Black Tears (Holy Records)
~reviewed by Stuart Moses
I don’t like cover versions. It is so rare a band can reinvent a song, without changing the song beyond recognition. Rajna succeed in reinventing Dead Can Dance’s “Cantara” (from the Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun album) to the extent that it recaptures the magic I felt when I first heard the original version. It is a faithful recreation of the song, yet with a few different elements emphasised that makes me feel as if I am listening to the song for the first time. Rajna move in the wake of Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s influence can be heard throughout this album.
The only thing I dislike more than cover versions is remixes. Yet the Division Alpha remix of “Buried Phildae” contained here adds extra dimensions to the song, while taking away none of majesty of Rajna. There’s an added electronic edge and voice samples, but these never distract from the ethnic instrumentation and singer Jeanne’s heavenly vocals.
This album collects Rajna’s finest moments from their previous six albums. There are also five new songs specially recorded for this collection. Opening song “Black Tears (edit)” is one of these. It burns with the heat haze of a desert and sets the mood perfectly. It is atmospheric and evocative, like visiting a far off land for the first time. “Mona Lyssa” is another new one, which offers subdued synthesisers and intriguing spooky whooshing noises. Over the top Jeanne offers her Lisa Gerrard-style singing. “Trehya Man” and the full version of “Black Tears” which closes this compilation show how far the band have developed over the years.
When Jeanne and Fabrice started recording they used just a basic multi-track, now the production is much stronger. While the sound may be more polished this actually heightens the emotions because the sounds are so much fuller, deeper and wider. Having said that Rajna make timeless music, and so unless you have heard these songs on their respective albums, or are someone that pays particular attention to production techniques, you will not easily chart the band’s chronology. This helps Black Tears feel like a coherent album, despite being a compilation.
Dulcimer fans will enjoy “Traoma”. Rajna utilise a wide range of esoteric instruments. I don’t know how they do it, but Rajna tap into some primeval in my unconscious. If I believed in reincarnation, Rajna would be my conduit to past lives. Like Lisa Gerrard, Jeanne doesn’t use traditional words, but this is no barrier to communication. Indeed this use of ululation allows the listener to bypass the intellectual and give a direct emotional response.
Why should the traditional drums on “Sanctuary” provoke a different reaction to modern drums? Have I consciously learnt that they have historical or mystical significance? When did I learn those meanings? These are the sorts of questions that circle round my mind when I try to analyse intellectually. Why do the instruments convey feelings of danger and sensuality? I guess I should just follow my heart on this one.
Inevitably this sort of intensity is hard to maintain. The next few songs pass eventfully enough, but not enough to draw me out of reverie. Perhaps it is because they thrust me into this dream to start with? The lovely “The Door of Serenity” is redolent of the heat of midday sun you feel in imaginary countries that probably don’t exist beyond the pages of fiction.
Rajna are an extraordinary band and not just because they do cover versions and remixes that actually complement the original. Travel is the band’s primary influence, particularly in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and India. In these countries Fabrice and Jeanne absorb traditional local music. Then when back home they create songs using ethnic instruments, but they are not seeking to make traditional music. What is ‘authentic’ about Rajna is their expression of emotion, rather than their exploration of history or geography.
I cannot explain why this music stirs my emotions in the way it does. Maybe it is because human emotions are universal despite the barriers of culture and time. Rajna aren’t the only band who use traditional instruments to create contemporary music. Dead Can Dance are the leaders of the field, yet despite the recent live reunion there seems to be no promise of new recorded material, so in the mean time I have no hesitation in pointing you in the direction of Rajna. Let them take you on a journey to mystical lands and at the same time help you explore perhaps the most mysterious country of all: yourself.
The website: www.rajna.net