MMM:038 – Sarathy Korwar
London based percussionist, drummer and producer Sarathy Korwar has quickly become one of my favourite artists. After receiving support from such musical luminaries as Four Tet and Gilles Peterson, his debut LP released last year legendary label Ninja Tune Records was one of the years musical high points. Fusing traditional Indian music with elements of more traditional jazz, folk and electronic music ‘Day to Day’ was acclaimed both within the jazz community and the wider music media. It’s a record that built upon a research trip Korwar took to India where he was inspired by the musical approach of the Siddi communities in Gujarat.
Siddi people are migrants, descendants from the Bantu people of Southern East Africa, slaves, merchants, sailors and mercenaries dispersed throughout various countries in the east as far back as the 7th century. Primarily Sufi Muslims, today they form a small minority of individuals in certain Indian districts including Gujarat where music is a cornerstone of the their communities. The influence of Sufism is strong, an ethos that encourages musical performers to surrender oneself completely to the music is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one adopted by the talented jazz percussionist. It was perhaps this total surrender that helped drive his staggering live performance at Richmix in London last year. The charming improvisational interplay between a group of musicians completely immersed in the music provided as satisfying a musical experience as I have had for a number of years.
On that night, one of the many standout performances from ‘Day to Day’, with it’s Reich-esque keyed opening, was the excellent ‘Indefinite Leave To Remain’. That title is an overt reference to a topic at the forefront of Sarathy’s creativity and one of the records wider themes, migration. For a man born in the US, raised in India and currently living in London, it’s fair to say it’s a subject for which he has his own personal reference points. So it’s within this context that his excellent Métron mixtape takes shape, a collection of tracks focusing on the music of India.
For a country and culture so rich in sensory pleasures, with its bright colours, powerful aromas, bustling streets, and spiritual heritage it’s little wonder that on his Métron Musik Mixtape, Sarathy takes us on a bold and psychedelic journey. Sauntering through contemporary Jazz, world folk, hip-hop, classical Indian music, with the constant patter of the tabla surrounded by bellowing vocals and incredible evocative Sarangi strings all add to the intoxicating sonic experience. One that lead me to devote more time to music of Indian origin and hopefully compels more people to do so.
We’re pleased to hear that Korwar is working on new material for his second LP but in the meantime head over to Ninja Tune and pick up the sensational ‘Day to Day’ and immerse yourself in some contemporary jazz fusion.
I got a chance to speak to Sarathy about his relationship with the Indian Sidi community and the thriving jazz community in London. Check out what the percussionist had to say below.
Can you tell us a little bit about the tracks you selected for your mix and what made you chose them?
All the tracks in the selection have an Indian music focus in some way or the other. I’ve focussed on tracks that have inspired me and have given me much food for thought.
What particularly drew you to researching and building the record around the Sidi community?
I was drawn to working with the Sidis because of their heritage, music and spirituality. The Sidis are African migrants who have settled in India over centuries and their music is a mix of East African, Sufi and Indian folk influences.
The musicians I worked with also have a very clear understanding of who they are and what their music is, which was very refreshing and should be a role model to us all.
I understand much of the Sidi community identifies as Sufi Muslims, can you tell us a bit about Sufism and the role that music plays?
I think the act of surrendering to God or music during a performance is central to their understanding of what music is and why they perform. The idea of something larger than oneself and having an experience that transcends ones own knowledge and body. That’s what the Sidis bring to their music and that’s what I try to remind myself of when performing.
You’re based in London at the moment where there seems to be a thriving ‘alt-jazz’ movement (for want of a better term) how is living in London affecting your music and the ability to showcase what you do?
London is a huge influence on the music I make. The kind of music I make let’s me create without having to fit into a specific genre or sound. London demands and empowers such a process and I am very grateful to be living here.
What have you got coming up in 2017 – a new record?
Yes! A new record is on its way. I’m working with some amazing South Asian Mcs and spoken word artists from Mumbai and the UK for the new album. There is an underlying theme of being brown in different parts of the world and what that might entail. There’s also a focus on the idea of ‘brown pride’ and celebrating all that that involves.
Can you recommend a few recent releases our listeners might have missed that we should all check out?
I really loved the new Grand Tapestry, Swetshop Boys and Steve Lehman’s Selebeyone records. Check em!s
Don Cherry/Latif Khan – Air Mail
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Sufi Song
Gundecha Brothers – Miyan Ki Malhar (Choutaal)
Grand Tapestry – Nagma
Narlai Village Troubadour – Traditional Song
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan/Ustad Zakir Hussain – Malkauns (Rupak Taal)