In the wake of SXSX, a string of reviews of gigs played by some of Norway’s 21-band strong delegation have now begun to trickle in.
This week sees The New York Times’ ArtsBeat’s Jon Pareles giving Samsaya a thumbs up for her SXSW gig: ‘Samsaya was born in India and raised in Norway, where she has been releasing albums for a decade. She’s applies a full pop arsenal — short catchy melodies, singalong-ready wordless hooks (“woh-oh-oh-oh-oh!”) and big beats out of hip-hop, punk-pop and Bollywood — to messages of self-empowerment and tolerance. She hit the small indoor stage at Stubb’s as if she were working an arena, with cheerleader energy somewhere between peak No Doubt and Lady Gaga. “Don’t ever fear your difference! Don’t ever let them change you!” she exhorted. “Our strength is our uniqueness!” She was introducing the single “Stereotype,” which insists, “I’ll just dance to whatever I like.”
Samsaya cites everyone from Mary J. Blige and TLC to OutKast and famed Indian singer Asha Bhosle as inspirational sources. Samsaya, whose name means “doubt” in Hindi, has “always questioned everything,” writing reactionary, iconoclastic lyrics as a child. “At 12, I heard Dinah Washington’s ‘I’m Mad About the Boy’ and hearing that trumpet-type voice, something happened to me,” recalls the singer. “Religious lyrics and traditional music didn’t touch me. This moved me.” Eschewing her parents’ pleas to play classical Indian music in favor of more beat-driven tracks, Samsaya released Shedding Skin, her debut album, in 2004, and has released a steady stream of singles since.
‘Bombay Calling’, the latest Samsaya album, isn’t just a genre-busting set of songs drawing from pop, dance, hip hop, funk, soul and Bollywood. It’s a long-distance call to the singer’s heritage, one that augments modern pop with traditional Indian sounds that manage to act as a serious floor-filler in from Miami to Ibiza.