Sarathy Korwar

“I think in particular Rajeev Devasthali really kind of opened up this whole world of percussion and rhythm to me… He broke things down almost in a way that one teaches somebody a language.” – Sarathy Korwar


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Ninja Tune recording artist, tabla player and drummer Sarathy Korwar takes time out to discuss with Michael J Edwards about his debut project ‘Day To Day’ before taking to the stage at the Total Refreshment Centre, London for the album showcase launch.

Michael J Edwards: Greetings Sarathy Korwar – it’s a pleasure to meet you. You were born in the USA, raised in India, how did exposure in those two cultures impact on you musically in your formative years?

Sarathy Korwar: I was born in the US but I can’t claim to have spent any time there really… My family moved back to India when I was three months old. I grew up in a place called Ahmedabad which is on the western side of India; and then I also grew up in a place called Chennai which is in the South; and also a place called Puni which is again close to Bombay. After that I moved to London.

Michael J Edwards: Why music and not cricket?

Sarathy Korwar: I play cricket! Everyone plays cricket! Cricket in India is a bit like football in Brazil, everyone is playing it… I’m a pretty good off-spinner to be honest. Music just kind of happened because I was playing Tabla since I was eight years old. I continued playing through my teens and always wanted to play drums, so as soon as I could convince my parents to buy one, I was playing both instruments as much as I could and it all went from there really.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: Did your parents play any part in your musical development?

Sarathy Korwar: They’re both actually semi-professional singers, so they were very supportive. I grew up with a lot of Indian classical music in the house with them both singing all the time. So the vibe was always there and they never told me not to play, they always said I should play.

Michael J Edwards: You’re classically trained on tabla under the tutelage of Sri Rajeev Devasthali and Pandit Sanju Sahai. What insights into the instrument did they bring to your playing and understanding of the instrument?

Sarathy Korwar: Obviously they taught me all I know about how to play the tabla; but I think in particular Rajeev Devasthali really kind of opened up this whole world of percussion and rhythm to me in the manner in which he kind of taught me how to play. He broke things down almost in a way that one teaches somebody a language; so into kind of phrases and building blocks. It was quite an unconventional way, but I think it really inspired me to then go and make my own music using the kind of thing that he taught me.

And (Pandit) Sanju Sahai is a stellar tabla player; it’s just inspiring spending any kind of time with him and watching him play. His heritage is amazing, he’s a sixth generation of this amazing, what we call Hirana, which is a school of tabla playing. It’s been in his family for six generations, so the kind of knowledge that he brings and his abilities on a drum are just so motivating.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: How old were you when you moved to London?

Sarathy Korwar: I was twenty-two… I’m twenty-eight now so that was six/seven years ago.

Michael J Edwards: Since you’ve relocated to London you’ve collaborated with numerous jazz and improvisational music luminaries such as Alan Gosch, Ingrid Sertso, Karl Berger and Shabaka Hutchings, not to mention a plethora of Indian classical musicians. Exciting times?

Sarathy Korwar: Yeah! Exciting times! In that sense it’s been great because you get to meet all these people and playing with them. It’s incredible the amount of people that I’ve met over the last few years – it’s London, it is a melting pot.

Michael J Edwards: I believe Shabaka is on your debut album project ‘Day To Day’? How did that friendship and subsequent collaboration on the track ‘Mawra (Transcendence)’ manifest?

Sarathy Korwar: I’ve known Shabaka for a few years, we’ve played a bit on a couple of different projects and I definitely wanted him on the record because I thought he would be perfect for the kind of sound I wanted and he’d understand the project as well. With ‘Mawra (Transcendence)’ it’s interesting, the whole track is actually recorded off the backing track of this drum which kind of starts the track off and then fades away. But when I was recording the bass clarinet we just played the entire five-minute piece on the drum in his cans (headphones) and he was just playing along to that sample. And essentially who was recorded on that track played along to that backing track. So it was an interesting technique, it just kind of happened.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: While on the topic of the new album ‘Day To Day’, can you please enlighten us on how it came to fruition, since it’s now receiving a lot of public and critical acclaim?

Sarathy Korwar: That’s been amazing I don’t know what is! I’ve got this thing called the Steve Reid Foundation, they were doing these grants, so I applied for a grant to record ‘Day To Day’ and I got accepted. I got given some money and mentorship by the people who are on the Steve Reid Foundation. It all started from there really and then I kind of recorded the album and everyone got involved in some way or the other and Ninja Tune picked up on it. And once the ball started rolling it just kind of went from there.

Michael J Edwards: It has a very original flavour to it, what was your mindset going into recording the album?

Sarathy Korwar: My basic kind of fundamental idea was that I wanted to work with the Sidi’s, I just wanted to record them in their most natural surroundings where they usually perform – in very intimate houses near the Sufi shrine where they worship.

Michael J Edwards: Can you please clarify who the Sidi musicians are?

Sarathy Korwar: Yeah, so the Sidi community are people who have emigrated from Africa, from the eastern and southern coast of Africa over to India over the centuries. So there heritage is East African and Southern African, but they are also Muslims, so they’re Sufi’s. It’s an incredible kind of heritage to have, so it’s reflected in their music and the things they talk about.

Michael J Edwards: Where were those recordings made?

Sarathy Korwar: The entire troupe live in a village called Radhanpour, which is in Gujarat, which is where I grew up… So I speak the same language as them. One of the musicians lives in a neighbouring town called Bharuch. So me and a photographer just spent some time there just recording them and going into their homes and they were really generous with their time and just welcomed us in and hung out with us. They let us sit around and just watch them like kind of just be.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: You were awarded the Rajshekhar Parikh Fellowship award in 2014 and more recently the Steve Reid Innovation Award by PRS for Music. Did this provide a smooth path for you regarding your signing with Ninja Tune and the subsequent album release?

Sarathy Korwar: I think so, it’s probably best to ask them (laughs). It’s one of those things where one thing leads to another, nobody heard of what I was doing before the Steve Reid Foundation and then once the Steve Reid Foundation got involved Gilles Peterson got involved and Kieran Hebden got involved and Nick Woodmansey got involved. They started telling people about the project and about me and that’s how Ninja Tune heard about me. Then they heard the album and I think they liked the story behind it and how I started doing it and what the album is about. And with the Steve Reid Foundation being involved everything kind of went from there.

Michael J Edwards: You have DJ Gilles Peterson and founder of the Steve Reid Foundation as well as the creative genius of Nick Woodmansey from Emanative in your corner. You must be very pleased by these major-league associations you’ve made over such a short period of time?

Sarathy Korwar: It’s insane, It’s amazing! It’s incredible to have people like that you can talk to just like ask if something sounds okay. Just to be able to show them my music, I know it’s kind of like a privilege…Because these people probably get a hundred records a day to listen to, so have them in my corner in the sense that they know of me and they kind of supported me, yeah it’s incredible.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: How did you make the link with Nick Woodmansey?

Sarathy Korwar: Nick was one of the mentors on the Steve Reid Foundation. He heard the music, he wanted to get involved, I needed somebody to mix the album and he very generously offered to do it and it just went from there.

Michael J Edwards: Where do you draw your inspiration from when composing?

Sarathy Korwar Well I don’t know exactly where I draw it from, but the table is an instrument that kind of inspires me a lot. I like Indian rhythms too and Indian music – Indian classical music, Indian folk music. So a lot of it comes from there because it’s something I’m familiar with and something I grew up with. So I suppose that is one inspiration, and so is jazz and so is improvised music. Ultimately I think that a lot of music that I want to create is music that I know that I want to be able to play in a live scenario with people. So it’s not just me in front of a laptop; it’s not really ever going to motivate me to make that kind of music. I like playing with other people. I like collaborating. That’s the crux of music making for me; to be able to collaborate with people, to be spontaneous.

Michael J Edwards: I’m looking forward to tonight’s show Sarathy, are you happier in the studio or performing on stage?

Sarathy Korwar: Oh, performing on stage for sure! But even in the studio we kind of record all the songs as if we were performing, so we all just get in the room together and play. That’s how I like to kind of record as well, so yeah it’s just performing basically.

Michael J Edwards: You also have another project running parallel to this – Pergola with Cara Stacey. What does Pergola mean?

Sarathy Korwar: Pergola is it actually like a very minimal structure. It kind of defines space in a very minimal sort of way. We kind of felt we had this connection because her father is an architect and my mother is an architect. So we were coming up with names and we thought we should try to figure something that we both have in common and so the architecture thing stuck. And then we just talked about different structures and we talked about the Pergola being a cool structure and it defines our music also. It’s quite sort of minimal and it’s very ambient in some parts, then there’s all these kind of nuances, so we thought Pergola.


Photo: Courtesy Lexus Blondin

Michael J Edwards: And you’ve put that project on hold for a while?

Sarathy Korwar: It’s on hold only because we live in different parts of the world; Cara Stacey lives in Cape Town and I live here (England), but we’re definitely going to record an album soon hopefully the end of this year or early next year. That’s exciting as well that’s the really good.

Michael J Edwards: Dipping back into the album, there’s another track which has been exciting people called ‘Bismillah’.

Sarathy Korwar: Bismillah is again a track which features the Sidi musicians and there are basically six drummers who were playing and singing. It’s like a call and response kind of drumming and constantly speeds up in the way the Sidi’s perform it, but also in the way we perform it. And I had this idea because there’s so many drummers in different parts of the song, I wanted to get another drummer in and like talk about these poly-rhythms that could kind of work. We just to inspiration from some of the melodies that the Sidi’s used in the song and it just speeds up – it’s full on!

Michael J Edwards: What future recordings and collaborations can we expect from you?

Sarathy Korwar: Regarding future recordings I don’t know. I just want to tour this project for a while before I think about doing more. But definitely I think by touring it there will be some ideas that crop up, just by playing the stuff more with the same kind of people, so I’m just enjoying right now.

Michael J Edwards: And you’ve also road-tested the album in the live arena when you opened for Kamasi Washington recently. How was it received?

Sarathy Korwar: That’s right! That was insane again! We got a chance as a trio to perform songs from the album as support for Kamasi.

Michael J Edwards: And feedback from the audience?

Sarathy Korwar: It was good, they didn’t leave so! (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: Tonight here at the Total Refreshment Centre for the showcase launch of your debut album ‘Day To Day’. How did the title come about?

Sarathy Korwar: ‘Day To Day’ was just an idea I had spending time with the Sidi’s as well and also in my life, this idea of kind of rituals, everyday things that kind of keep ourselves sane. Or what we should do to keep ourselves sane, like five minutes of meditation… It could be even superstitious things that we do. Physical things that like have an effect on our mental well-being – something like that.

Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time and have a great show.

Sarathy Korwar: My pleasure. Thanks a lot. Cheers.

Michael J Edwards

Read our review of the album ‘Day To Day’ here
Read our Birmingham concert review here

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For full video interview visit Universal Vibes TV