Arts & Culture

The Heavy Music of Mystical Islam, Man

By Anand Balasubrahmanyan February 25, 2010

Swedish diva Victoria Bergsman's newest project, Taken by Trees, is going to sound out of left field if the last time you heard from her was on Peter Bjorn and John's “Young Folks."  For Taken by Trees, Bergsman traveled to Pakistan, recruited a Pakistani band and infused gentle indie folk songs with Qawali, the harmonium heavy music of mystical Islam. Of course moving from dance pop to Vampire Weekend territory is going to get charges of appropriation. But, indie rock world, we've been through this before and isn't it time we replaced the knee jerk question “Does this appropriate non-western music” with  “Does that appropriation demean it's source?”

So yeah, Victoria Bergsman went to Pakistan and is using her pretty white face to sell to a white audience, but you get the feeling the Pakistani musicians she worked with were more than exotic decorations on the Sari she bought when she was abroad.

“To Lose Someone,” a laid back dreamer, combines acoustic guitar with clay pot percussion and the haunting tenor calls of Qawali. Sure there are a few awkward interracial buddy cop moments, but mostly the song sounds like a conversation between two distinct traditions. Its seems like Ms. Bergman treated her collaborators as people and, honestly, that's all I want.

And some of the songs are stunners. “Anna,” her collaboration with Animal Collective's Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear), is my favorite of the bunch. The track floats along with a low key smile, Panda Bear's sublime harmonies drifting beneath Bergsman's melody. It's a simple song, one best enjoyed while you're saving your anger for when white people actually do something offensive.

Taken by Trees play the Triple Door with El Perro Del Mar (!) this Friday, Feb 26

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