Talvin Singh: Policies need to change in the UK

Talvin Singh, UK-based tabla player of Indian origin at a performance
Talvin Singh, UK-based tabla player of Indian origin at a performance

When Talvin Singh, the UK-bred tabla player of Indian origin, approached British programmers for work in the late ’80s, he faced rejection. His style of playing was dismissed for having Western music influences. Soon, he turned to Fusion and reaped benefits. In 1991, he collaborated with the English Rock group Siouxsie and the Banshees for the song, Kiss Them For Me, which made him an overnight star.

The 46-year-old created a new genre called Asian Underground; a blend of Indian Classical with drums, bass and electronica. Since then, Singh has been an avid collaborator working with bigwigs like Madonna and Duran Duran. His debut album, Ok, received the Mercury Music Prize in 1999.

Currently in India for The Exchange, a conference between UK’s Department of International Trade and Indian promoters for future musical collaborations and concerts, he will perform in the city on Friday. Edited excerpts from an interview:

India still exerts an emotional pull on many Indians residing abroad. If given a chance, which Indian artiste you would want to collaborate with?
There are so many good musicians here. At times, I feel lonely in the UK as an Indian artiste.

I would love to work with Bengaluru-based producer Rahul Giri (Sulk Station). He is making great music and is a brilliant mind.

What kind of artistes from India do you think would succeed in the UK?
To start with, policies need to change in the UK. There is platform racism all of a sudden. It wasn’t there in the ’90s. Immigration is also a problem.

I remember Indian artistes being invited by the Southbank Centre (a major art establishment in London) but they didn’t get their visas. You can be talented and you can be invited but there’s no guarantee you will make it. If I were living in India with a British passport, I could travel for concerts anywhere in the world. It’s sad that an Indian musician doesn’t have the same privilege. It’s only going to get more difficult. Indian audiences are open but their tastes are diverse. Identify the right crowd and get them to come to listen to you.

Do you ever consider moving here?
Living in India is possible but my studio facility is in Suffolk. I will be here for work when needed. You need vibrations to make art and music. At times, I fly in for a couple of concerts. I have also started teaching music back in the UK. I will continue splitting my time between the two countries.

What are the tunes for the Mumbai gig?
I will play music from three decades of Asian Underground. People don’t need to bring earplugs; they will be nourished. I want to play tracks like an anthology, similar to what Gilles Peterson does.

What are your current projects?
I am working on a couple of films. One of them is called Once Again, which is based on the story of a Bollywood actor in Mumbai. I can’t speak about it but it has been amazing because it has given me a chance to write and compose songs. Kanwal Sethi, the director, encouraged me to make music that does not sound Bollywood. There aren’t too many dialogues and the story flows with the music. I have always been into Indian cinema and followed the works of Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray.

Incidentally, I’ve started a label called Matra that will focus on recording Indian Classical music in a sonically focused manner. We are setting up a sister studio in Delhi, while we have a recording and mastering studio in Suffolk. It will be exciting to record Indian Classical music in high definition.

ON: March 31, 7 pm onwards
AT: antiSOCIAL, Rohan Plaza, 5th Road, Khar (W).
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