Although they hail from San Francisco, Baraka Moon’s mix of percussive styles and instrumentation leads to a Sufi-Indian-African-Aboriginal hybrid that’s both mystical and grounding. In critiquing this album, I ran into a language barrier; Sukhawat Ali Khan turns to his Pakistani roots for the vocals, so, that being said, I had to draw on the album’s vibe, production, and structure to form an educated opinion about Wind Horse (self-produced, 2017). Despite that challenge, I must say that this is a great album.
Throughout Wind Horse, the tone is meditative; sparse and robust simultaneously. In other words, the musicianship is tight and the songs find grooves to riff on without veering too far away, but the swings of slide guitar, tabla, didjeridu, and harmonium, on top of guitar, drums, and bass, create noticeable intensity- vibrations that hit you in the center of your chest, especially at loud volumes.
Take, “Allah Hoo” for example. It starts off at a gallop, the didjeridu taking a rhythmic stance (you won’t believe what Steven Kent can pull off). The vocals and melody sound like old-time European folk ballads, while the guitar is jamband-esque. With all this going on, one might think that the song would be drawing from too many sources, but Baraka Moon have mastered their integrations, and instead, the result is pretty, danceable music.
For “Sabir”, Baraka Moon lands into a flawless reggae groove. Interlaced harmonium creates a unique sound and the near-chanted vocals are excellence. It’s hard to believe that “Rasa Divine” is on the same album. It conversely has a dessert blues sound with pulsing didjeridu and percussion, as well as banjo. The mighty “Julay Julay” is as vastly different; punctuating the Australian Aboriginal influence. And yet the album flows.
And Wind Horses best song is “Mankuntu”, with a delicate West African-style groove, including a slurred bassline. “Mankuntu” slowly builds until the repeated and seducing bridge and instrumental breakdown afterwards, like a well-traveled Toubab Krewe.
Wind Horses weakness is that most of the songs are too long. Four of the nine songs break six minutes, and none of the songs have enough movement to be substantial for that length. In fact, during some listens, these longer get boring. Part of this stems from the influences, musical styles that generally have long songs, but my hope is that they get more experimental, more jammy, in the future.
Also, perhaps this album is less for listening intently to on headphones, and is better suited loud on a stereo for dancing purposes. Many of the songs evoke trance-like dance moves and meditative head bobs. In that case, bravo!
Overall, Baraka Moon make interesting music with integrity, and Wind Horse has many moments of exceptionalism, if at other points it could use a bit of revamping. No songs are throwaways. For that, Baraka Moon has found a niche and made basecamp. This is where they really begin to explore the territory they dared enter.