FROM tapping out rhythms as a baby to pursuing a professional career as a composer, sound artist, producer, performer, and educator, Jason Singh has had a lifelong connection to music.
By using drums, percussion, voice, nature, electronics, DJ culture and technology across all art forms, he has used his obsession with rhythm to create great music across diverse platforms, ranging from solo work to big collaborations. By also drawing inspiration from eastern philosophy such as Sufism, Daoism, Buddhism, Sikhism and pagan spirituality, he has added extra layers to his marvellous music.
All this has led him towards his new album Travellers, which is a collaboration with The Banwasi Collective and has everything from rich Rajasthani folk music to spirituality, poetry, and contemporary influences. One of the best albums of 2023 adds to the impressive work of the British Asian artist.
Eastern Eye caught up with the multitalented music maestro to discuss his impressive journey, new album, inspirations, live performance and what he would love to master.
What has been your most memorable musical moment?
There have been many, including performing for the maharaja of Jodhpur at the Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, and at the Royal Albert Hall with Nitin Sawhney. Also, DJing in forests using 360 immersive audio technology, beatboxing with 8,000 audience members and running workshops. Using beatboxing as a creative tool to help young people find their own voices to communicate through art. There are loads of incredible memories.
You have done some amazing collaborations, but which has been closest to your heart?
Gosh, they have all been closest to my heart because that’s where I create from. My work is very much about feeling, so the concept, collaboration, performance and sharing comes from the heart, to (hopefully) be felt by the heart of the audience. I loved creating compositions for the BBC Wild Isles and Green Planet series. I was raised with the voice of David Attenborough, but never thought I would ever write music for one of his documentaries. This was a mind-blowing experience.
What about with other music artists?
Performing and producing music with my musical heroes Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Natascha Atlas, Yazz Ahmed, Shabaka Hutchings, and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) has also been incredibly wonderful.
What led you towards your new album Travellers?
Travellers has been a culmination of over 15 years of work. I started collaborating with musicians from across Rajasthan back in 2005, and for many years facilitated and curated collaborative projects for the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF).
These collaborations bought together emerging and established musicians to explore heritage, legacy, equality, interfaith dialogue, and cross-cultural collaborations. We had a band called Dharohar and some members of it went on to collaborate with Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons, and also develop their own solo and band touring careers. It was pretty remarkable.
Where did The Banwasi Collective come into it?
In 2018, I was asked by Faith Singh of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation to return to India and work with a group which would go on to become The Banwasi Collective. They are all virtuoso musicians with an incredible fire and passion in their playing. After the initial collaboration in 2018, it was clear that we had to return. In 2019 I returned to Jaipur with my friend and award-winning engineer and producer David McEwan.
Over 10 days in the sweltering July monsoon, we recorded the album at Anokhi farm in Jaipur.
Tell us about The Banwasi Collective?
The Banwasi Collective are Bhutta Khan
(vocals and harmonium), Nehru Khan
(vocals and harmonium), Safi Khan
(vocals and harmonium), Manzoor
Khan (dholak), Bhungar Khan (kartals) and Latif Khan (bhapang, Morchang).
How did you meet?
I met Bhungar and Manzoor in 2009 while working on a UK/Rajasthan project for the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in Jaipur. Both musicians completely blew me away with their virtuosity and passion for playing across all music, not just Rajasthani folk. Fast forward to 2018 and I was asked by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation to create a new collaboration, which is where I met all the musicians who are now the Banwasi Collective.
You have also collaborated with musicians from around the world on the album. Tell us about them?
The album also features Arun Ghosh on clarinet and guitars, Floyer Sydenham on drums, Toby Comeau on keys, Joe Lee on Bass and Amir Uddin on sarangi. It is my hope that in the future the collective grows to encompass a wide range of musicians.
Where did you draw inspiration from for the songs on the album?
The music draws inspiration from Sufism, bhajans, Bhakti poetry, nature, themes around climate change, movement and migration.
Who are you hoping connects to these compositions?
Anyone who has an appreciation for music and an openness to explore different musical traditions. The album has its roots in acoustic folk music but also explores genres like ambient and drum ’n’ bass.
How does this compare to previous musical projects that you have done?
Very differently. A large part of my work is based around sound art, installations, live beatboxing performances, and technology. This is the first acoustic album I have produced and not performed on. I have wanted to create an album of acoustic Rajasthani music for many years – it has been a complete labour of love with the support of many individuals and organisations. I guess this is also a way to explore my own love of Sufi music alongside genres I have grown up with like jazz, ambient, drum ‘n’ bass and jungle.
The album was recorded entirely in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and is called Travellers. But what is the most interesting destination you have been to?
One of the most interesting is Norway. When touring across northern Norway for three months, I saw the most incredible landscapes and the northern lights. There were nights when I felt like I was ‘watching music’ in the sky. I love Norway and would very happily go back there if the opportunity ever arose.
Today what inspires you musically?
I am inspired musically by lots of things, including colour, nature, wildlife, walking in forests and cities, poetry, smells and movement. Yep, a lot of stuff inspires me to make music.
How much does live performance mean to you?
I love it. I thrive on it and it is very much part of my life. This can be through beatboxing, public art installation performances, DJing and music workshops.
What has been the most memorable?
A memorable experience was beatboxing in surround sound, using my bespoke voice set up for the multimedia opera Glass Handel at the Printworks in London, and watching people not believing what they heard was all done vocally. Also, performing with Nitin Sawhney at the Royal Albert Hall was a very proud moment – being on stage in front of 6,000 people beatboxing for one of my musical heroes. I recently curated a stage and performed at WOMAD festival for four days. These live performances and DJ sets were mind blowing.
If you could master something new in music, what would it be?
It would have to be the bansuri flute and trumpet. I love those instruments. I know though that I will never master music. It is an ongoing journey on which the more I do the more I realise that I still actually know very little about it.