Indian-American composer and multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale is a pioneering figure who has helped define the Asian Underground genre, collaborating with artistes such as Sting and Anoushka Shankar. Born in England and brought up in New York, Kale’s visits to India have stepped up in recent years for various collaborations, including forays into Bollywood.
His fifth studio album Cinema released earlier this year in the US and is due for release in India in the next few months.
A first-timer at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, he spoke to us about working in Bollywood, using social media and the changes in India’s indie circuit. Edited excerpts:
You’ve started composing for Bollywood, the most recent being for ‘Soundtrack’ (2011). How different is your approach in films?
It’s definitely the difference between helping to tell a story and telling your own story. My work tends to be more personal, and basically a soundtrack for my own experiences. Films allow me to step outside.
What will you be performing at NH7?
It’s meant to be a surprise...What I can say is that I am putting together a special performance at the Bacardi Together stage.
Has the indie scene heated up in India in recent years?
Most definitely, and this is mostly due to the more discerning listeners, who are demanding better concerts and better venues. To be fair, a lot of the indie artistes who are getting recognition now have been doing this for a long time. It’s their years of struggle that’s made all of this possible.
What role have artiste websites and direct interaction with a fan base played in this?
A big role. The middle man—the mainstream label or Bollywood entity—which used to be the only way an artiste could get exposure. has gone. With the Internet, Facebook, SoundCloud, MySpace, etc...there is less of a hype machine at work and more of a direct choice for the listener.
Are you big on social media and promoting your gigs online?
I am able to share tour dates and experiences on a regular basis. This is truly a new phenomenon in the world of a musician.
How would you describe your sound? An elevator pitch for Karsh Kale, if you will.
If I were to say that my sound is a fusion of electronica, rock and Indian classical music, it locks me into that space. How do you describe the collective influence of Led Zeppelin, Zakir Hussain, Stevie Wonder, Ravi Shankar, Run DMC, Rush, Underworld, Peter Gabriel, Stravinsky, The Police, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nusrat, Aphex Twin, John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, Hans Zimmer, Bjork, Tori Amos, Depeche Mode, Queen...because that’s the pool from which I draw my influences, and I don’t know what that is called.
Which city or venue in India have you most enjoyed performing at in recent times?
Two years ago, I performed with the Punditz, Randolph and Ajay Prasanna in Coimbatore at the Isha Foundation for a huge Shivratri concert. There were over 400,000 people in attendance (the largest crowd I have played for) and the energy was immeasurable.