#KoraliReview: Lah by Kushehnooney
Post-punk is alive and well in the Maldives; Lah, the second album from Kushehnooney lays to rest any doubts to the contrary. While the line-up has changed – an erstwhile bassist has turned his back to the band and his heart towards the numinous – the core remains. And in the tumultuous decade and a half since Furolhu, the angst and heartache have stayed constant, a bridge spanning the temporal chasm between these two releases.
On Lah, the sound is angular but for a few tender moments strewn across its length with lead singer Ziya’s plaintive baritone buoyed by a spartan musical setting.
Nowhere is the latter more evident than on the opener, Dhooni, an outpouring of Ziya’s wishes for his child. “Every parent has dreams for their children,” a subdued Ziya told the audience at Salt Café during the launch of Lah. “I certainly don’t want my children to go through the hardships I’ve endured. I only want them to experience life’s best bits.”
On Mammaa, another interlude, Ziya’s pleas hover over a spare guitar arpeggio and cello melody, imploring his mother to come to his side – he yearns so badly to sleep in her lap. It’s childlike but wistful – you can tell that he knows it won’t happen again, if, indeed, it ever did.
Ziya, now in his fifties, comes from a well-to-do family (his father, Abbas Ibrahim, was a long-time minister of Maumoon’s cabinet). In fact, core Kushehnooney crew, including drummer/percussionist Ishan and guitarist Andhu, are privileged but addiction makes no distinction between classes. And Ziya, jailed and tortured over the years on drug offenses, is a brute testament to this inconvenient (and for some, embarrassing) truth.
The profound angst in songs like Halaakuvejje, Lah, Bunenulaa and Nethey Ekakuves may seem strange to younger audiences; aren’t people in their forties and fifties supposed to be ‘stable’?
Not if you’re Ziya Abbas.
It’s obvious that he never had the chance to ‘grow up’ – he was robbed of his youth, stigmatised at an early age. And the resultant anger and despair ring especially true on Lah, the album’s titular track, where the addict/misfit is doubly branded, first by society then by himself.
On Mr Brown, a wink at heroin, a sultry tabla and guitar nod towards the drug’s early euphoric effects. Its cataclysmic conclusion, brought about by Athi’s frenzied vocals, Ishan’s feverish percussion and a cascade of screeching guitars, marks the violent collapse of an addict’s psyche.
If there are songs that go against the grain, they are Aisa Aisa and Mahaadha Loabivey. The former brings a touch of frivolity to this mostly saturnine album – the track’s protagonist is rendered almost senseless by the narcotic affections of a woman. Her wiles are humorously compared to zaharu, prison slang for heroin. And Mahaadha Loabivey is a straight-up love song that’s unabashedly uplifting, evoking Joy Division’s more festive material.
Lah was four years in the making but it feels like it was recorded at a stretch – there is continuity, a clear affinity between tracks, not least because it’s Ziya’s story. The pace of the narrative is kept by Ishan’s muscular drumming, particularly noteworthy on Nethey Ekakuves, Halaakuvejje, and the slow, swinging Bunenulaa. The guitarwork of Ziya, Ihusan and Andhu is resolutely minimalist with the exception of Andhu’s blistering solo on Nethey Ekakuves. Meanwhile, Popa’s subtle bass skills lend depth and voluptuousness to the overall sound.
Works like this can never come from a place of comfort. They require a certain opaqueness of spirit – think Alice in Chains’ Dirt where drug use and attendant self-loathing, treated with ruthless honesty and skill, sublimate into art. Lah is a defining album of our time and place, a post-millennium document that I suspect even millennials can relate to in moments of reflection.