Sarathy Korwar made a splash on the jazz, electronica and experimental music scenes all at once—first enthralling audiences in the UK, then India, and moving on to Europe eventually. Korwar’s debut, Day To Day, which was released on Ninja Tune in 2016—and saw the mentorship of radio legend Gilles Peterson, Four Tet and emanative—received largely positive, encouraging reviews. His tours across Europe saw him opening for Kamaal Williams, Kamasi Washington and Moses Boyd—adding a few feathers to his already loaded cap. Korwar manages to sustain an interest in his music, solo or otherwise, through constant collaborations and projects such as the Upaj Collective as well.
When it came to be known that his sophomore album, More Arriving, would feature voices from the Indian hip-hop scene, it only seemed like a logical step forward from the debut. Korwar’s musicality is unmistakably unique, blending influences from the worlds of tabla playing, electronica, jazz drumming and more; it sucks you in, and leaves you feeling weighted. The power of his messaging—as visible on his debut album that featured vocals of Siddi musicians from Gujarat, or with the MCs and poets on the new release—is often visible in the songwriting process, which allows all elements to shine through.
We caught up with the London-based, India-raised musician to know more about his first single “Mumbay” ft MC Mawali of local conscious rap crew Swadesi, his journey to Indian hip-hop, appropriation in music, and life in London in these strange, strange times.
Stream the song:
VICE: Your debut album, Day To Day, received glowing reviews and was widely accepted as a shift in the new sound of the diaspora. It engaged elements of Carnatic, Siddi and jazz music, blending it in with electronica in a way that had rarely been explored before. As an Indian living in London, how much of the culture, community and your life there come into play while working on music?
Sarathy Korwar: My immediate surroundings affect the resulting music a lot. This record aims to feature a diverse range of South Asian voices with all the MCs on it, hopefully reinforcing the fact that there is no single, all encompassing brown story or narrative. We know this to be true in India to a larger extent, but in the UK, there are still so many cliches about what South Asian music looks and sounds like. This record is a way for me to showcase what modern South Asian voices, both in India and the diaspora, sound like in 2019. To me, the voices and thereby, the record, is defiant, vulnerable and proud.
With your new album, More Arriving , you've explored sounds of the not-so-nascent desi rap scene—specifically in Mumbai and Delhi—but I’m more keen to know what drove that shift for you? Were you ever conscious of staying away from appropriating voices?
I have been very curious about hip-hop in India for the past couple of years. It seemed like a lot of the music was coming from working class neighbourhoods, with young rappers, producers, b-boys all embodying the spirit of hip-hop and a DIY culture to express themselves. I wanted to meet a few of the rappers I really liked and that’s how the record started taking shape.
I don’t feel like I’m appropriating any voices as the rappers on the album are being authentic about their own stories, set to music that is my own and that sounds distinctly different from a lot of other jazz and hip-hop at the moment.
How was it working with MC Mawali of Swadesi for the first single, “Mumbay”?
I think MC Mawali is one of the most talented, skillful and insightful rappers I’ve ever come across. His perspective, flow and grasp of rhythm is unique and something that sets him apart. It’s also something that we bonded over.
I first met him in early 2017 in Mumbai, had him record a verse over some music and came back to London to work on the song a bit more before meeting him again in 2018 to record a further verse. That’s how the song “Mumbay” came about.
For me, the song is a love letter to the city whilst also recognising the duality of the city and its name; it’s about being caught between two opposing narratives and trying to navigate a path for oneself.
Check out the video for “Mumbay”:
There’s an interesting mix of guests on this record, including New Delhi rap messiah Prabh Deep alongside Delhi Sultanate, TRAP POJU from Mumbai again, and other collaborators. What was the thought behind the album, working with these guests and to finally deciding upon a name for the record, 'More Arriving' which to me is a stroke of genius, especially as a follow-up to your debut.
The idea behind working with many different MCs was to showcase an array of diverse South Asian voices. These voices, all equally relevant, come from very different places socially and sonically.
The name More Arriving is a tongue-in-cheek play on the immigration ‘problem’ here in the UK. It’s a phrase that is often used in mainstream media to talk about immigrants, refugees and more broadly, people of colour, with a very negative rhetoric behind it. But for me, the title says: There are more people coming and you’re gonna have to deal with it!
In my utopian world, I imagine a sea of brown people, all with different stories and backgrounds, with noone feeling threatened by anyone. I want to portray a strong community, with dignity and pride.
- Mumbay (featuring MC Mawali)
- Coolie (featuring Delhi Sultanate & Prabh Deep)
- Bol (featuring Zia Ahmed & Aditya Prakash)
- Mango (featuring Zia Ahmed)
- City of Words (featuring TRAP POJU & Mirande)
- Good Ol’ Vilayati (featuring Mirande)
- Pravasis (featuring Deepak Unnikrishnan)
Sarathy Korwar’s 'More Arriving’ releases on July 26, 2019 via The Leaf Label.
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