Musician, arranger, composer, DJ and producer Talvin Singh made his name after winning the Mercury Prize in 1999 – beating the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Blur, Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics.

That album, OK, combined Indian classical with club culture to dazzling effect, leading the way for the so-called Asian Underground explosion.

Twenty years after OK’s release, Talvin is still in demand, collaborating on large-scale multi-media public art installations (Into The Forest for London Borough of Culture 2019), composing soundtracks (Netflix romance Once Again), and performing.

Tell us a bit about your Warwick Arts Centre show.

 With this particular ensemble we did the Royal Festival Hall at the beginning of last year [2018], from there we went to Bath Festival and Norwich Cathedral, it’s been a dream super group. It’s kind of representing some old works and also some new ones – as I have a new album coming up. So there’ll be pieces from that new album, and pieces from OK. [The ensemble is] a comfortable space for musicians, very supportive yet very personally protective, in terms of improvisation. We’ve actually been on the road for a year now.

You described the band as a 'dream super group'...

Yes. I have a flautist from India, Shriram Sampath - we’ve been working together for about seven years actually, he’s one of the features in the ensemble. And then there’s cello, violin, and sometimes we have Jason Singh on beatbox, but on this particular occasion – for Coventry - it’s just going to be strings and myself playing percussion and live electronics, with Shriram, and also a wonderful violinist, Preetha Narayanan. She has very very strong European classical / contemporary base, yet she also studies South Indian classical music. She grew up in America but now lives in the UK, for the last decade. She is a great improviser.

You never really toured OK, because of its complexity. Has it been difficult to recreate that material now? 

I had to go back to some of the multi-track recordings and re-look and also take some of the parts and project them electronically. [With this] particular group … this works! This works for me! There’s a certain intimacy which I enjoy with the musicians, there’s a reactiveness that happens on the particular night we’re playing. Sometimes we do invite a local guest to come along – so that could be someone from Coventry or Birmingham, who comes and does a guest performance. The last gig we did was to end the London Jazz Festival, at The Bridge Theatre. They don’t have a lot of music there so we were very lucky to play there, and I ended up calling a friend of mine, Byron Wallen, who’s an incredible jazz trumpeter who also does a lot of really amazing African/ World music, he also does a lot of gamelan / Indonesian work, Balinese music. I invited him as a guest – I loved doing that. So it might be that we invite someone from Coventry, Birmingham, that area. I don’t know who yet … I’ll have to think …

OK was a hugely ambitious album.

Definitely.  I started playing as a musician as a percussionist from an early age. I appeared on so many records, so many records, as a session musicians. I shared my musical ideas with a lot of artists, I was very generous and then there was a point where that generosity maybe …. at times, towards the end of that chapter, I felt – yeah – I really deserved to do solo work.

OK is described as your debut solo album, but there's one before that isn't there?

I did an album, which I produced and put out under an alias – I did that in mid-90s as Calcutta Cyber Café. That was called Drum + Space, and I’ve actually reissued that on CD, so I’ll bring it up with me [to the Warwick gig], I’ll bring up a box ….

As a jobbing session musician, you played with acts such as Duran Duran, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Madonna … 

They were the kinds of sessions that I did. When you do sessions, you don’t have much of a dialogue, it’s like a job. I would say the people I worked with closely … I would say Bjork … my relationship with her was very very close musically. The rest of them were sessions, which can be misleading - that music doesn’t come from that bond with my music, if you know what I mean.

What are you working on at moment?

I’m working on various pieces, like an installation, which is about 40 instruments, which I’ve been collecting – all sorts of stuff, percussion, stringed instruments, and I’m just sampling them and making this installation. I don’t know where it’s going to go yet, but I’m working on that, and finishing off the new album. It’s almost finished, I’m just doing the mixing now, and just need to record a few things in India. It’s turned into an audio/ visual project. A film-maker, who’s quite influenced by the film Koyaanisqatsi – the Philip Glass film – he’s been out in India. I had some concerts in December and he came to the concert in Mumbai and we hung out, and we’re in touch every day. He’s now out there filming. We’re going to first release an EP - the EP will be out quite soon – March/ April - and from there we’ll simultaneously release the film and the album. It’s hard to say when but hopefully at the end of 2019.

Talvin Singh visits Warwick Arts Centre, at the University of Coventry, on Thursday 14 February 2019. 

Tickets available HERE.


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