Sarathy Korwar & Elsa Hewitt

Ouroboros presents
Sarathy Korwar
Support from Elsa Hewitt
Thursday 13th April, 7.30pm
Tickets are £13 (+ b/f) in advance (more on the door) and available from See Tickets.

Born in the US, Sarathy Korwar grew up in Ahmedabad and Chennai in India. He began playing tabla aged 10, but was also drawn to the American music that he heard on the radio and leaking through the doorway of his local jazz music shop (Ahmad Jamal and John Coltrane were early discoveries). At 17, Korwar moved to Pune to study Environmental Science, but instead dedicated his time to music, practising tabla under the tutelage of Rajeev Devasthali, translating his skills to the western drum kit and playing as a session musician.

On completing these studies a decade ago, he moved to London where he trained as a classical tabla player under the guidance of Sanju Sahai at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies), focusing on the adaptation of Indian classical rhythmic material to non-Indian percussion instruments.

Korwar has since established himself as one of the most original and compelling voices in the UK jazz scene, leading the UPAJ Collective – a loose band of South Asian jazz and Indian classical musicians brought together through a love of collaboration and improvisation who set up a residency at the Jazz Café in London. Korwar has collaborated with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings (The Comet Is Coming), clarinettist Arun Ghosh and producer Hieroglyphic Being, as well as groups Penya and Ill Considered. He has toured with Kamasi Washington, Yussef Kamaal and Moses Boyd.

Korwar’s daring debut album, Day To Day, recorded with the support of the Steve Reid Foundation, was released by Ninja Tune in 2016. The album fused traditional folk music recorded with the Sidi community in India (combining East African, Sufi and Indian influences) with contemporary jazz and electronics.

In November 2018, Gearbox Records released a triple vinyl live album by Sarathy Korwar and UPAJ Collective. My East Is Your West, performed and recorded at a sold out Church of Sound show, is a brilliant and unique blend of London’s new jazz talent with Indian classical instrumentation. A critically-acclaimed take on the cultural appropriation of ‘spiritual’ Indo-jazz, the three hour show was recorded following a single 45-minute rehearsal. The resulting album was awarded The Guardian’s Contemporary Album of the Month.

Korwar released his second studio album, More Arriving, through The Leaf Label in July 2019. With this latest release, Korwar blasts out his own vibrant, pluralistic narrative for the world to hear. This is not necessarily a record of unity; it is an honest reflection of Korwar’s experience of being an Indian in Britain, and as such is a leap forward from his previous releases, incorporating rappers from Mumbai and New Delhi, spoken word and his own Indian classical and jazz performances. More Arriving is a record born of confrontation; one for our confrontational times.

EP ‘Birthright’ was released in April 2020 and continued to explore the main themes from ‘More Arriving’.

“‘Birthright’ talks of the absurdity of lines drawn in the ground that define us. Do we belong in our homeland? Where will we be seen as ourselves? It also draws attention to the climate crisis and how race, class, faith and caste play into the equation of who will drown first.” – Sarathy Korwar

‘More Arriving’ was voted MOJO Magazines Jazz Album of the year and also went on to win AIM Awards 2020 best album ahead of the likes of Nick Cave and Laura Marling.

Kal – कल – Hindi/Urdu word meaning yesterday and also tomorrow
KALAK – palindromic form of ‘Kal’ – an ancient/futuristic cyclical folkloric rhythm, coined by Sarathy Korwar
We’re bound by the order of time. The more we synchronise ourselves with the clock, the more we fall out of sync with our bodies and nature – and with music.

Sarathy Korwar’s new album KALAK – the follow up to the politically charged, award-winning More Arriving – is an Indo-futurist manifesto. In rhythmic step with the past and the present, it sets out to describe a route forward. It celebrates a rich South Asian culture of music and literature, which resonates with spirituality and community, while envisaging a better future from those building blocks. Meticulous production comes courtesy of New York electronic musician, DJ and producer Photay, translating these communal rhythms and practices into a timeless and groundbreaking electronic record.

In contrast to the direct anger on More Arriving, KALAK is a more nuanced and contemplative record, while maintaining the urgency of its predecessor. From the darkness and friction emerges a new energy to imagine things differently. There’s a spirituality and warmth at play in the polyrhythms, group vocals and melodic flourishes.

“The discourse around futurism is often deeply rooted in Eurocentric ideas of the world,” Korwar explains. “Much like Afro-futurism, Indo-futurism is moving the focus to the global south. In South Asia, culturally, we envisage our relationship to the future and the past in ideas of cyclicality. For example, karma as a concept. Time doesn’t have to flow in a line but can be understood to flow in a circle.

“In music, there’s an inherent hierarchy when you talk about left to right and top to bottom. I started thinking about a rhythmic notation system that was circular. These patterns started forming over time, and the more I thought about that, and the kind of symbolism that they began to have, I realised that this would be the core of the record.”

The KALAK rhythm is the one rhythm everyone knows. It is the rhythm that everyone is taught when they are young. It’s a call. A call to play together on special occasions. There are infinite ways to play the rhythm. Each community has their own version of it, like a dialect of the same language. Because it is a circular rhythm, it doesn’t always begin at the same place. There is no beginning and no end.

The past, present, future. Underground, ground, sky. Ancestors, us, descendants. Creator, preserver, destroyer. Trilogies exist everywhere. They are recognised a lot. The KALAK rhythm connects all three worlds.

The KALAK rhythm is the fulcrum upon which the 11-track project balances. After an intense lockdown induced period of reflection and meticulous note-making, Korwar boiled this down to the circular KALAK symbol which he then presented to his band before recording began. With the symbol projected on the walls in order to de-code and improvise around, Korwar had utter faith in the musicians he’d assembled and conviction in the concept.

KALAK was recorded in just a day and a half at Real World Studios. It features The Comet Is Coming’s Danalogue on synths, Tamar Osborn’s baritone sax, Al MacSween on keys and percussionist Magnus Mehta, who all performed on More Arriving. The album also features vocals by Kushal Gaya of Melt Yourself Down and Mumbai-based producer and electronic artist Noni-Mouse. “It was the first time any of us had been in a room making music with other people for almost a year,” Korwar explains. “It felt hopeful – a blessing that we could share this space together”.

Korwar worked closely with producer Photay (who has also worked with Yazmin Lacey, Madison McFerrin, Steve Spacek and Jordan Rakei) to layer those improvisations into the technicolour arrangements that appear on the album. “I first met Evan (Photay) when he did a remix of a track on my debut album,” Korwar expands. “He struck me as very thoughtful, warm and wise beyond his years. During the process of making this record, we talked on the phone a lot, between New York and London. Not about music production or the technicalities of music but about what we love about the act of making and performing music. We spoke of surrender, humility, collectivism, healing and the power of music. Those chats informed how we collaborated and I trusted him completely. We went back and forth with some songs and musical ideas, and were totally aligned with what the music needed to do.’’

Lead single ‘Utopia Is A Colonial Project’ is at the heart of the album. Based on Thomas More’s book from 1516, Korwar takes the idea of this imagined land of perfection and flips it on its head. “Utopia can be seen as a diagram for colonisation,” Korwar says. “Ideas of utopia are intrinsically linked to the mindset of settler colonialism. It comes from seeing the natural world as an inanimate resource rather than a living, sentient being. We need to be anti-utopian, and anti-dystopian. We need to be able to imagine futures drastically different to the kind of ‘utopias’ that are being sold by right-wing populist politicians in South Asia and beyond.”

On ‘Remember Begum Rokheya’ Korwar enforces the idea that marginalised voices from the past and the present can be highlighted in order to suggest a different perspective on the future. “When speaking about futurism, one of the fundamental questions is – who gets to speculate? Who gets to tell their story or vision of the future? Begum Rokheya is an example of someone with a radically different worldview and someone who we would generally not hear from. She was a Bengali feminist writer, and in her 1905 book Sultana’s Dream, she tells the story of reversed purdah, where peace-loving women overpower aggressive men to live in harmony with nature.”

It’s this sense of urgency that courses through the veins of KALAK. For Korwar, the future isn’t baked in nostalgia or a grand plan, but in the minutiae of everyday movements and conversations. “A lot of the work towards imagining a better future is happening in our daily lives,” he explains. “The road to a better future is not based in utopias or dystopias, but compromise and everyday struggle. It’s not a grand plan or vision. It’s messy and it’s chaotic.”

The final part of the KALAK project is realised in the cover artwork by New Delhi-based designer Sijya Gupta. Korwar and photographer friend Fabrice Bourgelle took a neon lit sculpture of the KALAK symbol on a road trip around Southern India, through Chennai, Pondicherry and Auroville. The evocative shots appear on the cover of the various formats, with each one offering a different angle on the country, continent and culture that inspired the album.

Ouroboros presents
Sarathy Korwar
Thursday 13th April, 7.30pm
Tickets are £13 (+ b/f) in advance (more on the door) and available from See Tickets.