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Jitwam: ‘Third’ Review – Soulful Yet Transgressive Dance Music

Jitwam’s ‘Third’ is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. Cyclone Wehner reviews.

On an Australian tour in late 2019, Moodymann dropped INXS’ ’80s hit ‘Need You Tonight’ in his DJ set, trolling house purists. But the Detroiter had previously championed a cult Australian dance act, the Sydney DJ, vocalist, musician and producer Jitwam Sinha – or just Jitwam. Indeed, Moodymann included Jitwam’s ‘Keepyourbusinesstoyourself’ on 2016’s now classic DJ-Kicks mix compilation.

Third (ROYA)

Jitwam is slept on at home, but that should change with his new album, Third, which is cannily being positioned as a “reintroduction”.

Jitwam was born in Guwahati, Assam, in North Eastern India. Soon after, his family migrated to Australia. The bicultural youth would encounter subtle, albeit insidious, social pressure to assimilate. A rock fan, he picked up guitar and keys. Later, Jitwam travelled extensively, winding up in the melting pot of London. There, he discovered dance music. In 2017, Jitwam, having generated his own sonic hybrid, released a debut album, ज़ितम सिहँ, followed by Honeycomb in 2019.

In the ’60s, The Beatles embraced Indian classical music for their feted Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – ostensibly capturing a countercultural Zeitgeist, but with little awareness of the sensitivities surrounding cultural co-option. In some ways, Jitwam has reclaimed those trippy aesthetics in declaring himself a “psychedelic soul savant” – his house music is funky and soulful, yet transgressive.

The concept of “home” is one of Third’s themes. The LP was inspired by Jitwam’s living in both London and the especially fast-paced New York. It subliminally explores immigrant history, diasporic experience and Third Culture identity. Third opener ‘India’ is a deep groove with a neo-psychedelic twist. Jitwam’s fragmented spoken word is used texturally alongside liquid jazz guitar and flute. He expresses a need to reconnect to his roots: “I won’t forget / where I’m coming from / where I really belong.”

Jitwam – ‘Brooklyn Ballers’

But, primarily, Third is a homage to multicultural NY – the cheeky lead single ‘Brooklyn Ballers’ is among several tracks with a hip-hop swagger. The hectic ‘Stranger Danger (In The Streets Of Life)’ – featuring Detroit’s otherwise M.I.A. underground rappers Ahkatari – sounds like Genesis Owusu crashing a DFA Records party in its punk-funk heyday.

Jitwam’s lyrics allude to the murkier sides of metropolitan mobility: market forces, gentrification and homelessness. However, he doesn’t make overt political statements on Third – the messaging, as with his vocals, is obscured. The anti-materialistic vent ‘Money & Things!!!’ evokes The Avalanches’ blithe disco sound circa Wildflower.

Third establishes Jitwam’s fluidly elegant style as a producer. The album’s centrepiece, ‘Equanimity’, is led by Brooklyn’s Melanie Charles, a lauded Haitian-American jazz singer and flautist (she was also a member of the choir gracing Gorillaz’ Humanz). And the song is soothing for harried times – imagine D’Angelo losing himself producing deep house, with some thrilling mystical flute.

Jitwam – ‘Stranger Danger (In The Streets Of Life)’

Jitwam’s Third is out now.

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