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On a Worldly Trip

The sounds of Worldly, a series of club nights held in 2005 in San Francisco, are recaptured in a new
compilation, out this month

Ambika Keshavan Apr 07, 2014
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Cheb I Sabbah (in red) was one of the central figures of the Worldly club nights

Cheb I Sabbah (in red) was one of the central figures of the Worldly club nights

On a chilly winter night in 2005, the crowd at F8, a San Fran­cisco club known for pushing the alternative scene, warms up to the sounds of dub, drum n bass, Sufi music and more. Over time, these club nights known as ”˜Worldly’ would become a worthy successor to the famed Asian underground movement in the UK in the 1990s, which influenced a generation of South Asian musicians.

To revive the spirit of Worldly, Sony Music India’s sub-label Day 1 is set to release a com­pilation of specially composed music from that time. San Francisco-based Janaka Atu­goda aka Janaka Selekta, founder of World­ly, who is curating the project, has been mak­ing a name for himself as an electronic DJ/ producer. Janaka has combined diverse dub and bass sounds on the dance floor with reg­gae, DnB and breakbeat, sometimes com­bined with rich classical Indian instrumen­tation. The DJ, who believes it is time to revive Worldly, says, “San Francisco under­ground music is resurgent and there are no other events catering to dance music with el­ements of vocals and instruments that are non-western. Dance music is very one-sid­ed, given that instrumentation that has de­veloped over centuries in non western lands is under-represented. India has so many in­credible vocalists and instrumentalists that could easily mesmerize audiences anywhere else in the world. We are connecting these seemingly disparate worlds and can see In­dian audiences embracing that connection between dance music and Indian instrumen­tation,” he says.

The foundation for Worldly was built over many years. Between 1999 and 2006 an art­ist collective called Dhamaal, from the San Francisco Bay, grew from a house party to a regular Saturday monthly event that show­cased live Indian classical music on one floor and heavy dance music such DnB with live tabla on another.

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The shows included acts such as Dr. Das from Asian Dub Foundation, Bobby and Nihal of BBC Radio 1, Karsh Kale and more. Says Janaka “The events were well attended and we were awarded Best of the Bay by the SF Guardian two years in a row. In 2005, the largest club in San Fran­cisco with four rooms and a capac­ity of 2,500 approached me to do a show at their venue. The event head­liner was my good friend and global music producer/DJ Cheb I Sabbah.”

For Karsh Kale who was a regular at the events and part of the crew, it was always an adventure. “SF was one of the hubs of the scene. Worldly became an intersection be­tween the Asian electronic scene, the dub and bass culture scene, the Burning man scene and the general SF progressives. Worldy pro­vided a fertile ground for all the artists who played there to shine and share something new. I’ve played live a few times and rocked many a DJ set alongside Janaka, the Punditz, DJ Amar, Dragonfly and of course, our dearly departed Cheb I Sabbah, who was one of the central figures of the event,” he says.

Dr. Das from Asian Dub Foundation, who was also a resident performer at the Worldly events was skeptical of the word world music at first, but instantly saw the continuation of the Dhamaal collective. “Both the rehearsed and the spontaneous interaction between the electronic and acoustic musicians and the re­spect for each others’ forms was a strong part of the concept,” Das says. He talks about one such interesting night that brings back fun memories. “We had a one-girl stage inva­sion from Micropixie getting up and dancing and a bhangra troupe, ”˜Dhol Rhythms’ com­ing on to do a rehearsed choreography of my Bhangra version of ”˜Sound of the Police’. You should have seen the shock on people’s faces,” he laughs.

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After losing a great deal of money over a badly managed night, Worldly events came to a halt. “Large venues can be tricky. To my surprise they had booked two shows on a Worldly night with separate entrances for each event. We were given the entrance without cashier booths. Many walked in for free in the confusion and I lost $7,000 that night. The shows had become increasing­ly expensive, with the least expensive show costing $12,000. After that show my ca­reer as a fulltime musician/promoter had to take a back seat and I joined Yahoo as a project manager/business analyst,” explains Janaka.

The compilation released by Sony in­cludes artists from different genres of elec­tronic music including David Starfire with Dub Kirtan All Stars, Rebirth, Gods Ro­bots, Desert Dwellers, Janaka Selekta and Sat Juttla, among others. David Starfire, who has toured India before, presents a heavy mix of dub-fueled sounds with Indian influ­ences. Says Starfire,“This will be our first re­lease with a label from India. We have a song called ”˜Sita Ram’ that was on a com­pilation for the late Cheb I Sabbah on Six Degrees records that is avail­able in India. We have been influ­enced by South Asian culture for many years and curious to see the reaction from people in India.”

With support from both India and US-based artists, this project now brings Worldly to India. “A new system needs to be built so that artists are united in the way they are respected by all involved,” says Sam Zaman aka State Of Bengal. In Kale’s words, “Worldly was always two steps ahead. It was all inclusive yet curated care­fully to allow the best and the newest to shine each session. I think it’s high time for a Worldly India.”

This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India

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