Asian Music and Dance

Lokkhi Terra

Phew! The world rocks. That’s the message that shook the floor at The Forge recently as Lokkhi Terra beat out their unique sound. This fluid ensemble, put together by keyboard jazz maestro Kishon Khan, includes musicians with roots in Bangladesh, Cuba, Africa and England.

Events in the EFG London Jazz Festival, of which this was part, can be restrained but not with Lokkhi Terra. Within minutes of launching into the first of their two effervescent sets, Kishon Khan’s crew had the audience on their feet shimmying and shaking. But of course, Lokkhi Terra’s music is not really jazz at all. 

‘Lokkhi Terra’ is a Bengali phrase meaning, very loosely, ‘cute and cross-eyed’. It’s about finding beauty where you don’t expect it and it’s a perfect name for the band.

Lokkhi Terra is the brainchild of Kishon Khan. Born and raised in London in a Bengali family, Khan trained from a young age as a classical pianist, but anyone growing up in London is exposed to a wide range of musical cultures. As he began to broaden his musical base he travelled to Bangladesh to explore his family’s musical roots and toured there with traditional Baul musicians. In Dhaka, he became entranced by the energy of the street rhythms. Later in Havana, Cuba, he heard with a thrill the same energy in the rumba beats of boys practising before school, and he heard it in African townships, too. That’s how the idea for Lokkhi Terra was born.

London is the perfect place to find such a global range of musicians, the band including richly-voiced London Bengali singer Sohini Alam, supercool vocalist and bongo player Javier Camillo from Havana, rhythm-perfect conga player Oreste Noda and slick Swiss bass player Patrick Zambonin, although virtuoso trombonist Justin Thurgur was missing on this occasion.

What’s extraordinary is how well African, Bengali, Latin and jazz rhythms are fused together. All through Lokkhi Terra’s set, you can hear on keyboards in his distinctive black beret Kishon Khan, shunning the focus but knitting it all together. The result is an irrepressible sound that seems at once familiar and refreshingly unique; traditional yet coolly contemporary.  

At the heart of the music is Bengali folk, but it is remarkable how well it blends into dynamic Cuban jazz, salsa and even pounding Afrobeat. One of the highlights was the way Lokkhi Terra breathed new life into the well-known Bengali song ‘Sadher Lau’, which Khan revealed not to be a traditional song at all but composed by conga player Oreste Noda’s dad. 

On this song, no sooner had the Bangla congas set the Asian rhythm than Khan launched a pulsating keyboard riff straight from the African townships before the vibrant brass took us seamlessly off to Latin America, while never leaving Dhaka. There was even African highlife guitar. If that sounds like a mishmash, it’s very far from the truth. They are brought so naturally together that they sound like part of one global tradition. And soaring over it all are Sohini Alam’s glorious vocals in Bengali to make this something special – the first time I have seen a young London audience up and revelling in a Bengali popular folk song. 

The interval was perhaps too long, allowing some of the buzzing energy built up in the first half to drift away. But it wasn’t long before Lokkhi Terra had the audience in their hands again as they found they could swing salsa-like to Bengali polyrhythms and it was terrific to see Javier Camillo at one moment blowing up the temperature with a hot Cuban vocal in Spanish and the next coolly harmonising in Bengali with Sohini Alam. The shouts for more as Lokkhi Terra closed their set almost lifted the roof.



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