It’s no coincidence that Nancy Kaye, Ireesh Lal and Carmen Rizzo chose to name their groundbreaking collaboration after the ancient Sufi folk song, “Lal Meri,” an interpretation which closes the trio’s seductive and refreshing Six Degrees Records debut.
“The message of the song is unifying different people from different cultures and beliefs,” says Nancy, the mystery-laden honey-and-sand voiced singer, with a gift for expansive turns of phrases and indelible melodies. “Why can’t we basically be together as one?”
Each member of Lal Meri, comes in from different backgrounds, cultures and musical sensibilities, all combined into a unified, vibrant whole. Ireesh’s multiple instrumental, composing and arranging talents have been spotlighted in his previous bands Hot Sauce Johnson and Animastik. Carmen’s global-conscious sense has brought him to the forefront as a writer, producer and remixer with Seal, Coldplay, Paul Oakenfold, Jem and countless others, while his expansive vision is at the core of his own wide-ranging album and his work as a member of the groundbreaking world-fusion act Niyaz. Nancy’s singing and writing – both urgent and timeless – have powered her forays in pop (a 2002 debut album for Island/Def Jam Records) and jazz (her recent, saucy tour de force Luckiest Girl), both under the artist name Rosey.
Nancy’s voice intertwines with R&B punches and smoky cabaret inflections, while Ireesh blends reggae & jazz on the trumpet. Beats mix with oud and tabla. From the soulful bounce of opener “Dreams of 18” through the closing title song, Lal Meri is three artists inventing a new common language.
Ireesh’s cousin Pooja provides Hindi vocals on three songs (including the title tune), Natalie Warner singing with Nancy on the stern “Bad Things” and Carmen’s friend Dmitri Mahlis playing oud, bouzouki, saz and jumbush. Every thing was built from the ground up – no prefab samples, no forced fusions, but an organic creation in fact. “It was really important that the three of our voices were all heard in all of the tracks,” Nancy says. “Sometimes it was a painstaking process, having three headstrong producers on one record, but we made it through and I’m so pleased…” “It was very important for us to come together and create this as a group,” Ireesh says. “So it sounds like our project.”
And all this grew from a very small seed. “I was in India in 2006 and heard my cousin sing and recorded her into my laptop,” Ireesh recalls. “I came back to the States and started writing some beats to what she was singing and put it up on my MySpace page.” That’s where Nancy found it after someone she met randomly in New York recommended that she check out Ireesh’s work. Craving new and challenging projects after having gone through the pop mill in the early 2000s, she was enticed and intrigued. “I went back to L.A., met up with him and we immediately started writing together.”
The first song they collaborated on was “Borders,” a plea to overcome the fears of differences, and several others started to take shape. It was at that point when Carmen asked Nancy to perform guest vocals for a concert of his music. They’d also met by happenstance, a recommendation to Nancy from one of her fans that had got into Carmen’s colourfully atmospheric albums. Nancy played him some of the tracks she and Ireesh had been working on in his car after a studio session. Carmen was instantly hooked.
What strikes all three the most is that Lal Meri forms such disparate origins and elements into a seamless whole. It’s something that could only have happened the way they went about it, creating the sounds entirely from the ground up, every note made fresh by Nancy, Ireesh, Carmen and their featured guests – no samples and no gimmicks. “Collectively, with our drastically different backgrounds, the project really sounds like a unit,” Carmen says proudly. “It’s not a producer record, not a solo project. It’s three people who really got together and made an album.”