Sarathy Korwar

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Sarathy Korwar is a percussionist, composer, field recordist, and musicologist. Though born in the United States, he was raised in India and is based in London, England. His cross-cultural style combines East Indian classical folk musics, post-bop, modal jazz, and electronics. A longtime fixture on the London scene, he was accepted into the Steve Reid Foundation, a nonprofit artistic development program. He traveled to rural Gujarat to record the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur in the field. He later added another session in a professional studio in Pune. Finally, jazz and electronic musicians were recorded, resulting in the internationally acclaimed and charting Ninja Tune album Day to Day in 2016. It played an outsize role in putting the musically diverse and groundbreaking South London scene on the map. In 2017 he issued My East Is Your West, showcasing the debut by his Upaj Collective, a tentet equally divided between Indian musicians and a jazz quintet. More Arriving followed in 2019, a collection of collaborative tracks with Indian rappers, DJs, producers, singers, and musicians. That July, he reunited with Upaj Collective and recorded Night Dreamer: Direct-To-Disc Sessions in one day; it appeared in 2020. In 2022 Shruti Dances, an EP collaboration with Auntie Flow (Brain d’Souza), was released. Korwar followed with the Photay-produced Kalak later that year.
Raised in Ahmedabad and Chennai by parents who were trained Indian classical singers, Korwar began his own musical education with the tabla at age eight. By 15, he was under the sway of jazz. He has cited John Coltrane and Ahmad Jamal as early influences. At 17, he began a study program in environmental science in Pune. His love of the tabla was unabated, and he studied Indian classical music with Rajeev Devasthali. He also began translating his rhythmic skills to a standard Western drum kit. Finishing his primary studies, he began to think about a music career; he immigrated to London and studied with master classical tabla player Pandit Sanju Sahai, graduating with a Master of Music Performance from the School of Oriental and African Studies. The focus of his thesis was the adaptation of the Indian classical rhythmic canon to non-Indian percussion instruments.
After finishing school, he became a fixture on the London scene. He gained experience as a drummer and percussionist in a variety of settings. He worked in jazz and improvised music with Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, clarinetist Arun Ghosh, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, and South African composer, multi-instrumentalist, and researcher Cara Stacey. He also played with Indian classical musicians Padmashri Pandit Pratap Pawar.
Korwar cemented an idea for a solo project he’d had for some time. He planned a trip to India to field record the music of the Sidis, descendants of African tribes who came to India in the seventh century C.E. as merchants, sailors, slaves, and mercenaries. Their rhythms, vocal styles, and dances are the only remaining links to their culture of origin. Working the various music scenes in London, Korwar heard about the Steve Reid Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Gilles Peterson in commemoration of the late jazz drummer. Its two-fold objective of helping musicians in crisis and supporting emerging talent provided Korwar with an impetus. He applied with a three-minute video, was accepted into its development program, and mentored through his project by Peterson and foundation patrons Four Tet (Kieran Hebden), Floating Points, Koreless, and Emanative.
Korwar traveled to rural Gujarat to record the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur in the field, and later added another session in a professional studio in Pune. Jazz and electronic musicians — including Hutchings — were also added later. “Indefinite Leave to Remain” was released as a digital single in April 2016. Korwar’s debut album, Day to Day, was released by Ninja Tune in July of that year, followed by a tour with Kamasi Washington. The album was acclaimed by critics all over the globe and sold well enough to chart. The following year, Korwar joined saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and electronic musician Hieroglyphic Being on Association for Research & Enlightenment Project EP.
Two years later, after touring internationally, Gearbox Records released the live My East Is Your West, by Sarathy Korwar and UPAJ Collective, performed and recorded at the sold-out Church of Sound, it combined a modern-day, handpicked, all-star London jazz quintet alongside five Indian classical musicians. The three-hour gig was recorded following a single 45-minute rehearsal, and the effort was awarded Contemporary Album of the Month by the Guardian. In July of 2019, Korwar released his sophomore studio outing, More Arriving, through the Leaf Label — it was centered around his honest reflections of his experience being an Indian in Britain; it’s a confrontational album for confrontational times. The set incorporated rappers from Mumbai and New Delhi, English spoken word, and his own Indian classical and jazz performances. In July, Korwar and Upaj Collective entered a Netherlands recording studio and recorded Night Dreamer: Direct-To-Disc Sessions, which appeared in 2020.
On August 27, 2020, Korwar assembled a supergroup that included Bex Burch, Al MacSween, Tamar Osborn, and Dan Leavers (aka “Danalogue”), at The Fish Factory in London to improvise and record. They used cursory texts by Burch as a skeletal guidepost before setting off on an improvised musical adventure for the next 14 hours. Strut released a self-titlted album by Flock in May. In February of 2022 he collaborated with Auntie Flo (electronic musician Brian d’Souza). Their recordings were released as the Shruti Dances EP in June on ManMakeMusic. In November, Korwar released Kalak. With producer Photay and the core band from More Arriving, the album is not only a sequel but an aural South Indian manifesto that juxtaposes and recombines India’s rich musical, cultural, and spiritual histories alongside their evolutionary reflections in 21st century. ~ Thom Jurek