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The best kept secret in music


"Corners Review"

Lal's debut album, Corners, is superb; soulfully trippy and immensely enjoyable, standing out like a musical Koh-i-Nur in the midst of a growing number of North American Desi records dabbling in electronic sounds. The fact that artists Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray are Toronto-based doesn't hurt. Released on an independent Toronto label, Public Transit Records, Corners is the kind of album whose honest simplicity would likely be lost in the sort of A&R tufaan that a larger label would try to raise. As Rosina notes: "We're all still struggling, because it's totally independent, but at least you struggle with people that you trust." Slick programming and bilingual lyrics have helped Lal to carve out a distinct and consistent in which Murr's deliciously funky basslines and Rosina's Angrezi and Bengali tunes can take center stage side-by-side. Don't be fooled by the makeshift pagri she sports nowadays; Rosina Kazi is no Punjabi sardarji in drag, but Bangla and proud.

She confesses that, when she was younger, "I felt insecure about my Indian side, but at the same time I was proud of it. It was a really messed-up headspace. But finally, in the last three years, I've become very strong in accepting being a South Asian Canadian." That is, she's comfortable accepting a dual identity, as confusing as it sometimes is, rather than trying to pick and choose. The majority of the tracks on Corners are not suffused with a stereotypically Desi or Bangladeshi sound - in fact, Lal was accused by one magazine of misrepresenting themselves as a South Asian group, a charge which Rosina dismisses as nonsense. The sound is a reflection of the artists' identities, individually and as a team; Rosina identifies herself as a Bengali Canadian, therefore her music is innately Bengali, and no pitter-patter of sampled tablas is required.

On the other hand, two of the strongest tracks on Corners incorporate Rosina's Bengali awaaz as well as Prithi Narayanan's translucent veena, transformed by Murr's wickedly deliberate beats into a distinctively Desi trip. The most striking feature of "Bolo" and "Projaproti" is the ease with which Rosina slips into a piece with a Bengali ethos in the midst of half a dozen tracks performed on a hip hop tip. The lyrics to both songs are simple and well researched - that is, Rosina was careful enough to call home to ask her parents whether her Bangla was correct. In the process of trying to incorporate her culture into the music, she's discovered some interesting things about herself. Western musicians would always tell her that when she sang, her notes were flat, but, in her own words, "I'd be like, 'No, I'm not flat.' I had to sit down with a friend of mine to realize that a lot of the notes I was singing are in the Indian scale; notes that Western music doesn't use as often." Desi culture can be sneaky that way.

Financially, things haven't been easy for Rosina and Murr. Getting funding for videos has been a pain in the puttha, and the two have been incessantly moving from apartment to apartment all over Toronto since they started living together. But, as qismat would have it, Murr's and Rosina's hard times have helped to positively shape and to ameliorate their album, rather than subtracting from its virtues. For instance, the title track "Corners" was inspired by Murr's and Rosina's street corner observations as they shifted from place to place. As much as Rosina would like to have featured a few sitar orchestras and sarangi armadas on Corners, Lal's budget just wasn't up to it. Consequently, they've churned out a very minimalist album, with most tracks consisting of Murr's programming, Rosina's voice, and little else.

The amazing thing is that despite the paucity of musical elements - or because of it - Corners has turned out to be more pleasing to the ear than the majority of the albums presently coming out of the UK, the heartland of South Asian electronica for the past decade. You can sample MP3s of the album at PTR's website, and check out Lal's performance at MyBindi's Anniversary Bash on the 22nd of February at Fez Batik. Listen for yourself; Corners is well worth the price.

"Down With Brown"

Before you neatly tuck LAL away in the South Asian section of your musical understanding, know that the duo of Nick Murray and Rosina Kazi are doing much more than that. LAL is the marriage of soulful beats, breaks, samples and West Indian flavour, as well as the aforementioned South Asian spice. Murray, who made a name for himself as part of Toronto's seminal hip hop production trio the Grassroots, started making music with vocalist Kazi after their individual efforts appeared on a Public Transit Recordings compilation in 1998. Along with band members Rakesh Tewari, Nilan Perera, Sandbosh Naidu and Ian DeSouza, the duo return to Montreal for another night of serious music, this time as part of the Beats Vs. Borders 3 show to raise funds for South Asian refugees in Montreal. The Mirror spoke to Kazi over the phone from Toronto.

Mirror: I was floored by the scope of the South Asian music scene when I was in the U.K. last year. Even though LAL isn't simply playing the South Asian card, is it frustrating that the community supporting your music in Canada isn't more galvanized?

Rosina Kazi: I think that in this country, if you're not making Canadiana, or some kind of pop music, and even now hip-pop, it's difficult to get exposure and radio play in general. I don't think it's that we mix so many different things into our music, it's just that anyone doing something that is counter to the status quo is going to have a hard time. We're just starting to look at Europe and the U.K. as far as our stuff goes, but maybe they'll give us a second look because the music goes beyond pop and still appeals to the South Asian scene. We're still not doing what is typically South Asian, though!

M: How come, in 2005, we still haven't recognized the existence of so many different artists as intrinsically Canadian music?

RK: I used to get really frustrated, but I've come to accept that Canada is the way Canada is. It doesn't mean that I'm not going to try to break down barriers, or try to push ahead, but I'm no longer focusing on that frustration anymore. It's like saying, "Where do we need to go in order for this to make sense to people?" People in Canada are always concerned about making it at home, but when you stretch out and start to connect with people around the world, there's a whole other appreciation for music. People actually call you back (laughs)! Toronto's a rough town. They call you back if you're industry, or you're namedropping, but even Montreal and Vancouver are easier to get a response from. I'm about making an impact outside Canada, and then coming back. Did you see that tsunami relief concert on CTV last week?

M: I knew it was going on but didn't really catch any of it.

RK: It was a reflection of how things still haven't changed really. They got all these huge Canadian white artists to perform, and yet didn't get anyone from the communities that are affected to participate. It's not like there aren't established artists that could've contributed as well, but that wasn't really a thought. -

"Toronto's downtempo soul saviours tackle hiphop, broken beats and beyond"

There's a volatile chemistry between the two founders of Toronto downtempo crew LAL that holds the group together and threatens to blow them apart at the same time.Sit at a table and listen to Rosina Kazi and her partner Nick Murray talk about anything from hot sauce to the state of hiphop and you'll get one long, fractured thought, with the two finishing each other's sentences and playfully sparring on numerous points of contention.
That tight bond perfectly matches the hushed, intimate recordings LAL build around Murray's clattering beats and Kazi's haunting vocals. It's also become crucial to the success of the decidedly open-ended project, one arising from two musicians with complementary tastes but entirely different personalities and backgrounds.
Producer Murray is also known as Murr, one-third of Toronto hiphop production crew Da Grassroots. He's a shy perfectionist who talks constantly about creating "the perfect song" and who'd much rather be at home, h4unched over his sampler piecing together beats, than talking about his album.
On the other side is Kazi, the chatty, extroverted vocalist, who's more concerned with social change than with breaking big in the music biz, and who seems utterly unfazed that LAL's dreamy Corners disc has made it onto British tastemaker Gilles Peterson's top-10 chart.
Both Kazi and Murray admit that bringing the two elements together took some work. That the two are romantic partners as well as bandmates makes the mix even more explosive.
"We fight all the time," Kazi laughs over Ting and oxtail. "When we're making music it's a battleground, then a compromise, then a battleground, and then it's done.
"I always want to talk about something different rather than writing a good song, and he's happy just to put out great music."
"Rose will get caught up in the words, and I just focus on the melody and try to make a timeless piece of music," Murray continues. "Usually, there's a clash in there somewhere."
"We're actually fighting right now!" Kazi laughs. Murray simply grimaces and returns to his rice and peas.
In fact, Kazi had to battle just to get her cut chemist partner to make tracks with her. Just because you live with someone doesn't mean he'll want to share his beats with you.
"I'd always wanted to do something with him, but he wasn't into it at first," Kazi explains. "It took some time to manipulate him. I ultimately had to start doing the tracks myself, and then he'd finally come in and do his thing."
"She bugged me for a full year for tracks, and I wouldn't do anything," Murray confirms. "My whole thing was hiphop, strictly MCs and DJs. After a while, I started listening to other sounds and getting into experimenting with breakbeats.
"Hiphop is all about staying within one sound that works and capitalizing on it. As soon as you change your sound, you're basically non-existent. I just got sick of that mentality, and I think a lot of other people have as well. No one wants to do hiphop any more because it's so stagnant. This is a project that takes us both outside of ourselves and what we were used to doing."
What LAL have hit on takes the best of several styles, including hiphop. Corners is a stripped-down, moody record built around minimalist breakbeats, subtle percussive orchestration and ambient washes, with Kazi's voice darting in and out of the mix.
It's a massive step sideways for Murray, but also for Kazi, who initially made her mark in the city's underground techno scene. Here, she brings an almost cabaret feeling to lounge-hop tracks like 2 See Love and White Cloud Intellect.
It's hardly a slick production -- and Murray admits that some tracks on the album "aren't even finished" -- but that's part of the charm here.
"The whole LAL project is just doing whatever we want," Murray admits. "That, for me, is the fun of this."
"In Toronto, we all grew up listening to different things, so it makes sense that you push out a bit and explore," Kazi interjects. "Right now you're seeing people like K-OS merging hiphop with the pop sounds we grew up on, and I think that's the Toronto sound. Eclectic and adventurous, and mixing everything we know. I'm just not sure if things like the music industry are ready for that."
As LAL have begun to define themselves more, their scope of music has grown even wider.
What was once just a project based in Murray and Kazi's cramped home studio has grown into a full-blown live band including guitar, bass, harmonium, veena, tabla and percussion, with Murray conducting things behind his turntables and sampler.
The bigger stage set-up has bolstered the sound and also allowed the Bangladesh-born Kazi to introduce more of her South Asian musical heritage into the music. It's an element hinted at on cuts like Projaproti, with its wandering veena solo, though Kazi insists LAL are not the Canadian contingent of the Asian Underground.
"The veena is so characteristically South Asian that the band has shaped itself around t - NOW Magazine


Deportation - Upcoming 2007
Warm Belly High Power - Released October 4, 2005
Dancing the Same 12' - Released February 2005
Brown Eyed Warrior EP - Released August 2004
Corners - Released 2001
Code 416 - Released 1998


Feeling a bit camera shy


Led by Rosina Kazi and Nick Murray - Lal are a musical fusion brining together influences from South East Asia and hip hop, with everything in between. Some call it trip-hop, others just call it Lal. What started out as a small project between flatmates turned out to be a full blown band, featuring a talented line up of musicians performing an explosive live show.

Signed in 1998 by Public Transit Records, the duo released a compilation CD entitled Code 416, to great critical acclaim. With Rosina's powerful vocals and Murray's expertise behind the turn tables, Lal crafts unique beats and melodies that have held true to their latest release, Corners (2002). "The whole LAL project is just doing whatever we want," Murray admits. With five studio albums under their belt, Lal prepares to release their sixth and most anticipated album, "Deportation", in April 2007. Integrating live music performance, sound experimentation, video/film projections and unconventional uses of consumer technologies, this project is sure to break new ground for Lal.

Rosina is a former radio DJ from CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto, pushing young and promising hip hop artists onto the airwaves. Her vocal style is a combination of hip-hop, soul and classical Indian sounds, making for a very distinctive listening experience. Through her strong vocal performance, Rosina sheds light on political issues close to her heart, adding an air of consciousness to all concerts and events she is a part of. This is what makes the Lal music experience so unique, great music with an active message.

Her partner, Murray (Murr) is a member of the Juno-award winning producing team, DaGrassroots. He’s known for combining elements of jazz, hip-hop and drums-n-bass into something that sounds fresh and unique. Murr has produced beats for hot Canadian artists like Nelly Furtado, K-OS and Ghetto Concept. As one of the key members of Lal, he gets to push his creative abilities to the edge and beyond, making music for himself – his own way.

The phenomenal live band behind Lal features some of Toronto’s most promising and talented musicians. They bring life and flavour to the songs and the performance. On guitar, we feature Marc Ganetakos (Nelly Furtado, Alanis Morisette), on bass is Ian de Souza (Melanie Doane, Jesse Cook), our second guitarist is Nilan Perera (Michael Ondaatje, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Glen Hall) and Rakesh Tewari on drums (Nelly Furtado, Toronto Tabla Ensemble, KD Lang, Jeff Martin).

Since 1998, the band has showcased their live act and music to audiences worldwide, everywhere from Toronto to Berlin to Bratislava. We’ll see you at the show!