Interview: Sarathy Korwar
Born in the US, raised in India and now living in London, the percussionist and composer has worked with a whole host of musicians. Classically trained on the tabla under the guidance of Shri Rajeev Devasthali and Pandit Sanju Sahai (Professor at the School of African and Oriental Studies), Korwar has performed with the likes of Karl Berger, Arun Ghosh and Shabaka Hutchings, to name but a few. As an alumnus of The Steve Reid Foundation’s development programme, he has been mentored by trustees Gilles Peterson, Four Tet, Floating Points, and Emanative.
Day To Day sees Korwar pursue his own solo work, giving him the freedom to combine this wide range of influences. The result is a wonderful amalgamation of jazz, electronics and field recordings of the Indian folk of Sidi musicians (descendants of African migrants in India). The Sidi community’s heritage can be heard on the album through the instrumentation of the Malunga bows and the use of Indian polyrhythms, a key part of Korwar’s percussive sound. Central to Korwar’s music is a belief in intuition, spontaneity and improvisation, which can be heard on the amazing ‘Mawra (Transcendence)’.
We got together with the man himself to discuss the concept and creative process behind the record.
Your music sees a unique fusion of the traditional music of the Sidi in India with jazz and contemporary electronic influences. Talk us through the creative process and how you approached the project.
My background is in Indian classical and contemporary jazz music. Of late, I’ve been drawn to folk traditions of music particularly because of the level of commitment and surrender that accompany the performance of it. The Sidis are a community with such a unique history and blend of influences that I was immediately drawn to making an album based around their music. The initial idea was to make a contemporary album around recordings of the Sidi musicians, and it all went from there really.
Transferring the rhythmic patterns of Indian classical music to non-Indian instruments has been a key part of your music. Tell us a bit more about this and why it’s important to you.
It’s important to me because it’s a way for me to bring together my influences and help me find a way to make original music. The way ‘time’ functions in Indian classical music is that it’s cyclical and not linear. Musical phrases can be broken down to their smallest rhythmic blocks and then reorganised to create complex syncopation. I use these techniques and concepts frequently while composing tunes or building improvisatory frameworks.
I’ve been struggling with questions of context, displacement and the relevance of doing the kind of thing that I do, in transferring material or concepts across genres/cultures. It’s been a very trial and error approach for me and sometimes I find something I feel works but often it can be very futile also.
You’ve worked with and been mentored by prolific musicians, from Shri Rajeev Devasthali and Pandit Sanju Sahai to the likes of Four Tet and Floating Points. What effect do you think this has had on the development of your own sound?
All the people you’ve mentioned have helped me develop and validate my own understanding of music. My tabla teachers have opened up many different musical possibilities and people like Four Tet have helped me understand that I should really trust my beliefs.
Talk us through the concept behind the title of the album, Day To Day.
Day To Day is attempt to draw a focus on to everyday daily routines and rituals, the significance of which can’t be overstated, for me anyway. It’s something I was struck by when spending time with the Sidis and also I guess something I had been thinking about around the same time. It’s a call to celebrate the so-called banal and repetitive nature of living… which is all very important I think.
For Day to Day, you worked with Sidi musicians in India, using a number of field recordings on the record. Tell us about the experience and how it’s reflected in the music.
I spent a week with the Sidi musicians in Gujarat, India and collected recordings of them performing their music. I then went into a studio with musicians from London and recorded the rest of the album around the field recordings. The whole thing was a great experience, from recording with the Sidis to spending time in a studio in Pune, India with the band from London. It was a very collaborative experience because we just went into the studio for four days and just played around some rough structures that I had worked out beforehand. I love all the other musicians I had invited to play on the record and just trusted their musicality and creativity to see it through. Wouldn’t have done it any other way.
The Steve Reid Foundation has been highly instrumental in making this record happen. For those who might not be familiar, can you explain what it is and how it’s helped you?
The Steve Reid Foundation is a charity set up by Gilles Peterson to help musicians in need and emerging musicians with the necessary mentorship. The foundation has offered massive support from the start when I was making the record to now (co-releasing the record with Ninja Tune). The mentors from the foundation helped me mix, produce and promote the project and have contributed a lot of time to giving it a push.
We’re really excited for the album launch party on the 14th July at Total Refreshment Centre. How does the album transfer to a live setting?
Most of the album was recorded live anyway so it shouldn’t sound very different to the album! It was recorded with everyone playing in a single large room and that’s essentially what the launch party is going to be, with a few more people in the room (I hope).
Finally, what’s the most exciting discovery (record or artist) you’ve made recently?
I’m a bit late to the party but I love Lianne Le Havas’ album Blood. So good.
Day To Day will be co-released by Ninja Tune and The Steve Reid Foundation on 8th July 2016.
Pre-order the LP/CD/MP3 from Ninja Tune here.
Get down to Total Refreshment Centre to see Sarathy Korwar perform at the album launch party on 14th July. Support comes from Emanative Percussion Ensemble and DJ Harv. Tickets and more information here.