LAL CD release at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 22). $10. 416-516-8677. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto-based soul-tech veterans LAL consistently work outside conventional borders. Recently, the trio wrote and recorded in London, England, performed at the World Performing Arts Festival in Lahore, Pakistan, and played a picturesque beachside gig in Goa, India.
Now back in Toronto, they continue to defy borders on their new record, Deportation (Public Transit), both by bridging musical genres and by raising important issues of immigration and citizenship.
Vocalist Rosina Kazi began conceptualizing this record right after 9/11. At its thematic centre are “people’s stories of migration and movement,” she says.
Despite the common theme, the band hesitates to call Deportation a concept album. “It’s really just a collection of stories told from different perspectives,” says bassist Ian de Souza.
“We actually know people who have been deported,” says Kazi, “so it’s a very personal record for us.” She is quick to recount the plight of her good friend Queen Nzinga (aka Wendy Maxwell), an undocumented immigrant working as a CKLN radio programmer who was deported to Costa Rica in 2005.
“It’s like this big secret,” says Kazi. “People don’t really see that hidden world of immigration and deportation unless it happens to them, and I think it happens much more often than people realize.”
While the record (the band’s third full-length in 10 years) has been a long time in the making (LAL’s laptop whiz and producer Nicholas Murray remembers doing some of the first recordings back in 2005), it’s not for lack of vision or writer’s block. Deportation is a thoughtful, deep and complex combination of electro, jazz, soul, hip-hop and spoken word, and, as Murray points out, “making things like this just takes some time.”
In addition to writing and recording the album’s 15 tracks, LAL also spent time enlisting friends to contribute a diverse array of creative skills. In all, some 20 guest musicians (and two dancers, whose recorded footwork is featured as percussion) appear on the record, including Zaki Ibrahim, Shawn Hewitt and Stop Die Resuscitate’s Lucas Costello.
“People who are into all kinds of music will really appreciate our sound,” says de Souza of the band’s international appeal. “But people who are only into one style of music will probably only get parts of the record.”
The trade-off LAL make for their unabashedly eclectic sound is that they become nearly impossible to categorize.
“The music industry has done such a good job – which I consider a bad job – of promoting one sound and one look. The idea of diversity is becoming less celebrated,” laments Kazi.
“I don’t think people in the music industry really know what to do with a band like us,” she adds.
Fortunately, LAL can get along just fine without much support from the mainstream. With the backing of their indie label, Public Transport, and activist group No One Is Illegal, the band is set to tour Ontario and the West Coast this summer, while looking ahead to more European dates in the fall.