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Lights, Camera, Action

Karsh Kale is turning all those dreams in his head into reality, on his next album

rsiwebadmin Aug 10, 2010
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“If you can type 150 words a minute on the typewriter, you can sit there and play a kayda on the tabla very fast. If you are taught a repertoire, you can repeat that repertoire.” That is not musician and producer Karsh Kale, 35, dissing classical music. It’s him merely explaining his need to break out of the pure classical tradition. “When I was growing up, I was told by my [music] teachers that you should stop doing everything else and concentrate on [one instrument]. My cello teacher told me I shouldn’t play drums anymore. My drums instructor told me I shouldn’t play cello anymore. And my tabla instructor told me I shouldn’t play drums or cello. So I stopped learning from all of them.”

Growing up in a musical family in New York ”“ his father was a classical singer ”“ Kale was exposed to music ranging from classical to pop to hard rock to Hindi film. When travelling in the family station wagon, he, being the youngest of three kids, had no say in the kind of music being played in the car. “So on a four hour trip, it would be one hour of classical, one hour of Hindi film music, one hour of pop and one hour of rock,” he reminisces. “These four styles have always been part of me.” And not only did the young Karsh absorb these myriad styles of music, but he would go on to use them as soundtracks to movies ”“ in his head. It’s this very act of ”˜filmmaking’ that has inspired his next album, Cinema, due later this year. “I think all throughout my development as a producer, as a composer, as a musician, as a songwriter, I have always tried to go and search for where my inspirations lie. And I’ve always gone backwards,” says Kale. “And I think I’ve gotten to a point now where as much as I have gotten better at all those things, I also have come back to a child-like approach to making music.”

Kale, who started playing music when he was three years old, abandoned all preconceived ideas of what he should be doing based on trends and expectations, for the new album. Shunning the big-name collaborations he’s known for ”“ past associations include Anoushka Shankar, Herbie Hancock, Sting and Pt. Ravi Shankar ”“ Kale has chosen to keep Cinema a very personal album. All the guests on the album ”“ Midival Punditz, Shruti Pathak, Ranjit Arapurakkal, Monica Dogra, Papon, Vishal Vaid included ”“ are close friends he’s been working with for years now. “I wanted Cinema to be a lot more pared down,” explains Kale. “It’s lot more personal and less about guests. The guests that do play a role, do so because they know me very well. This is the album that I have been waiting to do since I started, but didn’t have the skill or mental capacity to be able to access that until now,” he says.

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Kale’s music has always been a fantastic blend of sounds, ranging from electronica to classical to folk to rock. And Cinema promises to be pretty much eclectic too, something that’s hardly surprising, given his inspirations. “Most of the people I looked up to as a child I still look up to ”“ even the people I have been able to work with,” says Kale. So besides Zakir Hussain, Pt Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel and Sting, he is inspired by bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead and composers like Stravinsky and Hans Zimmer. “The most inspiring artists for me are people who are able to retell old stories and put them in a new context for an audience; and at the same time be true to themselves. [Bruce] Springsteen is a man who’s been able to navigate through this world of ultrapop and ultratrend, and without ever setting his foot on any of that, he’s always been the Boss.”

Interestingly, Kale remembers some of these idols being held up as examples in his childhood, when he was told to expend all his energies on one instrument. “Even my father, at some point, would tell me that people like Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain have reached where they are because they concentrated on one instrument. Kale wasn’t quite convinced by that argument. So while he did study some material from the Punjab gharana, he really didn’t want to follow any particular gharana. Kale recalls spending hours playing the tabla alongwith jazz records, learning odd time signatures and trying to approach them in a different way. “For me, it was about being able to express my own stories and my own compositions,” he says. “It’s about proving that idea wrong. An instrument is just a piece of wood and skin unless a human being has something to say.”

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My Top Three

Karsh Kale picks his three favourite Indian bands, ones he think will be hitting the big time soon

Shaa’ir + Func

I’ve known both Monica [Dogra] and Randolph [Correia] separately for about ten years. And it was crazy because once they came together”¦ Like I said I knew them separately, and they didn’t know each other. So when I was told that these two people have met each other and are going to make music together, I knew it was going to be quite crazy. They have the potential to push it to another level. One thing is that they’re great songwriters. They write really good songs and the kind of songs they write, anybody can empathise or sympathise with”¦

Another Vertigo Rush

These guys are kinda still developing, but I heard their stuff and it’s definitely pushing the limits of rock and the new rock sound. [Guitarist] Viraj Mohan is actually somebody who works with us and so I’d been listening to his stuff. I’m very impressed with the direction that the band is taking and I think they’re definitely going to be able to push the doors open.

DJ Jayant

I have known Jayant for years and I have seen him grow leaps and bounds as an artist and a producer. And he is now definitely, I would say, the best DJ in India. I have seen him in many different scenarios. I’ve seen him play an entire four hour 80s set and mix it in a way that I have never heard anybody do it. He just has a great musical sensibility, and he’s got a particular cheeky style, which is very Jayant. On one hand, DJ is something where anybody can get up and rock the house if they have a bunch of good tracks. But somebody like Jayant puts his stamp on the sound on everything that he drops. Nothing is ever kept intact. It’s always manipulated and done in a Jayant way.

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