Photograph: Rishabah Sood
Sarathy grew up in Ahmedabad and lived there until he was 12, and then moved to Chennai for high school. Being a single child, he spent quite a lot of time keeping himself company and getting into music amongst other things, which would be the beginning of a long journey. ‘I didn’t have any aspirations in music as a career until much later. Music was just one of the things I was really into. I was really into The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Beatles and then started checking out the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley etc.’ Here’s discovering the making of the musician.
How did music find its way in your life?
My parents both sing Hindustani classical music and there was always music in the house. I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by music from a very young age and have always been encouraged by my family to pursue it.
Why did you choose to play the tabla over other instruments? What fascinated you about it as a kid at 10?
I was encouraged to try my hand at any instrument I wanted really and it happened to be the tabla. I can’t remember what it was that drew me to the instrument but I found it fun to play. I didn’t enjoy singing much at the time so it felt like a good option.
At 17, you moved to Pune to study Environmental Science but ended up dedicating all your time to music, practising under the tutelage of Rajeev Devasthali. How did that time shape you?
It was critical for me as I had begun thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. It so happened that I found a great teacher/mentor in Rajeev and my interest in music took priority over everything else. Also Pune was a great place to be as a budding musician, I got to to meet people from all over the country who came to study and also make music. My mentor really opened up my understanding on rhythm and perspective on how I could take some fundamental ideas from Indian Classical music and apply them to whatever kind of music I wanted to make myself. I remember this felt really inspiring and exciting at the time.
What prompted the move to London, then?
I really wanted to push my drum-kit playing abilities and focus on jazz for a while. I thought studying jazz at a conservatory style institution would be beneficial so I decided to move to London to do that. I wanted to be in a big city and not a far-removed campus somewhere as I wanted to check out music first hand.
How did you come about leading the Upaj Collective - a band of South Asian jazz and Indian classical musicians brought together through a love of collaboration and improvisation? What was the idea behind this effort?
The Upaj Collective are musicians who I have played with over a long period now, but never together in one band (until now!). The idea was for the album was to reinterpret jazz tunes predominantly from the 70s that had some Indian influences in them. I found that many of these tunes portrayed a very tokenistic understanding of Indian music and I felt like there was an opportunity to revisit these tunes and rework them for 2019. It really brings in to question our notions of Eastern and Western music and hopefully opens up a conversation about cultural appropriation though music, especially in the jazz world.
Your debut album, Day to Day, fused traditional folk music recoded with the Sidi community in India [combining East African, Sufi and Indian influences] with contemporary jazz and electronics. What attracted you towards the community?
I was fascinated by their history, culture and music. Their instruments are so unique and beautiful that I wanted to learn more about what role music plays in their lives. The fact that their music is a combination of East African, Sufi, regional Indian folk influences fascinated me and I feel very privileged to have spent some time with them.
How do you incorporate your Indian roots into your music?
I try to display what it’s like to be a first-generation Indian immigrant in the UK. I don’t try to use my Indianness as a calling card, rather I make music and want people to see it for what it is. The biggest thing is breaking people’s expectations of what they think my music should look and sound like, given my background and influences. I can only do that by paying attention to how I put my music out, and controlling my own narrative.
I read in one of your interviews that your latest album, More Arriving, is a record ‘born of confrontation; one for our confrontational times’. Could you elaborate?
We live in a very divisive time across the world. There is a growing conservatism at the cost of open mindedness. My record deals directly with migration and movement of people, and says ‘there are more arriving and that’s fine’.
Text Hansika Lohani Mehtani