erasing clouds

A Night with the Community: Interview with Asian Dub Foundation Sound System's Serjeet Prithpal

by Anna Battista

Anahd. The word "Anahd" indicates the "cosmic silence" and everything seems to be perfectly calm on this Saturday night: people are starting to get into the club, but things are still rather quiet. Though there's some music in the background, the only real noises are those made by the people chatting, sharing drinks and generally hanging around. I'm at the Indhastria Club, in Giulianova, a tiny seaside resort on the Italian Adriatic Coast, and tonight we are waiting to see Asian Dub Foundation's Community Music Sound System, AKA M.C. Sensor, Talvin Singh's previous collaborator, DJ Filthy Dirty Rich who apart from DJing, owns his own label, Filth Recordings, and runs Pyrotechnic Radio, and tabla player Serjeet Prithpal. But, before witnessing tonight's sounds, I adventure upstairs, to the rest rooms, to have a chat with Prithpal. Here, I'm kindly welcomed by Fabrizio and Pony, the two Italian guys from the companies La Baraonda and Feelgood Production who are following the Asian Dub Foundation's Community Music Sound System tour on the Italian territory. Well, to tell you the truth, these aren't really rest rooms, but proper bedrooms and Prithpal is still in bed, half dressed, finishing his beauty sleep before the gig. Yet, he seems keen all the same to have a chat with me.

As first thing I wonder how Satpal Ram, the Asian man serving a life sentence for defending himself against a racist attacker is doing. Jailed since 1986, after what can only be called an unfair trial, he has constantly been moved to various prisons all over Great Britain: Asian Dub Foundation have constantly been fighting for his release since the beginning, not only releasing the song "Free Satpal Ram", but also supporting Satpal with manifestations and campaigns in which they were joined by Primal Scream as well.

"At present Satpal Ram has been moved to a minimum security prison," Prithpal explains, adding "Asian Dub Foundation regularly update their website with the latest news about Satpal Ram, so the best thing to do is to log on to get further information. As far as I know we are actively taking part in rallies and mass political protests and this campaign for his freedom is ever going and ever present and it will carry on until he's free. Right now we have no news there are going to be further meetings taking place and again if you wanna check the date you have to check the website. That's the best I can answer for it right now." Of course, the most important thing is that Satpal Ram's case is going on and that the campaign is still alive and active, arising interest all over the world.

From this very important issue, we then move on and switch our attention to music, though keeping an eye on racism: I ask Prithpal how much it is difficult for an Asian artist to get into the British record industry and how much the British record industry is really racist. "Technically and politically nobody can accuse anyone of racism," Prithpal explains, "There's also a party in Britain called the British National Party and they're very nationalistic they're like 'rights for whites' and 'get rid of the ethnic minorities'. They are very racist and racism is illegal throughout all the world, but definitely in Great Britain where you can't be racist and people are very careful how they show hostile feelings towards other people. Music is a business and many people are actively involved in this business and if you were somebody who would pick on your artist you would think carefully. A lot of British record producers and people in the big industry have realised that Asian artists aren't going to sell many records, and the music industry is also about image. I think most music is very forged, very fake because people in terms of chart success are not very much into the quality of music, they're into image, you know good looking boys and good looking girls and they identify with them. Britney Spear is a good example. I mean, some of her music is OK, I think it's good, but especially in Britain we have Westlife and I've heard stuff like that and I think it's eeeeeeeeeugh! (makes vomiting sound…) But you know, you're looking out to very good looking people and that appeals to young girls and they would be willing to take money out of their pockets and purchase that stuff and that's what record people look for. But I'm very happy that Asian Dub Foundation have got a leg through. They're not exactly chart toppers, but they are very influential in an underground sense and now people look to the underground as quality sort of music rather than commercial sort of music."

Still sometimes something surprising happens in the music biz, like in 1999 when Talvin Singh won the Mercury Prize. "Oh, wow!", Prithpal recalls, "Talvin Singh is what we call a pace maker. A pace maker is someone who in a race sets the platform, and he set a very good example. For Talvin Singh to win the Mercury Music Prize was amazing and I'm very happy for him and I hope he does pave the way for future artists as well. Talvin Singh and Bally Sagoo, you know, these people they are unbelievable, very very talented musicians and they are so much respected in the industry." But Prithpal isn't only into Talvin Singh: "As a musician I'm opened to all kinds of sounds," he states, "But you know, I love stuff like The Prodigy", he reveals, claiming "I'm crazy about The Prodigy! If The Prodigy released an empty tape I would buy it 'cos I'm such a big fan. I'm also into, and I'm not speaking only about myself, I'll speak for other members in Asian Dub Foundation, we are all into very thought-provoking music, music which has got breakbeats with different times and it's not like, you know, eight beats and sixteen beats, but seven beats and five beats and stuff like that. If you've heard ADF's album Community Music, there's a track in there, 'Scaling New Heights', which has got a seven-beat time circle. That's different, that's stimulating for the mind!"

Together with The Prodigy there's also another very important influence in Prithpal's musical tastes. "I have great love for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan," he confesses, "He's influenced a lot of people, he will always remain a legend. He's influenced me and I very much enjoy listening to his music. I am a tabla player and as a tabla player I listen to a lot of collaborations between him and other tabla players. Basically we leave the sampler and stuff like that to the others such as Chandrasonic who are the brains behind the band. You know they know how to use a studio brilliantly, me I'm just a poor musician, I'm just a basic tabla player, that's what I'm playing right now, but I'm also learning music technology and I'm trying my best to learn it."

While talking about his fave music Prithpal gives us a little insight into Asian Dub Foundation's next album. "The new album is being recorded right now and you have to hear it!" he beams, "We heard the rushes, the rough version, and it's unbelievable! The new album is like ADF meets the Prodigy, meets Propellerheads, meets Fatboy Slim…" "Meets Everything!", I enthuse, interrupting him, just trying to get into the mood, but Prithpal continues, "They're not in the album, but it's that kind of sound, it's very hard dance! At present there's no release date set yet, but what is interesting about ADF is that you can compare them with another band like The Prodigy because since something like 1991 that band went around the whole world, travelling, touring and doing gigs, so that's how people got to know The Prodigy. So when in 1997 they released The Fat of The Land, it was N.1 in 28 countries or something like that and everybody knew them because of all the live stuff they did which was later supported by the album. If ADF carry on doing what they are doing, like touring, they will have people familiarising themselves with this band, which represents a world sound. Then, one day, God willing, we will have a commercial success, you know we too have good looking members in the band, we have an image!" he jokes.

Asian Dub Foundation have also been committed on a social level with the Community Music project which has got a particular aim: "The project basically goes about teaching music technology to young people and when I say young people I mean specifically people who have problems in society, such as young offenders or criminals, but young," Prithpal explains, "This project is designed to nurture the talents of gifted young people who are very much into music and to educate them to have their own ideas. Music technology is a way for people to express those ideas. So the Community Music aim is to teach people music technology so that they can express their ideas in a positive and technological way. And what's important is that they have very good teachers at Community Music which is based in South East London."

Prithpal seems to be genuinely proud of ADF's Educational project, but he is also pleased of being on tour as ADF's Community Music Sound System "I'm very proud of this, I think it's a great platform for myself to do that. It's an honour, but I've worked hard at what I do, I think I'm a good tabla player and if I get to work with top musicians then I consider myself very fortunate and in a sense it is as if all my efforts have been rewarded. Are you gonna be at the show tonight?" he sceptically enquires, and after seeing me enthusiastically nodding, he explains, "Tonight it's gonna be the Asian Dub Foundation Sound System, it's not gonna be like playing stuff from the album, it's going to be more like some drum'n'bass and I'm going to add some live tabla. A lot of people have the impression that it is going to be ADF doing their live set, anyway right now they couldn't come as the album is being recorded as we speak."

As he underlines the fact that tonight it's going to be a hard club night, I ask him what they expect from the gig. "Millions of adoring fans running to us after the show, begging us for autographs and signatures, asking us to sign their bottoms, their arms, faces, giving us big snogs and all that!" he jokes. "So I have to organise a fan base?", I ask him. "Yeah, hugs, kisses, well wishes and all that," he laughs, concluding "you know everybody likes a bit of appreciation. You know, I like it when the audience is energetically involved in the gig because we live for that hour set, we give to it our all, we turn so much energy into it and these boys, Pony and Fabrizio, make sure that we are feeling a hundred percent all right and that we are ready to perform to our best abilities every night and we hope we give the crowd their money's worth. And tonight I think it's gonna be better because it's a small venue and you have a more intimate contact with the crowd so there's gonna be better sound quality, you know, less feedback, 'cos when you have a big venue there's a lot of feedback and it's not so great. Yesterday we played in Bari, it was a very short gig, only half an hour, it was like a festival and they had different acts coming on, so we only did half an hour set, but I did a tabla solo which the people I think enjoyed, since they went sort of 'yeaaaaaaahhh!' (he shouts)."

So I wish him and the others good luck for tonight's gig. "Grazie mille," Prithpal answers trying to practise his Italian, asking me if he's pronounced it in the right way, then he mumbles "I'm learning, I'm learning…" making me curious by looking at Fabrizio and Pony and funnily remarking "They've been teaching me some rude words!" we all laugh trying to make him say some Italian swearword, but Prithpal smiles and shakes his head, adding "I'm not going to say it!" fearing the mic of my mini-disc. Oh well, who knows why, but rude words are always the easier things to pick when you're learning a foreign language.

When I go back downstairs the club is packed. The night opens with a rather heavy drum'n'bass set by local DJ EML, then passes into Fabrizio and Pony's hands who bring us back to a more 'stoned Asia' atmosphere and then it's Community Music's turn. After a first track, rather calm and quiet in which gradually Prithpal's builds a tabla carpet over the sinuous rhythms DJ Filthy Dirty Rich spins on his decks, it's, thank God, drum'n'bass and tabla, in a nutshell talba'n'bass. Their set would be a barrage of sounds if it weren't for paranoid MC Sensor who gets out, then goes in then goes out then goes in once again annihilating himself and disappearing forever between the wings. Well, at least we are left with some good beats. I forget who I am and what I'm doing and join the ecstatic audience bathed in the amethyst coloured lights. People are clapping their hands trying to follow Prithpal's beats on the tabla, resonant strokes alternating with more gentle strokes, and suddenly there's no more Anhad, only a blessed cosmic rhythmical mayhem. And the rest is chaos.

Asian Dub Foundation site:

Pyrotechnic Radio site:

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Photos taken by Anna Battista.