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The Playlist Special: Karsh Kale

The Indian-American multi-instrumentalist’s playlist is the bridge between Eastern and Western music, with artists ranging from Sudhir Phadke to Sting

Rolling Stone India Mar 28, 2016
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Karsh Kale Photo by Anja Matthes.

Karsh Kale Photo by Anja Matthes.

It is not surprising that Karsh Kale’s playlist includes names like Lata Mangeshkar and Sudhir Phadke alongside Radiohead, Bill Conti and Sting. The Indian- American musician whose music has been bridging the East-West divide lets us in on what it was like living in an Indian household in America back in the Seventies, through this selection of songs.

1. “Roundabout” Yes, 1971 

I first heard this song when I was five years old. Music had a recognizable pattern till I heard Yes. The composition and musicianship on this song upped the ante and surely made me want to attempt to be like them. I sat for hours playing along with this track and to this day, I get the same feeling when I hear it.


2. “Bhor Bhaye Panghat Pe” Lata Mangeshkar, 1978 

The first Hindi film I ever saw in the theatre was Satyam Shivam Sundaram. That was a heavy film for a little kid to see ”“ I think my parents perhaps cringed a bit when Zeenat Aman danced across the screen in that deliciously skimpy outfit with a water bowl on her head – but I still remember that moment vividly. What I most remember was when I heard this song for the first time. I remember for weeks after I would walk around humming this melancholic melody from a song I knew nothing about. I always imagined it to be a very sad song, even though that rhythm was swinging like a good hip-hop tune.


3. “YYZ” Rush, 1981 

Once I heard “YYZ,” my journey with the drums began. For me, the Eighties started with this album and particularly with this seminal instrumental. For drummers around the world who grew up in the Eighties , “YYZ” was a like an entire drum school packed into one piece. To be able to play it from top to bottom was a badge of honour and meant that you were a badass on the kit.

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4) “Mad About You” Sting, 1991 

Sting has influenced me in so many ways over the years as I have literally picked apart and studied every nuance of much of his music. “Mad About You” is one of those songs that I look to as a pinnacle of song-writing. The way he makes profound, poetic metaphors dance over the music in a way that you can see what he is talking about, is unique to Sting. Few artists can claim to have this ability to write lyrics that are just as powerful when read aloud, but then put to sophisticated arrangements wrapped in a cloak of pop music.

5) “Hasty Boom Alert” μ ziq (Muzique), 1997 

I first hear this track in college while at NYU. There was something profound in this superbly composed synth melody. Then there is the drum program that simply defies the rules of the dancefloor. I remember I would walk to class with my headphones on dreaming about how I was going to show the world one day that I could make music like this.


6) “Alberto Balsalm” Aphex Twin, 1995 

Around the same time in college, I discovered Aphex aka Richard D James. He redefined what electronic music could be. There was so much of him in the music. Though it was electronic, it didn’t sound like machines. This track in particular was another them for me…. If “Hasty Boom Alert” was a morning track, this was my evening track. This is what I would listen to as the sun would go down and I thought about how to infiltrate the city.

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7) “Red Rain” Peter Gabriel, 1986 

“Red Rain” opens the album with this anthemic feel and imagery. I loved that he had three different drummers play on the song to get the exact effect he desired. Stewart Copeland on hi hats, Jerry Morrato on toms and Manu Catche on kick and snare”¦ Only Peter Gabriel could do that.

8) “Subterranean Homesick Alien” Radiohead, 1997 

Like many, I discovered Radiohead when OK Computer came out. This particular song became another theme for me. I often dreamed of contact with other worldy beings [drug experimenting days] and this song brought that notion to life. There is a loneliness in the verses and then the chorus surrounds you with light.

9) “Dhundi Kalyana” Sudhir Phadke 

In our house growing up , Sudhir Phadke’s music was a staple. My father not only loved his music but played it as well. I remember he came to stay at our house a few times when he would tour the U.S. He encouraged me to not only continue to play table but to continue to play drums as well.

10) “Going the Distance” Bill Conti, 1976 

As a kid , I used to listen to this composition over and over again while pretending to be some kind of super hero. Even when I hear it now, I become that kid again. I love how it begins with multiple syncopated melodies build and build until they converge into one anthemic and triumphant, almost like a call to war.

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