Lhasa – The Living Road (2003)

It’s been a while since I’ve written a proper review, and this one is long overdue. Dear friends, the music I am about to try speaking about is possessed of such arcane intensity that it may tighten the heart and illuminate the laboriousness of breathing. It’s raw, unspeakable elegance is almost too much to take in, and yet, once sampled, it projects this pale aura throughout the reaches of memory and emotion, a negative space in which no other reference may venture. This is the legacy of Lhasa de Sela.

lhasa12First of all, I have to say it is really rather difficult saying what exactly Lhasa was, save perhaps for the generic notion of “artist”. “Singer” does not do her justice. Neither does the quaint concept of “poet”. Her ability to express personal experience in a universal way (truly, so much so that, as I said, I can liken her to no other) was so overwhelming that it manages to cast doubt on the efficacy of common descriptive words, and I am unable to find appropriate uncommon ones either. I cannot stress enough how singular the experience of her music is, how terrifying in its fierce honesty and directness. It is as though her entire life is projected forth with each note, the full weight of her intricate lineage and background subtly leaning on the listener’s own sensibility in the simple, minimalist, fluid structures of her songs.

Music able to spark tactile response, music of such strength that it can induce synesthesia is rare indeed, and yet there are songs on this, her second album, which flood the mind with hybrid image/tastes of dust, dusk light, wind-on-skin and dryness of throat. “The Living Road” lacks nothing, needs nothing. Not one note out of place, no superfluous effects or gimmicks. There is no marketing at play, no ulterior motive. She sings in three languages because she needs them all, because there are things which can only be expressed in each of them. It is quite jarring to experience music which touches on a sort of objectivity with such effortless grace. (I know I’ve just made the word “objective” relative, but that’s because it’s so hard to even use it, given the fragmented nature of our experience – and all the greater the shock of Lhasa’s music.)

The decidedly odd thing about “The Living Road” is the overarching feeling of loneliness the album emits, without succumbing to any of the usual traps of exaggeration or needlessness to which much music referred to as “singular” falls prey. There is no moping, no bleeding heart sentimentalism in these songs. In fact, they are infused with this staggering stoicism; yes, the ever-present distance between things and people is unavoidable and immutable, but in accepting that, it becomes empowering, blade-sharp, an essential tool for self-definition and understanding. “The Living Road” is not unlike a koan in this sense – an exquisite puzzle for meditation, for forging an honest relationship with oneself. And, at the same time, it is “for” nothing – it exists, self-contained like a smooth stone, hinting at the disinterested, pristine act of initial creation.

Obviously, I find “The Living Road” to be quite a philosophical experience. Perhaps I have managed to convey why. Let me know, if you will. And enjoy!

P.S.: I have decided to embed the second song with an introduction/explanation by Lhasa. Listen to it, it is beautiful.

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