Artiste in Focus: Sarathy Korwar’s music is all about connection to his roots

At the recent Magnetic Fields Music Festival, composer-percussionist Sarathy Korwar spoke about his musical influences, time spent with the Siddi tribe and his next project with Dharavi kids.

Written by Ragini Verma | Alsisar | Updated: December 18, 2016 7:24 pm
sarathy-korwar_759_website Sarathy Korwar’s first album Day to Day is heavily influenced by Siddi music.

He is a jazz musician with flavours of three continents. No wonder then at the recently concluded Magnetic Fields Music Festival in Alsisar, Sarathy Korwar brought the house down with his foot-thumping beats and fusion music. At the fourth edition of the annual electronic music festival in Rajasthan, this percussionist-composer presented a different mix of rhythms featuring field recordings of Siddi musicians, tribal descendants of African migrants who currently reside in Gujarat, and some other pockets of India.

It is this Indian twist in his pulsating music that makes him our Artiste in Focus at the Magnetic Fields festival. As his bio says, ‘At the centre of Sarathy’s aestheic is a strong faith and reliance on intuition, spontaneity and improvisation’. We caught up with Korwar – whose first album Day to Day was released in July this year – at the sidelines of the festival to find out more about the musician.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

How has growing up across three continents influenced your music?
Growing up across three continents is a little bit of a red herring. I was born in the US and lived there until I was 2, then I moved to India. I mean I have grown up in India all my life, and I moved to London when I was 22-23. So, it has influenced my life because like a lot of us growing up in India in the ’90s and 2000s, we were listening to a lot of Western music, to rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, and I was also growing up with Indian classical music in my house – so it’s that combination which is very natural to me that might seem like a mix of culture, but for me its just how I grew up.

Watch the full interview with Sarathy Korwar here

The Siddi tribe in India isn’t much known except in a stereotypical sense. What did your time with them teach you?
They are like normal freelance musicians at the end of the day – a performing troop of musicians, very marginalised community of people. But the Siddis are hustling just like I am in a way. They are trying to make a living playing music. Of course, there’s this whole spiritual side to what they do and sacred music, but they are also normal people. And you can’t help but like them. I was at first wary to see if I should be conscious about how I talk to them, but they are very generous; open with their music. Just made me sit down and played to me, I recorded them in different parts of their village. So, incredibly normal is the best compliment I can give.

This album (Day To Day) is definitely influenced by them a lot because it is based on a lot of field recordings I made when I went to visit them. Basically, we used the field recordings as a starting point to a lot of the songs, so we picked rhythmic ideas, melodic ideas from their music and decided to expand upon them in our own way. So, ultimately, the song is a combination of their recordings and our take on their music.

Check out what went on at the Magnetic Fields festival

Over the years, how has progressive Indie jazz music in India evolved?
There have been phases of ups and downs in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1960s and 1970s, and even before that in the 1930s. I think it’s on its way up because a lot of musicians are studying abroad and moving back and starting their own thing – deeply influenced by what’s happening currently. Everybody in India – like the upper middle class – have the same kind influences as anybody else has in the West because our access points are exactly the same, we watch the same Internet channels, we watch the same Youtube channels, so electronic music is obviously huge here. I do not know why it’s bigger than other genres, I think there is certain amount of access which comes with dance music, which is global.

What’s your impression of the Indian crowd and their reception to electronic music?
So, the first time we ever got a cheer for a free improvised or a noise jam on stage was in Bombay at Anti-Social and at Magnetic Fields. We were really surprised with all the cheering. So, in a way, people are really open because it is music that nobody has heard so much of. We call it jazz, which it is, but it is also not the kind of jazz people are used to hearing.

Take 10 with the magnetic Prince of Alsisar

What is it about electronic music that connects with people?
Ultimately, when people are listening to live music they don’t think about genres that much. They are there to enjoy themselves and they are there to kind of connect to the music, and I think that’s what people are doing.

Next project?
So, I’m doing a new album basically with MCs, and have spoken to rappers from Dharavi. So, kids were rapping in Hindi, Marathi and English, but talking about stuff they were going through. They were incredible. And I’m also working with some South Asian MCs from the UK. I’m trying to make this jazz album with spoken word poets and hip-hop artistes on it, where it’s about being South Asian, diaspora of South Asian but also local in terms of where they are from from the slums in Dharavi. I think there would be an interesting dialogue between those two.

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