There’s something so unconventionally beautiful about Karsh Kale’s music. Having been an iconic part of the music industry for the past 20 years, the New York-based musician, composer and producer tells us that he loves impromptu jam sessions and solo travelling, and he seeks inspiration from NYC’s subways! By Priyanka Chakrabarti
1. What kind of traveller are you?
It depends on whether I’m travelling for work or pleasure. I tend to be more organised and methodical when travelling for work and far more spontaneous and open for adventure when travelling for pleasure.
2. Have you ever participated in any impromptu jam-session while on a vacation?
When you travel with musicians, you often end up having impromptu jam sessions. It mostly happens after a concert or on days off between shows. One of the fondest impromptu jam sessions that I’ll never forget happened in Mumbai at Salim Merchant’s house. It was his birthday and he had invited an incredibly diverse guest list of musicians and artists from varying backgrounds. We had an eight-hour-long impromptu jam session between Salim, Zakir Hussain, Taufiq Qureshi, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan, Randolph Correa from Pentagram, Naresh and Paresh from Kailasa, Hariharan, Talat Aziz, Ehsan, Loy, DJ Boombaba, Shweta and Shraddha Pandit and myself. It truly was an unforgettable night of music as everyone let loose and just played for the joy of it.
3. How consequential has travelling been for you as an artist?
Travelling has been a big part of my life for the past 20 odd years now. I spend at least six months a year away from my home in Brooklyn. I used to joke with my friends that the aeroplane was my commuter bus because I wasn’t gonna get paid unless I was on that bus!
4. What is it that you take away the most from every place you visit?
I try and connect with a detail — sometimes it’s the smell in the air or the way the sunlight paints the canvas of a place. Of course, food, music, culture and mostly the people are always major takeaways but for me, the nostalgia of a place usually comes from a particular detail that I notice at a particular moment, which then becomes synonymous with that place.
5. Has any vacation or destination inspired your music-creation process?
Many places have inspired me to create music. Whenever I encounter a new landscape, skyline or I’m struck by art, architecture and history of a place — that vision often lends itself as an inspiration that informs my music. I have had the privilege of being involved in two music/travel shows (The Dewarists and MTV Sound Tripping) that allowed me to travel to amazing destinations, collaborate with incredible artists and capture the essence and inspiration of these places in real time. A few of those amazing destinations include Shantiniketan, Dharamshala, Kochi, Aberfeldy in Scotland and other amazing destinations. It was incredible to be able to experience the culture of these places and collaborate with the musicians indigenous to these places.
6. Where do you usually go to get your creative juices flowing?
I’ve for years used the NY subways as a place where I could put my headphones on and go on an adventure. I would often just ride and observe the incredibly diverse collection of people from around the world, imagining what their lives must be like and draw creative inspiration from the stories I might make up.
7. How would you define your music?
It’s always hard to define my music because it has always been evolving and changing. I’ve allowed myself to change and grow as my influences and experiences have evolved. If anything, my music had always been an honest interpretation of my environment and state of mind at the time. It’s a sonic landscape of all the environments I grew up within superimposed with an inspiration I get from the many places I have been to.
8. Do you remember your first holiday?
When we first moved to Queens, New York back in 1977, I remember my parents had scrounged up enough money for our family of five plus my grandparents to take an Amtrak train down to Orlando, Florida so they could take us to Disneyland. I remember the train ride vividly even though I was only three-years-old.
9. What has been your best 2018 holiday?
Travelling to Black Rock City, Nevada to attend the Burning Man festival. There is truly no place on this planet quite like it. The experience is like no other. It has always been mistaken for a music festival when it’s a human experiment inspired by communal living and fierce self-expression. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I truly feel that I am on another planet, entirely.
10. Who is your favourite travel buddy and why?
As a musician I often travel with a crew of people and rarely get to travel with friends and family outside of the music scene, so when I do, it’s special. Nothing is better than getting to travel with my daughter! At age 17, she is already quite the traveller herself, so it’s fun when we get to do that together.
11. Are you a beach person or do you like the hills?
I do love the hills and can find a lot of peace there, but I know that I’m a beach person. I feel I belong near the water and need to be in the ocean as often as possible.
12. If you could pack only five things for a vacation, what would they be?
- Swimming shorts
13. What kind of music do you enjoy while on a road trip?
There is no specific playlist. I like to be surprised when I’m on a vacation, so something new is what I seek when I travel.
14. Are you a fan of solo travelling?
I have had no choice but to travel solo over the last two decades. However, I’ve learned to enjoy the benefits of solo travelling. Being on your own schedule and moving at your own pace without the added stress of another traveller can sometimes be a stress reliever. I do find a lot of inspiration in the times I’m travelling alone. Sometimes when I travel alone my experience comes out in my work, somehow.
15. Do you believe in the concept of slow travel?
I believe you’ve only visited a place properly if you’ve been able to spend a lot of time exploring the deeper aspects and details of that place.
16. What’s your take on conscious travelling?
Firstly, I’m really glad that today we have multiple options while travelling to make the right choices. Travel, especially flying, does take quite a toll on the environment, so whatever we are able to do to lessen that footprint is a better way to travel.
17. How would you contribute to the trend of green-travelling?
I trying to stay in eco-friendly hotels or Airbnb homes.
18. What does travelling mean to you?
Traveling gives me the opportunity to experience life beyond my comfort zone. It allows my mind to travel and connect with cultures beyond my own.
19. Your favourite cities around the world?
NYC, Mumbai, San Francisco, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, LA and Berlin.
20. A destination that you want to visit this year?
Greece. I’ve been wanting to go there for years but now it makes more sense in my life to make that trip.
21. What are you working on next?
I’m working on producing a new series of music under the banner of Sonic Diaspora, which will explore the future sounds of fusion that exist between many genres and generations.
22. Your top 5 favourite songs of all time?
- Superstitious – Stevie Wonder
- Roundabout – Yes
- Subterranean Homesick Alien – Radiohead
- Signal to Noise – Peter Gabriel
- Mad About You – Sting