The music on Rhythm & Culture’s new compilation, The Sound of Rhythm and Culture, would be hard to locate in a big box record store like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Would you look under Electronic or World? It is difficult to find a broad enough term that characterizes all of the tracks, which draw from innumerable cultures and genres. Kiran Gandhi (COL ’11), the label manager for Rhythm & Culture, prefers to call it a brew.
“The idea is to represent sounds from around the world,” Gandhi said. “To make people both dance and then also to make chill-out tunes. The goal is to makes each song serve both of those purposes.”
Rhythm & Culture is a fledgling record label started by DJs Thomas Blondet and Farid Nouri. It features the D.C.-based electronic group Second Sky, as well as DJ and string musician Zeb and others. The label hopes to capture the energy of the early ‘90s D.C. music scene, when pioneers like Nouri regularly threw underground warehouse parties and house shows.
Though she was still watching Power Rangers back home in New York in the early ‘90s, Gandhi has heard enough stories from her Rhythm and Culture cohorts to know how different those times were.
“The cops used to crack down a lot less,” she explained.
To the rest of the Rhythm & Culture crew, Gandhi is considered the “international beatmaker.” She first got involved with Rhythm & Culture when she was a live percussionist for The Underground Soul Solution, a weekly DJ set curated by Nouri that showcases the international sounds of the label. In addition to Gandhi, drummers come in from the Malcolm X drum circle to participate. Ghandi’s enthusiasm helped her stand out, and this summer she was offered a job coordinating the label’s public relations.
All of the artists on Rhythm & Culture are D.C.-based, and they promote a style of music that is unique to the District’s “multicultural soundscape.” As for who they work with, the label is not particularly restrictive. Rather than encouraging a particular sound, their goal is simply to encourage their artists to make whatever kind of music moves them. “No one else from D.C. is doing this,” Gandhi said.
Rhythm & Culture’s most recent release is surprisingly consistent, featuring five different artists and a handful of guests. There is also an alluring quality to the message of the compilation: its 14 tracks are meant to take the listener “around the world,” sometimes to multiple nations simultaneously. One song pairs an Iraqi oub with Jamaican dubtones. Sitars, dub beats, and Balkan horns are all also present.
Rhythm & Culture isn’t the first group to attempt this kind of musical diversity. Tracks such as these may sound familiar to anyone who’s heard Thievery Corporation or Balkan Beat Box. Be warned that this album does not have any rockers or club bangers, though, and will be more appealing the listener with a truly curious ear. But the music’s versatility is true, and it is amazing to hear an intensely local organization achieve such a versatile sound.
“If you blast the music really loud you can dance to it,” Gandhi said. “If you play it softly in your car you can chill out.”
Second Sky is playing at The Yards Park Sept. 10. Eighteenth Street Lounge is having a record release party for The Sound of Rhythm and Culture on Sept. 16, and The Underground Soul Solution plays at the Eighteenth Street Lounge every Sunday.