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New Culture, New Sounds

July 2004
New Culture, New Sounds

Karsh Kale and Saurabh Bose explore music without borders.

By Alka Roy

An Indian Classical aalap over electronic beats, Hip-Hop infused with tabla and sarod, it's an amalgamation of sounds and styles from the world over? but the flavor is definitely Asian; or to be more geographically specific, South Asian.

The music is called Asian Massive but like other styles in its formative years, this music is also known by many other names?Asian Underground, Tabla Electronica and more.

Asian Massive found its groove in clubs and lounges but its proponents who collaborate with diverse artists in this process?Indian classical, Hip-Hop, Rock?assert the versatility of this style. It's not the traditional fare. It's a mix of sorts, a mood, a way to package diverse and disparate sounds and forms into something that has its own feel. And like the music, the fans are also diverse and global, craving a bit of mystery.���

Before their show at MJQ in Atlanta, I sat down with two vanguards of this style, Karsh Kale and Saurabh Bose, to talk about their music.

Kale, who lives in NYC, is one of the defining personalities of the Asian Massive scene. He has several albums to his credit including Realize and Liberation and has worked with the likes of Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan, Bill Laswell and Talvin Singh. Saurabh Bose a.k.a. Sharaab is from Atlanta. Kale calls him a "visionary" and though Sharaab has been playing his music well before the style was really defined, he recently released his first album, Infusion.

What is Asian Massive?

KK: It's the continuation of a new artistic voice within our generation, whether it is in America or the Diaspora. There are a lot of DJs and DJ producers who are pushing Asian Massive. It's an identity. Like Hip-hop is an identity. In every major city there is a party going on [with this music].

There appears to be some confusion about what this music is about. What's the difference between a DJ at a party and when you guys DJ a show?

KK: We are producers and artists, and also songwriters as opposed to DJs who may be playing at weddings or what the crowd is expecting for a particular function. This is about who we are and how it reflects of the audience as opposed to just appeasing the audience.

Where does your inspiration come from?

SB: Every single artist has their own set of inspirations, Indian Classical, Indian Folk and we listen just as much to Western music?Classic Rock, Hip-Hop, Techno, whatever it may be. For each artist, it's different.

Who are some of the artists making this music that we should watch out for?

KK: MIDIval PunditZ, Cheb i Sabbah, Makio in Japan, Dravidians from Paris, Visionary Underground, DJ Navdeep, DJ Rekha?

Really, would you characterize DJ Rekha's (well known for creating the Bhangra scene in NYC) music as Asian Massive?

KK: It's not about her music, it's about her attitude. We are not making music for Asian people. We are making music for all people. Sometimes it gets confused with Bollywood remix or Hindi Pop or Bhangra which is not necessarily a fair comparison. The identity is two fold; that we are Asian but that we are "other" as well and that other needs to reflect off of that so that people from all walks can feel what we are tying to say.

There are all these terms that start out wanting to define something and then get confusing, there's South Asian, Fusion, Asian Massive. How much do you want to own this term? Is it for marketing or do you identify with it beyond that?

KK: At the end of the day any kind of label (or) name you put on it is simply so that you can have something that sticks. There is only so far, we as individuals can scream, before somebody else has to pick it up and scream so that it reaches other people. So we call it Asian Underground, Asian Massive, Asian Electronica or Tabla Electronica whatever you want to call it.

In NYC, San Francisco, London, Bombay, Tokyo and other cities around the world, this music has developed its own scene but what about Atlanta?

SB: Atlanta is ten years behind in everything!


SB: Absolutely, (all kind of music) with the exception of Hip-Hop. With Hip-Hop you see outgrowth of pioneers, Outcast and groups like that [from Georgia]

Karsh, you have worked with some very well known artists like Zakir Hussain and Sultan Khan?that must help?

KK: Yes, I was a musician first. I am a tabla player and a drummer. So besides being a producer and DJ or anything to do with Asian Massive, I had developed a career as a session musician and as a musician for hire and that has allowed me to bring a lot of different influences in this genre as well.

When I first heard "Realize", I wasn't a big fan of electronic music, but what stood out with your album was that I could sit and listen to the music and all these diverse sounds, from classical to western, sounds that are familiar to us from different places being brought into one place.

KK: When I make an album, I am not trying to make an electronica album but an album like you said you can listen to. I didn't make a track that you only listen to in a club and the approach to music is kind of to try and draw from different influences of whether it be folk, or ghazal or classical or hip-hop and then trying to take the form of one and applying to the other. What we don't hear in music but we feel is the form.

What's your focus after Liberation?

KK: I am working with a lot of artists. But my goal is to be able to imbed the sound in modern music. The sound we are creating is not a fad, not a fashion -so 2004, but timeless. It's something we have grown up with?it's Indian music, Indian Classical, Raas, moods that have been perfected over thousands of years. And what we are doing is re-contextualizing, putting it in a new context for the new generation to understand the same story.

Saurabh, a lot of tracks in Infusion seem to be influenced by Bangla folk music.

SB: I am Bengali, so the language and culture, I want to incorporate more of that into what I am doing.

On average, how much time you spend on your music?

SB: 24 hours a day. It's a full time job while I know some other artists are doing other stuff, what I focus on is music. I teach music production at school, I am at the studio the rest of the time, or at home and my home studio.

KK: This is not necessarily just about a sound, it's about people, it's about artists and its not a faceless genre like Bhangra, House Music, where it's more about the sea of sound and not individual artists.

Some of the Bhangra musicians may disagree.

KK: No, I am not saying that the Bhangra bands don't have a following and don't have fans but they are fans because they are also fans of the genre. And yes there is individuality in every single style of music. But though Asian Massive may be a style, it's at such an infantile stage that it's about individuals, about their individual music. And just like one would be able to connect with Norah Jones or a songwriter who is telling you something intimate about (him/her), in the same way that's what these artists are doing.

Any particular artist you learned a lot from?

KK: Zakir, Zakir, Zakir. He is the reason why I started playing tabla and he remains such an inspiration as an artist and as a musician and so many things. As a person, someone who is able to balance himself and hold these two worlds up, these two torches up at the same time. Not only has been such an inspiration, eventually became somebody who validated everything I was doing.

One thing about what it is that we do is that there is no guru, there's nobody to tell us that now you are ready to go forth and do what you do. We need that kind of validation from musicians, from the Classical field and Indian artists who have all come out now and see the validity.

And you don't think your work is done yet?

KK: Absolutely not. We are not going anywhere. It's not about our work. It's about what we can lay down for the next generation to be able to lay down. We have come to a new world and we are creating a new culture and this is the sound of that.

To find out more about their albums and club dates, visit their website: www.karshkale.com (Karsh Kale) and www.sharaab.com (Saurabh Bose)

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