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Riz Ahmed, Peter Cat Recording Co., Nabihah Iqbal and More Feature on New Community Platform/Compilation ‘Chalo’

Assam-origin, Brooklyn-based producer Jitwam and writer Dhruva Balram are creating a new collaborative space for South Asian artists

Anurag Tagat Nov 06, 2020

Artists such as hip-hop artist Riz Ahmed, producer-DJ Nabihah Iqbal, singer-producer Kavya and violinist-composer V.S. Narasimhan (clockwise from top left) are amongst 28 artists featured in the debut edition of the 'Chalo' compilation. Photos: Sharif Hamza (Ahmed), Courtesy of the artists (Iqbal, Narasimhan, Kavya)

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Despite the push that South Asian artists have had in recent years to find their music and image in mainstream conversations, the majority of them are “still in the margins,” as London-based writer and editor Dhruva Balram puts it.

Along with Brooklyn-based, Indian-origin artist Jitwam and his label The Jazz Diaries, they’re planning to change that via community platform Chalo. Releasing the first of what is likely an annual compilation, the 28-track Chalo spotlights artists including MC (and acclaimed actor) Riz Ahmed, his erstwhile hip-hop project Swet Shop Boys (with Indo-American rap voice Heems), U.K. DJ-producer Nabihah Iqbal, Kashmiri voices such as MC Kash and Ahmer, plus seasoned music-makers ranging from violinist-composer V.S. Narasimhan to New Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co. and Bengaluru duo Sulk Station.

Balram says, “India, alone, is a country of a billion people: how can it be pigeonholed into Panjabi MC and Priyanka Chopra? So, those conversations then turned to creating a platform of sorts where people can have their creativity felt by others who may want to collaborate with them. What we’re aiming for is people to find each other’s work and collaborate across borders.” 

With an eye on raising funds for charities such as India’s Human Rights Law Network and Karachi’s Zindagi Trust, Balram and Jitwam started out in June and faced several hurdles in terms of shortlisting and finalizing tracks for the compilation. “We reached out to as many as we could. Several couldn’t afford it. Others said no while we never received tracks from some even after a signed contract. These things happen. We’re under a pandemic. What we did try is ensure we could have as even a spread as possible,” Balram says. Jitwam adds, “Just got to take it one step at a time, and whilst the whole backend administration of licensing songs and talking to managers is a pain, it truly was a blessing to reach out and get to know some of the folks that are making amazing music from all around the world.” 

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Although it’s mostly tracks already out previously, Nabihah Iqbal’s trippy tune “Is This Where It Ends” released exclusively on Chalo in early October. The Pakistani-origin British artist believes there’s room to help each other even as there’s politically-motivated forces at work in India and Pakistan. She adds, “I’m glad that the proceeds from this record are going to help support charities in Pakistan and India and I hope the whole project will inspire other people to work together too and create something beautiful.”

Pakistani producer Talal Qureshi has two tracks on Chalo, including a collaboration with singer-singer-songwriter Natasha Noorani. Qureshi says about being part of the initiative, “Dhruva gave me the option to choose which tracks I’d like to get featured. But I let him decide, based on what he feels fit for the project. I am really happy with what is on record now.” 

With the first compilation out on Bandcamp Friday (during which the platform waives its service fees for all purchases), Jitwam and Balram are plotting future compilations that will cast a wider net in the region, hoping to include artists from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. Jitwam says, “We’re looking to continue this as an annual project to showcase South Asia creativity every year. Chalo H.Q. has been setup to elevate, inspire and spread the word of the amazing work of so many artists and musicians from the motherland and diaspora.” 

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Buy/Listen to ‘Chalo’ below. Net proceeds from this compilation go towards HRLN and Zindagi Trust

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