Randeep Bilkhu and Tim Wall combine a lifetime of travel into their debut album
Makindu is a small town in southern Kenya, sitting some one hundred and seventy kilometers southeast of the capital city, Nairobi. In the town, there is a Gurdwara, one that functions as a rest stop for the weary travelers, providing food and shelter as they make their way towards the coastal city of Mombasa.
Randeep Bilkhu remembers hearing stories of this town from her father, who grew up in the neighboring country of Tanzania, of how Makindu became a place where Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim railway workers would all gather in the evenings under a single tree to worship and pray together. This “notion of oneness”, as Bilkhu describes, “blew her mind.”
Bilkhu and her Makindu bandmate Tim Wall are two musicians whose pasts do not seem to ever sit still. Between the two of them, there is a blending a music and cultural identity that navigates from the United Kingdom and Europe to India and Australia. Bilkhu’s connection to her Sikh heritage and Wall’s familiarity with the same musical and spiritual tradition creates a cacophony of noise and history that the two have turned into a transcendental and mystical auditory journey, paying a perfect homage to their namesake in their debut album, Makindu.
The 8-track debut album is primarily instrumental, with sounds and harmonies that are often a calm and sweet build, often with nature-tones, blended together with life of modern jazz tones.
“The music we created in this album didn’t set out to replicate or imitate any other music,” Wall said in an email to Kajal. “While we had different influences and material as our starting point, the end result was always more about the sound we were making as a collective and the intuitive playing of everyone involved.”
The album is primarily instrumental, with Bilkhu and Wall passing off the rhythmic lead, back and forth between tabla and clarinet, rounded out with harp and harmonium.
“It’s hard to put into words the magic of hearing a celtic harp being tuned then played to an ancient Indian raag scale of Megh, a scale that evokes godly devotion and the power of rain, a raag which was also being played over 500 years ago on stringed instruments,” said Bilkhu. “It was hard in some way to play with the harp when all I wanting to do was sit and listen to all the resonances of the harp ring out.
Even still, the album has four tracks with featured vocals from Nepali singer, Shreya Rai, whose ethereal harmonizing lifts the tracks to another level, paired beautifully with the nature sounds incorporated into the tracks.
“We really enjoyed recording the vocals and the percussion together, and then adding the live recorded bird sounds and the supporting soundscapes to help create how we heard the piece in our minds,” Bilkhu said. “It’s been a really lovely piece to also play live while in India and Malaysia and Nepal on our album tour. “
The album is informed with an undercurrent of Sikh Kirtan, with tracks like “Har Kae” and “Barsair” based off of melodies and lyrics from specific shabads.
“We generally play instrumentally without lyrics, but if we ever do include lyrics from Sikh texts, we’re very careful to make sure it is a respectful environment,” Bilkhu said. “My elders and ancestors before me have taught that Kirtan or holy scripture, in line with their sacred nature and devotional nature are something that is done with a set of traditions which honor this, so we would not be wearing shoes and have our heads covered when reciting.”
Makindu’s full album is available on Bandcamp.