Last updated March 2014
In the late 1990s, LAL introduced a political edge to the electronic underground, bridging the gap between art and social justice. They have carved out a strong diaspora voice in the Canadian music scene, which remains largely unexplored by mainstream media. A recurring theme in their work is ‘finding a way.’
The group features lyrics by the Bengali singer, poet and activist Rosina Kazi, who creates dreamy parables to the beats of Barbados-born producer and sound designer Nicholas “Murr” Murray, a founding member of the Juno award-winning hip hop group, Da Grass Roots. In 2004, they were joined by bassist Ian De Souza, who comes from an African-influenced jazz background.
The members of LAL came together in 1998, as Kazi and Murray met as sales employees in the dance department of HMV in downtown Toronto. At first, they began the band collaborating with several band members, but eventually brought it down to vocals, bass and electronics. Named after the Bengali word ‘Lal’ which has multiple meanings, including red, resistance and solidarity, the group has developed a sound fusing their South Asian roots with West Indian influences, jazz sensibilities, hip hop and authentic soul.
Known as “musicians with a deeper social message,” LAL released their debut album, Corners, in 2002. They gained notice of indie media and campus radio for their socially conscious poetry, weaving together rhythm with technology.
Their second album Warm Belly, High Power, was released in 2004. It was a ground breaker, garnering much press on a cross-Canada tour and celebrated as the best soul album of the year by Exclaim! magazine. AT the time, De Souza joined the group which added another layer of depth to LAL.
Deportation from 2008 featured over 20 guest musicians and vocalists on the political theme of deportation. The album became a response, almost a manifesto, to the aftermath of 9/11, where many of their friends were deported in America’s record- high immigration enforcement. The album also gave voice to the stories of Indigenous and migrant communities living in Canada. In the opening track Belong, Kazi famously taunts “Go back to where you belong.”
Their popularity accelerated in 2012 when the group released their fourth album, LAL, which showcased their softer side. While the trio worked tightly together on the album, they featured guest mixes of Live Your Light and Bunch of Maybes by Sandro Perri and Background and I Know Your Face mixed by Moonstarr.
Their travels continue in their forthcoming album All You Need to Know is due out summer 2014, inspired by travel across India by train while they were touring in 2011. Pioneers in the underground electronic music scene, their hope has kept them going. They work to make a difference politically through social action.
LAL has collaborated with the Pakistani-British producer State of Bengal, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, Titonton, Bryden Baird, Kamau, Brendan Swanson and Dimlite. They are currently working with C. Hudson Hwang for a multimedia audio-visual project called Figure 237. LAL also run a community-driven music venue called Unit 2 in Toronto, Canada and are a part of the R3 Collective, which is based upon the principles of ‘Roots, Rhymes and Resistance.’
Touring 10 countries, 3 continents, Pakistan and the Caribbean, the group has played opening galas for the Reel Asian Film Festival, have graced festivals across Europe, have opened for acts like Tricky, Nelly Furtado, Zaki Ibrahim and Roy Ayers. LAL have played Toronto's infamous city hall for Nuit Blanche, which was hosted by CBC’s George Strombo.
Their animated film Our Protection premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival, questioning the freedom of a Western country when tear gas and imprisonment are used as methods of safety.
LAL have had extensive radio play on Canada’s CBC Radio, have appeared on Germany’s Flux FM, have been featured by Democracy Now, as well as been the subjects of films and documentaries. LAL has graced the pages and covers of The Source, Rap Pages, NOW Toronto, The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, among others.
LAL on Wikipedia