'The music has to play in my head first'

Global strains

'The music has to play in my head first'

Karsh Kale is widely regarded as a pioneer of global fusion and electronica. His music has inspired and defined the worldwide club phenomenon known as ‘Asian Massive’ or ‘Asian Underground’ in the early part of the decade.      

Today Karsh is a well-known name in the global musical industry, having played with leading artistes like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Sting, Zakir Hussain, Herbie Hancock, Lenny Kravitz, Anoushka Shankar, Bill Laswell, Paul Oakenfold and so on. In the city to perform at Koramangala Social, Karsh talks to Rajitha Menon about a life steeped in music and his admiration for Zakir Hussain.

It is said that your father introduced you to a wide variety of music? What made you pick out percussion instruments?
I was always interested in drums. I started playing on a makeshift kit of pots and pans at around 13 to 14 years of age, till my father got me a proper one. My dad was always playing Indian music in the house and tabla was my gateway into this world. Also, I went to watch a Zakir Hussain concert with my father once and that was the clincher; I became enamoured by the world of percussion instruments.

What are your practice sessions like?
I don’t have a ritual practice session because I do so many different things. I could be playing the table or working with composers or making music on the piano. Depending on what I am doing, I figure out the best way to go about it.

Who do you admire in the musical field?
Zakir Hussain remains one of my favourites; not just as a tabla player but as a musician who chose to defy the rules. He took the table to places where it had never been before. In fact, musicians who take an art form and flip it around, like Peter Gabriel, are always people I admire.

Some things you keep in mind while working on a project...
It has to be a honest expression of my feeling. I have always heard people talk about the importance of having a concept; I don’t subscribe to that. The music has to play in my head first. And experimenting with classical music does not mean I keep a list of do’s and dont’s. We are a global family now and are a mix and match of influences. We are fusion in ourselves so nothing is taboo anymore.

Thoughts about the music scene in India..
It is brilliant; the space is ever-growing and ever-dynamic. There are so many new artistes out there who are trying things and experimenting with stuff. I love the fact that they have the courage to do this. This is probably one of the reasons why India is one of the most culturally advanced countries.

What do you do to get inspiration on particularly dull days?
If I am working on something for myself, I stop. There is no point in forcing myself to write something. If I am working on multiple projects, I just switch to something else. It is easy that way; keep one aside and work on another one till you get hit by a burst of creativity and rush back to your earlier project. You don’t end up banging your head on the wall.

What do you do in your spare time?
I read and lately I have been writing a lot more. Since I am mostly travelling, I use my off days to spend time with my family, especially my daughter. We play music together or go for movies.

What is the best part about being a celebrity musician?
I don’t consider myself a celebrity; it would be odd to think of yourself that way. But it is nice to be recognised, especially when people come up to you and tell how your music affected them. I have had people telling me how my music helped them in tiding through some rough times in their lives and it made me feel very happy. That is the best part about being me.

A misconception about you that you would like to clear...
People assume that just because I am an independent musician, I am against Bollywood. Not just me, there is a sort of divide created between Bollywood musicians and independent artistes. I think that is unnecessary. Music is music at the end of the day. Every genre of music has good and bad in it.

(Karsh Kale will play at Koramangala Social on March 18, 10 pm onwards. Entry is free)

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