Spinning his magic

Spinning his magic

Musical musings

Spinning his magic

He wears many hats, that of a tabla player, drummer, DJ/remix artiste, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, film composer, band leader and curator, with equal elan. New York-based Karsh Kale lends to the world of music an unparalleled charm with the diverse roles that he takes on.

With a huge fan following both in India and abroad, the musician spins magic wherever he goes. That became clearly evident when Obama praised him in 2013 as one of the performers who fuse the best of East and West. He also recently released his album ‘UP’.

Bengalureans were more than mesmerised when he performed in the city for ‘Art Bengaluru’ with the Karsh Kale Collective. Karsh took time off to chat with Anushree Agarwal about his art, the moment with Obama and why he thinks Bengaluru is similar to New York.

Do you feel music is an inherent or acquired talent?

The ability to appreciate and feel music, which I think everyone possesses, is inherent. That’s why it’s such a universal language. However, the ability to play and perform music is a different kind of talent altogether.

There are varied levels of performance and skills, some people perform to show their physical skills while some do to try and reach the heartstrings of an audience. I always think that in the end, whether you’re a musician or a producer or a listener, if you can truly feel the music, that’s when it becomes most profound.

Growing up in the US, how do you have a strong Indian music influence?

My father was a huge Indian classical music fan. He sort of set a standard in the household of what we were listening to but never forced us. We were free to choose for ourselves. For a while, I rebelled against Indian music but later on, I started to surprise myself with how much I actually knew about it due to the exposure at home. We would go on these long road trips and I was stuck between my father’s Indian classical music and the radio. And that was the beginning of my
own brain starting to connect these two worlds musically.

You’re a self-taught tabla artiste...

It’s a very particular style that I have concentrated on where the hardcore classical tabla meets electronic music. I’ve taken the tabla as a piece of the puzzle that I put together in my music. I am still a student, learning and trying new things
each day. I never took the conventional route as a musician.

You received a prestigious compliment from Obama...

There was a point when I was going through these doubts as things in the States started dying down. I had a regular career for about 16 years there and then started to feel that my time is done and people are going to forget about this movement that I was involved with.

I was thinking of leaving when I got invited to play at the White House and I was like maybe I should stay! When he praised me, it struck such an incredible chord and reminded me of all the struggle we had gone through just to be able to make a cultural noise. I was actually from the first generation of Indians or Asians that didn’t have an identity. For us to make this music meant a lot and to be acknowledged by the president was great! Truly, I wasn’t expecting it.

New York is a melting pot of cultures. Do you feel Bengaluru is close?
I would probably have to spend more time in Bengaluru to be able to experience the kind of things that I did when I was an upcoming musician in New York. When I started, I met different people who played traditional music from where they came and they came to New York to allow it to do its thing to their music. If Bengaluru is allowing that space to its artistes, it’s great.

One spends a certain amount of time focussing on a particular artform and then they should throw themselves into the ocean because that’s the real test. In the world of music, you just have to see how your language works with other languages. In that sense, Bengaluru is like NY. People from all walks of life are interacting here and it has a very open-minded and appreciative audience that one rarely finds.

When not making music...

I try spending time at home, read books and indulge in cooking, constantly experimenting with new things just as in music.

What’s next?

Among other things, I am producing an Indian classical electronic album with sarod players Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan.

Any advice for aspiring musicians?

Immerse yourself in as much music as you possibly can from all over the world and don’t get stuck in one particular form.

Even if you’re studying one form, you should be aware of everything around you because these are languages that people speak just like other (literal) languages around the world.

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