Volume 18 • Issue 51 | May 5 - 11, 2006

Karsh Kale
Friday, May 5, 11 PM
Knitting Factory
74 Leonard Street
between White and Church
(212-219-3132; knittingfactory.com)

Karsh Kale, multi-culti experimentalist

By Ernest Barteldes

Photo by Luis Banuelos
Indian strings, hip-hop and rock are just a few of the styles Karsh Kale blends in his music.
“I come from all these different places,” says Karsh Kale, the London-born drummer, vocalist, remix artist and songwriter who now lives in Brooklyn, by way of Long Island and California. His new album, “Broken English,” “is a reflection of my own musical environment,” he says, and on it you can hear his quest to blend the melodic influences of his Indian heritage with the Western sounds he grew up listening to. For example, on the opening track, “Manifest,” MC Napoleon raps in English while vocalist Vishal Vaid sings in Hindi with a backing of Western and Eastern drumming. “Free Fall” features rock and roll drumming, distorted guitars and an Indian flute added to the vocals of Trixie Reiss and Sabiha Khan, which results in a very danceable track whose diverse elements somehow blend together in a seamless manner.

Karsh Kale, pronounced Kursh Kah-lay, was born to Indian parents in West Bromwitch, England, right outside of Birmingham, but mostly grew up in Stonybrook, Long Island, where his family settled after immigrating here.

His father, who is now retired, was an anesthesiologist who played Indian classical music on the harmonium and the tabla in his spare time. Kale followed suit, playing tabla at an early age. He landed his first gig at age 9, when he played the Indian drums at a local cultural center accompanying three classical Indian vocalists.

While growing up, Kale, now 32, listened to a lot of jazz and Indian music, but he was also into electronic groups like Depeche Mode, Devo and Kraftwerk. In the mid-90s, he moved into a small studio apartment in the East Village, and began making music professionally. “When I started out, I was playing a lot of rock and jazz fusion, and writing music in a keyboard context,” says Kale.

In addition to his solo career, he has collaborated with several artists such as Indian electronic duo Midival Punditz, San Francisco-based DJ Cheb I Sabbah, violinist Salim Merchant and others. In addition to touring with his band, he is presently working on an album with Indian-born sitarist Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Norah Jones), which should be released later this year.

The main element of his music, he says, “is about how to navigate into the chaos of everyday life, a way to understand the world, and how it can all work together.”

“It’s also about understanding myself. Music is a way to make sense of my personal chaos — it’s [my] soundtrack. It’s about admitting that it is okay to feel a bit chaotic.”

On stage, he performs with the Realize band, a unit that has been together for the past two years. The band includes guitarist/vocalist Todd Michalsen, Indian vocalist Vishal Vaid, guitarist J.P. Doherty and bassist Jeremiah Hosea. While Kale composes most of the material by himself, several songs were co-written with Michalsen and Vaid. “I try to recognize what they can bring, and mold it around that,” he says. In the studio, he mostly programs the drumming for his mult-culti blend of electronica, but when performing live he sits behind a real drum kit, occasionally standing to handle the tablas.

“When I’m in the studio, I don’t think of myself as a musician,” he said, referring to his role as a music producer and remixer. On stage, however, he is the drummer and co-frontman in the band. “When playing live, you take something that has been created, and re-create it with a different interpretation.”

 Live, Kale sounds much tighter than he does in the studio, but last month at the Canal Room his show seemed a bit subdued. Guitarist/vocalist Todd Michaelsen sat at a corner of the stage, and Kale only addressed the audience once. There was no band introduction, and the encore was pretty much forced by DJ Rekha, who was hosting the event.

What the audience didn’t realize was that Michalsen was on recovery from surgery and had insisted on playing even though he didn’t really have to. The band members were , as Kale explained, “feeling a little of Todd’s vulnerability,” and were worried about having him onstage in that condition. “That was one of various issues that went wrong that night,” he admitted.

The band should be much more dynamic at their upcoming Knitting Factory show. Recorded loops from the Indian singers on the album will be blended with the live band, which, true to Kale’s multi-culti style, will include Middle Eastern instruments. He also promises a few surprise guests.


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