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They Dance In The Dark Jeremy Allen , November 30th, 2017 16:17

Composer, producer and percussionist Renu Hossain produces her richest work yet, a gift from a citizen of everywhere to “all the witches, weirdos, queers, femmes and nerds of this cosmos”.

According to her Twitter bio, Renu Hossain is an “electronic music composer, producer, multi-percussionist, queer, feminist, Bengali British, BRLN & LNDN based badass”, and that’s only the half of it. The east London-born, second-generation Bengali percussionist - who has been hitting things at the back for the likes of Grace Jones, Tunde Jegede and Fun-Da-Mental since the turn of the millennium - started making exciting, eccentric albums as a solo artist in 2011, with Love From London. Midnight Radio, a more accomplished, cinematic, Latin-flavoured release followed in 2014.

She moved to Berlin in 2015, and They Dance In The Dark is the closest she’s come yet to trance or techno. But what sets this record apart is the deftness of touch and the musical sensibility that permeates it. They Dance In The Dark is not like other dance records, and its delicacy and finesse make it an enchanting and unusual listen.

Hossain presides over each release more like a director or curator, leading from the back. The vocalists and collaborators on this album are like passengers traversing her singular world in the early hours. Elina Al Badri, a trans refugee from Iraq, brings exoticism to the album’s most expansive track, ‘Queen of Heaven’, reciting an Iraqi poem about the “beauty of long hair” over a coruscating beat. Hossain met Elina a year ago when the dancer was performing drag for Queens Against Borders to raise money for trans refugees from the Middle East. ‘Queen of Heaven’ was originally called ‘Baghdad’, but the name was later changed to reference the Mesopotamian goddess Ninsianna.

“Berlin?” asks Elina, as the rhythm pulses and the strings ululate. “It’s exactly the same, exactly like Baghdad.” While this might make They Dance In The Dark sound overtly political, it’s really just the world Renu inhabits: just fraternising with those who’ve crossed borders can be construed a political act in 2017.

The album runs from the dreamlike jazz and lazy double bass stylings of opener ‘Always You’ to the ambient two-step valediction of closer ‘Boys’. Along the way we get the gorgeous Irish folk of ‘Sern Nos’, with an ominous drone as undercurrent, and ‘Lay Low’, with its haunting vocal (from John Elliott of the Little Unsaid) over a bassline slightly at odds with the melody. ‘Badr’ mixes up an Islamic hymn with the dubby ambience of trip hop, while ‘Salma’, inspired by Renu’s partner and featuring the Lebanese singer Sandy Chamoun, takes a traditional Iraqi folk song and renders it spacey, futuristic and a little bit dystopian.

They Dance In The Dark reaches across borders and embraces others just as it embraces life. It’s a nocturnal feast of sights and smells and experience, the distinctive vision of a musician from London, from Calcutta, from Berlin or, as Theresa May would have it, from nowhere.