When label co-founder Damon Albarn asked Terry Hall to make a solo album, The Hour of Two Lights
was set to be produced by former Fun-Da-Mental member Mushtaq. However, it soon became apparent that this pair had an instant musical rapport, so the project rapidly became a joint effort. All manner of musicians and styles are jumbled into the mix, but Hall and Mushtaq keep these disparate elements under control, shaping a unique sound. They suggest "contemporary nomadic" as a possible filing category, with numerous guests combining various Eastern European, North African and Middle Eastern backgrounds to create a hybrid music that makes Hall's disenchanted, slow-coach delivery even more unnerving than it was on his work with the Specials
and Fun Boy Three
Strings swoop in directly from Cairo, supporting silvery oud, trilling ney flute and rattling goblet-drums, all laid down on a humping bed of traditional drum breaks. Most of the tracks find Hall duetting with a succession of guest vocalists, but where comparable projects would feature various pop star pals, this outing's collaborators are mostly complete unknowns, swapping lines in Arabic, Hebrew or Romany. Hall keeps his own morose couplets simple and abstract, avoiding any specific references, even though there's an implicit political content to these sessions. It's a shame, though, that the sleeve doesn't feature more detailed credits, broken down into song-by-song listings, particularly when there's such an impressive roster of guest musicians on board. --Martin Longley
On seeing the line up on this recording you might expect a world music album founded on acoustic improvisation, an underground dj album or a pop album. After all it involves music from three continents, one of the hottest dj producers around and a successful pop musician fronting it. In fact it's none of these. It's a political and musical recording of racial minorities and cultures by two of today's pioneers of modern popular music.
Terry Hall found fame in the eighties leading pop bands like The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Mushtaq is much newer to the scene and has gone solo since leaving the British-Asian band Fun-Da-Mental, deeply immersed in beats, breaks and turntablism. Together they have assembled a vast diaspora of Asian, Arabic, Hebrew and Gypsy musicians.
"Grow" opens the set with what sounds like a call to prayer (or to listen), the vocals of a 12 year old Lebanese girl and radio samples of people going about their lives in a far off place. The penultimate song is called "Stand Together". The message is clear. The result is tight and interesting, amusing and menacing.
Immediate tracks like"A Tale Of Woe", "Stand Together" and "Ten Eleven" feature Terry Hall singing over a heavy mix of folk rhythms and hip-hop beats. Singers ranging from Romany gypsies to an Algerian rapper join him. Terry's sparse vocals, pop nature and cynical tone may not be to everyone's taste but he does not allow his voice to dominate the set.
Producer Mushtaq maintains equality between the different musical cultures which he mixes into a global soundscape. Although many of the tunes have a pop hook this doesn't detract from the point of this recording. There are numerous nods to the wider impact of folk music. The gypsy beat in the haunting title track is straight out of Bizet's Carmen. "They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around" is given over entirely to the Polish gypsy group Romany Rad.
In other hands this project might have over-reached itself. The Hour Of Two Lights is a powerful and brave piece of music that benefits these multi-cultural times. --Ollie Davies
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