Originally published in the Hindu Metroplus on March 30, 2012.
British-born Indian-American composer Karsh Kale’s music is as diverse as his cultural upbringing has been. Gaining fame at the turn of the millennium, Kale is now one of the foremost names in electronica and fusion music.
Surely then, these genres are close to Kale’s heart. “People think if you take a sarod player and guitar player and have them play together, that is fusion. It’s not until they share some meals, talk about their lives, and try and walk in each other’s shoes that true fusion begins to occur,” he says.
On his latest album ‘Cinema’, Kale produces beats, dhols and even riffs that are complemented by vocals delivered by the likes of Anne Rani, Monica Dogra, Papon, Vidhi Sharma, Todd Michaelsen and Shruti Pathak. But it’s not as though artists with such varied musical backgrounds form Kale’s motley crew. A few of them are from his hometown of New York.
“Most of the artists I work with are close friends and people I have worked with in the past,” he says, adding that he appreciates those “who are open and inspired to explore new territory rather than those who are fixed in their ways”. Kale is full of praise for his “daring and bold” collaborators, including MIDIval Punditz, Anoushka Shankar and Salim Merchant.
On his tour of the country to promote the release of a special Indian edition of ‘Cinema’, Kale was joined by instrumental rock wizard Warren Mendonsa (Blackstratblues) for a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ fused with a reprise of ‘Ode to a Sunny Day’. Kale is no stranger to the indie scene in India, despite the recent string of work scoring Bollywood films.
On the current scene, he agrees artists are slowly gaining acceptance from the mainstream music industry, and that this is mostly due to fan support. “People are demanding better music, better concerts and better concert venues as there is a movement away from the same old mainstream stuff that has been served up for so long.
“A lot of the ‘indie’ artists that are getting recognition today have been doing this for a long time; they are not new artists and it should be acknowledged that years of struggle is what brought us to this revolutionary time in music in India,” he says.
The DJ is not one to pick sides and have preferences between Bollywood and his own music, though. Kale’s work with Midival Punditz on movies such as Karthik Calling Karthik and Dum Maaro Dum seems to indicate the foray into scoring films unlike any other Bollywood has previously seen. “I love working on films. It’s an opportunity to put on a very different hat in the studio. It calls upon elements of my creativity that I might not even address in my own work.
“It’s a great thing to do between album cycles. It’s good for me to step away from my own work then come back with some fresh new approaches to the music I am making,” he says.
The songs on ‘Cinema’ tend to be cohesive in the sense of being suited for a film or musical. Thematically, Kale says the songs cover “survival, evolution of the self and identity”. Looking ahead, Kale explains his love for films and where it is taking him: “I have been interested in film music since being a child. I am looking forward to scoring some more cross-over, independent or even Hollywood films.”
One thing we know from Kale for certain, though: “Bollywood didn’t exactly happen as much as we (Midival Punditz and Karsh Kale) started getting asked to do films. We don’t exactly have the plan to take over Bollywood.”
And as long as albums such as ‘Cinema’ see him return to India for tours, the current crop of Bollywood music directors have a little less to worry about.