Beat poet: Drummer-producer Sarathy Korwar on his unique confluence of sounds

Anurag Tagat

Jan 29, 2017 09:45:42 IST

You never know when there’s a meeting of electronic, jazz, classical and even indigenous music. Neither did Sarathy Korwar, to a certain extent, at least. The American-born, London-based drummer, percussionist and producer who has spent time in Pune, Chennai and Ahmedabad, has found himself at the same festivals and club billings as electronic music whiz kids and jazz wizards over the last few years.

Beat poet: Drummer-producer Sarathy Korwar on his unique confluence of sounds

Sarathy Korwar. Photo credit: Fabrice Bourgelle

The breakthrough, as it is widely reported, was being a part of the Steve Reid Foundation — founded by BBC Radio 6 jockey, influential record label owner and producer Gilles Peterson in memory of his New York buddy and jazz drummer. In 2015, Sarathy was one among five to be given the Steve Reid InNOVAtion award in its pilot year, and was under the wing of electronic music boundary-breaker Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet. Korwar says, “Having people like Gilles and Kieran (Four Tet) believe in my music has had a huge impact on me, particularly because I feel inherently more validated and self-assured. While one should always be making music without looking for outside approval, the reality is that these people are folks I really respect and look up to and having their seal of approval motivated me immensely.”

He was already working towards an album, but the Foundation’s development programme and InNOVAtion award hyped Sarathy’s work just when he needed it. In mid-2016, he released Day to Day – an album that presented a mix of tabla, folk songs of the the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur in rural Gujarat and spaced-out jazz. He says it was something he was working towards for a long time. “It’s been a long process just trying to develop a style that is honest to my reality as a person having lived both in India and the UK, growing up listening to rock n roll, jazz and playing the tabla. So in short, putting the different kinds of music together was more a pursuit of trying to find a sound that I wanted to represent myself with.”

Is the contemporary take on indigenous folk music just hipster value or a way of keeping a nearly forgotten form of music alive by documenting it? Sarathy answers in a completely different way, “Traditions keep evolving and aren’t ever static so this is the first misconception that exists I think. Also, more practically speaking, these collaborations do bring folk music to an audience that probably wouldn’t otherwise have heard it.”

Day to Day – released on Ninja Tune, one of the world’s leading sources of the best in UK underground music – received acclaim all over and even earned him a spot supporting American psychedelic jazz wonder Kamasi Washington on his UK tour for what were among Sarathy’s biggest shows to date. He recalls, “It was an incredible experience. Seeing how they function on tour, playing to large crowds of about 3,000 people (for jazz I think that’s big!) and just getting to spend some time with him and the band was something I won’t forget anytime soon. His father who also plays saxophone joined us on stage for a few tunes, which was really special.”

Of course, it also brought him to back to India with his band, performing at the Magnetic Fields Festival in Rajasthan and a string of club shows across the country in December. He says an India tour was something he’d been looking forward to for a long time. “It’s the first time our free jazz/noise bits have ever gotten a cheer from the audience! None of the band saw that coming,” Sarathy adds.

This time around, he’s already back in the new year to perform at arts and music festival GOAT in Morjim, Goa, between 27-29 January. Possibly due to budget cuts, Sarathy’s place will be behind a DJ console rather than a drumkit. He says, “It’s going to be an interesting experience as I don’t DJ that much but am really looking forward to playing some of my favourite jazz, funk, Indian dance records.”

Following his India performance, Sarathy is back to touring with the band until May and has just released Cicadas, a collection of pieces in which he’s fully showing off his Indian classical chops, tabla set to sitar and more. During his time in India for GOAT, Sarathy is going to set out with his field recorder once again, for more local sounds. He says, “My second album is going to feature some rappers and spoken work poets from Dharavi and South Asian MCs from the UK. I’m very excited about it and will be recording some more music when I come back to India for GOAT.”

Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 09:45:42 IST