There are musicians who make music, and then there are musicians who are the music. Meet Karsh Kale.
Story by Sheena Osman
In just one conversation, you can hear the passion in his voice for his craft.
Dubbed the pioneer of “Electronic Fusion” (a combination of electronic, classical Indian, Jazz, and hip-hop music) and described as a “visionary composer and producer” by Billboard Magazine, New York-based musician Karsh Kale creates music that transcends boundaries. He is a musician, tabla player, producer, composer, DJ, and performer.
“What I’m most attracted to is music, the big picture. If I could play an entire orchestra I would, but I can’t so that’s why I do all the things that I do.” He spends half his time creating and performing music in New York and the other half in Mumbai.
Kale was recently in town for the Mosaic festival in Mississauga, which celebrates South Asian film, music, art and culture. We caught up with him just after his rehearsal for the show the night before. Kale says that music festivals are where people discover new music.
“I think often times, especially now, it’s so easy to kind of stay in the compartmentalized space that you create for yourself and usually in a music festival, especially at a diverse festival, you can discover things that you normally wouldn’t check out,” he said.
Kale grew up in New York and is where he really first made his mark in the industry. It’s where he got his first record deal, where he created his first band, and where he created the blueprint of everything that was yet to come.
“I’ve been playing in India since 1996,” said Kale. “For about 10 years, I was playing clubs and doing either classical shows…but there was really no crossover, so it was a very niche audience, and all of a sudden in the last three years, I’m playing festivals in front of 20,000 people.”
Kale definitely had an impact in changing the music scene in India.
“There’s a whole generation of people in India who are just ravenous for new music, for independent music, for music of all walks, international sounds, and not the same old thing that they are constantly being bombarded with.”
Kale has already accomplished so much during his 12 years in the music industry. What artist can say that they were personally invited to perform at the White House for President Barack Obama? The experience for Kale was overwhelming.
“When he [Obama] was giving his speech, I was quite blown by the fact that he introduced me and talked about me for a brief moment,” said Kale. “That’s a moment where you get to pinch yourself after all the years you do what you do.”
In addition to that career highlight, Kale has also scored music for films like Dum Maaro Dum, Chutney Popcorn, and for the 2010 version of the popular Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon. He has also collaborated with such legendary artists as Chaka Khan, Lenny Kravitz, and Yoko Ono.
Kale is the first Indian American to attain a solo record deal in the States. What’s important to him is to not be pigeon-holed as a South Asian artist, but rather to be known for just being an artist. At the same time, he doesn’t want to categorize his sound into one genre of music.
“Anytime someone wants to put a box around what I do, I immediately have to do something else,” said Kale. “Ever since I was a kid, there was just something in me that always rebelled against any institutionalized statements in art because I always felt like it was about the individual artist and what they have to say.”
Despite all his success, he still remains humble. For him, it’s not about the celebrity status, it’s about the music.
“For me, it’s more about music, “said Kale. “If I can sit back and experience it, that would be ideal for me. It’s a lot more powerful and attractive to me than the idea of being a musician.”