Court music for a once and future kingdom.
| 8 out of 10 | The French trio Rajna have a definite Dead Can Dance vibe. Instrumentalists Fabrice Lefebvre and Gerard Chambellant weave medeival, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern modes with traditional Tibetan, Indian and Middle Eastern instruments. The third member, Jeanne Lefebvre, turns up the heat with sultry and sometimes impassioned quasi-operatic vocals, some of which are wordless chants. Sythesizer drones are used to good effect and with great taste, providing many of the 13 pieces with additional ritualistic solemnity. Rajna's music has little grit and sweat, but it's not represented as authentic. Rather, it's a distillation of the most exalted and dramatic aspects of traditional music, and it succeeds admirably on its own terms, often sounding like ancient, alien court music. Ishati sustains drama without ever degenerating into kitsch. -Bill Tiland
Electroage's Favorite - June 2001 This debut release from Rajna originally came out in France two years ago, and fortunately Projekt Records has now re-released it for the domestic market. Ishati is an album of perfect, otherworldly beauty and breath-taking splendour. The trio play a heady version of haunted Middle-Eastern and Indian music on the appropriate instruments (dulcimers, yang T'chin, wind chimes, balalaika, ghattam, gongs...), not synthesized renditions. Synths do come into play, but only as minimal background texturing and ambience on a few songs. Indeed, some of Ishati's more brilliant moments are those untouched by electronic augmentation, like the utterly transcendental Bilaki, which uses only three instruments to create impressions of limitless space and time. Likewise the combination of gongs, singing bowls and Tibetan cymbals render the impression of ancient alien landscapes on Silnen Kempur. It is a balance between simplicity and complexity that give so much of Ishati it's spiritual life. Lahul Natl is an uncluttered composition, where each instrument resounds with staggering clarity and the group's excellent cohesion imparts a feeling of integration that gives vitality to the song. While Rajna would be complete as an instrumental project, they further themselves with Jeanne LeFebvre's ghostly, harmonious voice. Sien, played only on swara and tampura resonates with her voice, being both instrument and emotional outlet. Her voice resonates with spectral divinity against the deep percussion and chimings of Rajna, and on Yak, she sings like an operatic Natacha Atlas. With Ophelia, and throughout the album, exhibits the linguistic prowess of Lisa Gerrard. Nundre sways with a trance-like atmosphere, and LeFebvre's voice cries heavenward spinning the music up with her, being both one and apart with the composition. Again, a religious expression is suggested in Traghodia, where quiet acoustics underscore plainsong vocals and light synthesizer touches impart a luminous, holy place. It's stunning work. Rajna play music that makes the heart stop and the skin chill out of being witness to such perfect, limitless splendor and connects the imagination to the emotions. Rarely does music so vital come to light, and hopefully Rajna's other two albums will be soon to see release in North America. They deserve to be. -Phosphor
I first encountered Rajna's heady mix of ethnic instruments, heavenly operatic vocals from Jeanne Lefebvre, and moody synth atmospheres on last year's Seireenia compilation from Projekt. Ishati is their debut, released in 1999 in France, but available for the first time in the U.S. here, together with two tracks not on the original album. Just reading a list of some of the instruments Rajna uses should clue you in to the fact that they're something special. Santoor, yang T'chin, hammer dulcimer, shakers, Tibetan cymbals, gong, singing bowls, damaru, wind chimes, frame-drum, arghul, flutes, bells, and more all appear on one track or another. But Rajna's most powerful instrument is unquestionably Jeanne's classically trained voice, low and commanding here, floating high and breathy there, whispering mysteriously elsewhere. Dead Can Dance is one reference point, but where DCD tended to find their inspiration in early Western musics, Rajna looks eastward, to India, Tibet, and Nepal. With their darkly sacred feel, they also remind me of fellow French darkwave band Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus (RAIJ--weird name, I know, but if you're ever lucky enough to find one of their albums, do yourself a favor and buy it). But really, Rajna is in an incredibly original and deeply moving class all their own. I like so many of their tracks, it's hard to pick just a few to highlight here. Still, "Yak" is perhaps one of the finest on Ishati. It begins with rolling dulcimer, then continues with Jeanne's voice intoning devotions for the end of the world. Quiet plucked-string touches (I think from the yang T'chin) follow. Heavier drums, cymbals, and other percussion come in at the end like waves crashing into the shore, drowning out the voice of the siren sorrowing at the sea's edge, while rushing gray clouds scud by overhead and occasional sun-rays lance through, spotlighting the shining cinder sands feathered with ashes falling from the heavens. "Sanctuary," too, takes my breath away, building from a low synthscape with drums to Jeanne's ethereal voice layered high over the synth drones, as if to represent the spirit's higher aspirations rising as deeper motives coil unseen beneath. Jangling santoor takes the melody while shakers sound like shell-beaded anklets of shuffling dancers circling a figure wrapped in a thick robe, arms holding itself, staring eyeless into the Void around and within. - Dave Aftandilian
Kudos to Projekt for following the same life-pattern as a fine wine. It just keeps getting better and better with age. Not too long ago, Projekt, an all ethereal, goth, and passionate music label, celebrated its 100th release. Now with their 113th, Projekt's figurehead, Sam Rosenthal, proves once again that, like Eve in the garden of Eden, he knows how to pick 'em.
Ishati is the American release of Rajna's first round of heavenly music. Rosenthal has released the CD with a special treat - the cover has been completely redesigned (by Rosenthal) and there are two additional tracks. The cover art alone is gracefully enchanting. It is true that a picture speaks louder than words and in this case, this one is screaming. One glance of the cover and you know that to hear this astonishing French trio, you'd need a passport if you didn't have the CD. It is rich with an "other world" delight. Much like the cover to Aion, a release from Dead Can Dance, who Rajna is hauntingly similar too. Similar but very different. Any Dead Can Dance fan is sure to immediately feel the need to grasp tightly the Ishati CD from Rajna and treasure it like a forty-five pound copper chalice.
The "world" sound is a mix of inspirations drawn from India, Nepal and Tibet. As the majority of the CD is instrumental, it is a pleasure to have it playing as you work, relax or just want to have an appropriate musical score to your next daydream. With the assorted array of instruments being used, the overall effect is almost ear boggling. You will hear dulcimers, gongs, shakers, chimes, mandolins, Tibetan cymbals, something called a djembe and a cluster of other worldly instruments to appease your curious ear for something exquisitely stimulating.
The best instrument of all though, is Jeanne Lefebvre's voice. It is at once soothing yet jarring. Rajna is a joy to listen to, like feeling the wind brush across your face as you sit, basking in the sun, on the greenest of hillsides during the first week of spring. - David Paul Wyatt Perko
SPIRITUAL AMBIENCE WITH EASTERN INFLUENCES: | 4 out of 5 | This reissue of the French trio's debut includes two bonus tracks and redesigned artwork. The tonal brilliance and diversity displayed on their subsequent Yahili aren't entirely formed yet, but Ishati is still a powerful recording in its own right. Rajna's music is methodical and almost spiritual in its feel. Using instrumentation and phrasing borrowed from India and Tibet, the band wisely avoid the usual trap of dumping it all on top of some cheesy techno beat. Instead, the music has a very organic and raw texture to it. The various strings, chimes, percussion, and wailing vocals intermingle to create a sound that is rich, beautiful, and at times rather haunting. While some tracks invoke a slowly building trance-like state, others are lush gardens of ambience. This is music that you can truly feel. Ishati will encompass you and become part of you, if you let it. - Daniel Hinds
Fans of Lisa Gerard and Dead Can Dance will thrill to this 50 minute CD. Originally released in France in 1999, Projekt brought this mesmerizing ethnic environmental music to the USA in 2001. Various instruments from India, Tibet, and Nepal (tampuras, singing bowls, balalaikas, mandolins, dulcimers, wind chimes, shakers, gongs, bamboo flutes, frame-drums, and more) blend with female ethno-gothic voice to achieve a haunting soundscape of exotic quality. Far Eastern moods are given Medieval overtones with the heavenly vocals; this mixture of different cultures and epochs lends this music a unique sound. Passion runs deep and often subdued through these compositions, as the strings, percussives, and flutes blend with synthesized tonalities. Throughout this frequently occidental soundscape, non-lyrical vocals warble and chant and croon and tremble with almost cloudlike nature. The melodies are generally atmospheric and light, striving for wisdom through passive application of textures intended to soothe while inspiring the listeners.
Stepping Between Dreams to Ancient Skies. Exotic percussion sweeps over you and takes hold as this disc permeates your inner core. A range of perfectly played instruments, including santoor, dulcimer, damaru and gong, act together to take you on an enchanted journey. A myriad of twists and turns marks the path of the music, with its many sumptuous passages and intricate rhythmic pulses borrowed from the East. Jeanne Lefebvre's voice is sublime, freely rising above certain parts in an ecstatic embrace only to melt into the tremors of the music a few moments later. The music of this French trio is akin to what one could imagine emanating from an ancient temple in the clouds. It is an intricate blend of passion and devotion, strength and grace. --MVW