Where do you keep your Alternate Soul? In a Shaani Cage.

Kaleem & Aleem combine electronica & soul like mad scientists.
Photo by Henry Acteson

by Carey Rutherford

Kaleem & Aleem Khan are: Shaani Cage. And, I tell ya, you want to know who they are, if you have a single adventurous musical bone in your body. Developments in alternative soul. Music, that is.

“Last year at Sled, that was just our 2nd set ever as Shaani Cage, and they gave us an amazing opportunity to open for a band called Rye, who were one of the headliners of Sled last year. This year (Sled) gave us another opportunity where we’re playing 3 shows,and they put us on some pretty unreal bills. The Saturday one is going to be the mainstage, which for a local artist playing a festival is a pretty big deal.”

Kaleem, vocalist for Shani Cage and the older brother, is the third of fourth performer to compliment Sled Island on their lineup logistical magic.

“I think there’s quite a bit of focus there as well, to make sure that local artists aren’t pushed aside and sent to the far reaches of the city. Sled Island tries really hard, it seems, to put those local bands front and centre.”

I point out that Daniel Lanois, certainly the most acclaimed artist at the Island, performs in the middle of the Sled Island week at a small venue, and Shaani Cage, who’ve been performing for 1 year under that name, is on the mainstage 2 days later.

“Yeah. We haven’t played outside of Calgary yet, . . . so we don’t really have too much of a comparison. However I have gone to a number of Calgary festivals, I’ve heard a lot about Rifflandia . . . and all those west-coast festivals, and people travel from all over Canada to come and see Sled.”

I didn’t know that you could combine musics like Shaani Cage has done on their first EP, Daniel. It was a bit like the infamous Jimi Hendrix and The Monkees concert: what are these things doing together. In that case, it didn’t really work, but Shaani Cage has this electronic ocean coming at you, and then this R&B/soul vocal line comes in, and the unprepared response is: Holy Crap! It IS ‘Future Soul’! What IS this? And what the heck inspired them to do such a thing?

And, it’s really good.

“I was doing music solo, and I’ve been interested in a variety of music my whole life, and so had my brother (Aleem) . . . It’s difficult for me to describe (what Shaani Cage is doing), because I couldn’t do it by myself, and I don’t think Aleem could do it by himself either. It’s a strange intersection of both of our influences, that I guess it comes across as Shaani Cage . It is whatever it is.”

Spoken like a young band, which is what they are, after all. which results in a meandering question going towards the South Asian vocal line in the middle of their Barry White/electronica mashup?

“That (Bollywood-style vocal line) was a sample: I only wish I could pick that (skill) up. Our ethnic background is Pakistani, and we have a close connection to our parents. I think that’s a major theme of the project as well; being brothers, we want to explore our past, and our heritage. There’s just so much intersection between all of those, and we thought ‘We have the opportunity to showcase these things in our EP.’ So there are a lot of nods and references to (those influences), however the whole thing is an electronic (soul) piece.

“That being said, even in the track ‘Mississippi’, which is right in the middle of the album,there’s a voice on top talking about his experiences. That’s our dad.”

Referring to this use of ‘historical’ material in their samples, like the Bollywood lyric mentioned earlier, and some Bhangra-like samples splashed later in the disc, Kaleem notes that “Our parents are the ones that introduced us to those sorts of things, and as we continue we want to use more of those.”

I go on about the meeting place of these different things in Shaani Cage: how does the audience respond to such unique musical adventures?

“For us, the music is very emotional, and it can be very feel-good, Or it can be very intense at times for some people.. . . . I think we both try to make the experience as immersive as possible, to the point where people will come on this journey with us. And it seems that people are very willing to.

“While we’re playing, sometimes we’ll find the entire room is incredibly quiet. There’s some parts in our set when the background music will cut off and it’s just me doing falsetto, and you can’t hear anyone else (making a sound). For people to show us so much respect, I think it’s a testament to our city; people actually really care about the performer.”

Shaani Cage loves Sled Island: so will you.