Album Review: Khalab – Black Noise 2084 [On The Corner Records; 20th July 2018]

In recent years, a growing number of producers have engaged in exploring the potential of mixing electronic music with music, traditional sounds and field recordings coming from all corners of the globe — giving birth to some of the most interesting records of the decade. Some, like Nicola Cruz or Chancha Via Circuito, started by retrieving their local musical heritage (Andean rhythms and cumbia in their case) to give it a fresh and contemporary touch in combination with electronic influences, while others embarked on a process of research, observation and exploration, revisiting musical traditions from faraway lands in new ways.

Italy has been an unexpectedly fertile ground for these second kind of producers, being the home country of producers like Clap! Clap!, Populous and Ninos Du Brasil, who all explore how electronic music can meet and fuse with global sounds in their own way.

And then there is Raffaele Costantino, one of Italy’s most renowned radio hosts. He also DJs and produces under the moniker DJ Khalab, and after three years of silence since his first and only album made in collaboration with Malian talking drum master Baba Sissoko, on July 20th he quietly dropped one of the most powerful records of the year – Black Noise 2084.

Out for the London label On The Corner Records, his latest work is a visionary statement, a synesthetic work that expresses much more than just the music it contains. Starting from the title track “Black Noise”, the sharp words of Tenesha The Wordsmith harshly scan the rhythm of the music and intertwine with the layered polyrhythmic composition into a gloomy, tenacious trance. “We are deaf to the sounds that define us”; this track is a manifesto, and every manifesto is born out of the necessity to protest against a status quo – in this case, opposing the cliché around what black culture, black music and heritage are expected to be.

Black Noise 2084 boasts a number of exciting collaborations, starting from emerging talents of the British jazz scene, like saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and The Ancestors) and drummer Moses Boyd, whose signature sounds are immediately recognisable respectively in the frantic and upbeat “Dense” and “Dawn”, the closing track of the album.

Tamar Osborn, an experienced saxophonist also hailing from London, gave her contribution to Khalab’s production in “Bafia”, an hectic bass-propelled track with hints of Chicago footwork, while the sound of Prince Buju’s kologo permeates the polyrhythms of “Shouts”.

The entire album is built with and around original field recordings from the archives of the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Bruxelles, which DJ Khalab was invited to experiment with. The outcome is exciting. Track number 9 “Cannavaro”, produced together with his long-time friend and musical soulmate Clap! Clap!, is perhaps the best example of the producer’s clever and creative use of this material, as the theme of the whole track revolves around a sample of traditional singing that can be heard only after the first and a half minute of the track.

With Black Noise 2084, DJ Khalab leaves little doubt of his artistic talent, offering a beautiful insight into his creative mind. He has explored the potential of his ideas to the fullest, giving new life to the field recordings he has used and raising the question as to what “black noise” could be, boldly escaping already existing boundaries and bringing together past and present with an actual, almost political intent. It’s a vision of contemporary tribalism, an ecstatic experience with cathartic powers, an immersive experience into the music, the sounds and the voices from faraway lands and forgotten times, now more current than ever.