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An Interview with Dalbir Singh Rattan


Dal is a classically trained musician in the Indian classical tradition, he is a multi- instrumentalist singer and a true master tabla player. He has also played with many of our favourite bands and musicians including Paul Weller, Ian Brown and most famously guitarist Aziz Ibrahim. He is best known throughout the islands, for the Purvai Yatra collaboration which he arranged. He is also a highly sought after workshop leader throughout the UK and has toured the Western Isles doing workshops in schools and care homes.

This is based on a phone chat with Dal about the tracks recently recorded at Black Bay studio

I’m working in collaboration here with 2 friends who I met from doing Tabla workshops in Nottingham at the New Art Exchange

Danny Ladwa who is an acclaimed singer and beat boxer (he actually has a school of beat boxing in London) and Pippo de Palma who is a guitarist and producer. I met these guys at a community workshop we were all part of and we started jamming at our breaks in the coffee area and had a great time and really connected musically.

Months later I got a call from Danny who had just been offered a commission to perform at Format Festival and he was asking ‘Can we work together on this?’ It was quite a big deal this photography festival, and I really enjoyed his approach to music..

So we got together in Birmingham and went through some ideas, and worked out what we could do for this gig, and it worked really well, we got great feedback. This led to us getting back together again with the aim of developing some tracks for recording, and that’s what we have here.

The aim for the first track Light was to create an uplifting high energy atmosphere with a tribal feel- the harmony and rhythm section was central to the way we developed that.

With 7even I said to Danny -who I love to hear beatboxing- I really want you to try and see what we can do by trying a less popular timing instead of the usual 4/4 which is the norm lets allow ourselves to be influenced by the Indian classical beat cycle and switch between 7 beats merging to 8 beats. Then we laid guitars on- This produced a mellow feel to the track. Danny then wrote the lyrics. All these ideas came just from spending time chatting in the kitchen! With that track I think we really show the diversity in our work, and we built up a real good feeling about what we were doing.

I love a team effort where you can just chuck ideas at each other, these guys were so generous with their time. It’s the most brilliant thing when you’re working in a band set up. Good band members have each other’s back, that element of trust is so valuable. Musicianship and respect for each other’s craft and the understanding that everyone has a different approach.

It’s not always easy when you’re under pressure though but we’ve all worked in loads of bands and have built up so much experience now that we are at a point where we know what we want to do.

So I insisted that we do not go down to London to record these tracks! The guys could not believe I was serious when I said no, we’re going to the Isle of Lewis - and it’ll be the best session you’ve ever done in your life!

The Black Bay studio where we went to work with Pete Fletcher was so brilliant! The place and the space was so inspiring and Pete is a master at his work. The studio is so well kitted out we could travel up quite minimalist, and even the journey up there was great fun. It was great to stay there for 3 days and really focus.

Danny then wrote this song called Africa Danny’s parents are from Kenya and Uganda and my mum is from Kenya, and we were both keen to make a song about our African heritage. There’s a narrative section in there, and I wanted to try out adding a section from an old song my mum used to sing in Swahili…

Kwa heri kwa heri mm pen si kwa heri (x2)

Tu ta na na tena tu kee ja lee wa

Goodbye Goodbye

Loved one, Good

We will meet again,

God Willing

We were really keen to add something to the songs that came from our roots.

From a compositional musical point of view Pippo wasn’t so sure at first. Pippo being Italian was cooking every night for us, and we had wonderful meals together and we would mull over the day’s work, and over our platefuls of pasta he turned to me.. ‘you know what Dal.. it really does work, lets go with it.’

So that’s the story behind these songs here.

Friends sharing ideas and working through these, being open and not afraid to try things.

The piano pieces are songs I’m developing right now. I love the Isle of Lewis and the people there!

Listen to these tracks here.

Follow Dal on Instagram where he is known as tablajedi

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