoustic instrumental music. Several years later, dozens of so-called “New Age” labels had glutted the market with albums of solo piano or guitar with trees on the covers. Ackermann was determined not to become a prisoner of the formula that others had abstracted from his vision. It was Duskis who gave Windham Hill a whole new direction by introducing Ackermann to new genres of European electronic music. Ackermann was so impressed with Duskis’ taste and insight that he made him head of Windham Hill’s west coast A&R; (Artists and Repetoire). This made it possible for Duskis to sign up vocal groups, rock groups, and many other styles of music that were once thought to be way beyond Windham Hill’s territory. “Will has very open ears,” says Duskis. “He doesn’t have to be familiar with a new style of music to like it.”
Unfortunately, Ackermann began to have less and less control over his own label, and eventually left to start a whole new record company. Duskis hung around for a while, but it was clear that the spark and imagination was now gone. So he took his 11 years of experience with Windham Hill out into the marketplace, determined to start a record label that would be as creative as Windham Hill—which meant, of course, that the music itself would make no attempt to resemble the Windham Hill sound. “My business partner Pat Berry was the VP at sales and marketing at Windham Hill when I was head of A&R;,” says Duskis. “We learned a lot about packaging and really building a product that looks, feels, and sounds unique and is of a high level of quality. Through that you build consumer loyalty.”
Duskis and Berry knew that the mainstream media were still being controlled by the bean counters, so they looked for alternatives—not only alternative publicity routes, but alternative audiences as well. When Six Degrees was distributed by Island Records, Duskis encountered Talvin Singh and the Asian underground scene in London. Here was an audience that no one in America even knew existed: South Asians living in England who were equally at home with tablas and drum machines, who had created a unique form of dance music for themselves. Duskis could see that world music was now being created by a worldwide modern diaspora, which produced every possible combination of culture clash in every corner of the globe.
The name “Six Degrees Records” was taken from the saying that everyone is connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees of separation, i.e. you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody, etc. who knows anyone else on earth. Six Degrees makes an audience for its music (and the music itself) by following up those connections, and by creating new ones.
Six Degrees artist DJ Cheb i Sabbah is Algerian, but his first two albums, Sri Durga and Krishna Lila, are subtle modernizations of Hindustani and Karnatik music. His most recent album, As Far As, shows more influences from the jungles and plains of sub-Saharan Africa. Bob Holroyd, another Six Degrees artist, has also traveled extensively through Asia and Africa, and his albums feature music from both continents in varying amounts. With this much diversity within the work of a single artist, it can be more than a little confusing for a listener. Six Degrees deals with this by creating samplers grouping different songs together by their most noticeable geographical inspiration: Latin Travels, African Travels, Arabian Travels, and Asian Travels (volumes 1 and 2). Note, however, that these classifications are made by inspiration, not by location or ancestry. It’s not uncommon for the same artist to appear on two or three of these Travels albums, with a song chosen to create a different mood for each one.
Asian Travels 2 features the music inspired by the Indian Techno Club scene in London, but features artists from all over the world who hybridize this style even further. One song comes from the Austin, TX Govinda label, and another from a Tokyo-based producer and musician who records under the name Makyo for Dakini Records. (Six Degrees often features artists from other labels on their samplers, and frequently commissions brand new pieces from them.)
The main focal points for this style, however, are now London, New York, San Francisco, and New Delhi. “The Club Scenes in these cities have very different vibes,” says Duskis, who produced the Asian Travels compilations, and is also a DJ himself. “The New York and San Francisco scenes are more party oriented. The London scene, however, is very political. South Asians are a persecuted minority there, and this music is a rallying point for them. And in New Delhi, you have a crowd that finds this music exciting and exotic because it is seen as coming from England. The MIDIval PunditZ have started their own gatherings there, called Cyber Mehfils, which have brought this music back to the land of its roots. We’re very proud to have released their first album on Six Degrees.”
Some people claim that this kind of music is a new form of colonialism. When a producer in Los Angeles or Germany uses nothing but samples by artists he has never met, you might be able to make a case for this. But Duskis rightly points out that the bulk of this music is made by South Asians for South Asians. “For this next generation, what we now call world music is not a fusion of styles. They hear it as the music they grow up with, their own personal music. If Karsh Kale and Cheb i Sabbah can create music by combining different styles, what sort of music will come from this next generation, which uses this music as a starting point? I can’t even imagine it, and I can hardly wait to find out.”
Teed Rockwell has studied Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan and other great Indian musicians. He is the first person to play Hindustani music on the Touchstyle Fretboard.