From being unaccepted in the classical Indian music world, to taking home a Mercury Music prize for his genre bending fusion debut album ‘Ok’. With musical education ranging from classical training to ‘Top Of The Pops’… this is Talvin Singh.
Early Years & Childhood
Talvin Singh was born 1970 in London, to Sikh parents who had fled Idi Amin’s Uganda in the 1960’s. Drawn to the pots and pans at the age of 5, Talvin showed early signs of interest in all things music-related. He started on the tabla at age 7, and shortly after began breakdancing and listening to hip-hop, techno, acid fusion.
“My uncles would have Indian classical music soirees. There were always tabla around, but I also grew up with Top of the Pops. To me, it was all just music.”
As a young child, he had a keen interest to learn music, and at the age of fifteen he went to India to study Indian classical music for two years under his master, Pandit Lashman Singh.
Upon his return to the UK, Talvin approached several classical Indian composers and producers in the UK to create music with him, but they did not accept him, feeling his western influences were too strongly incorporated to be pure classical. With this path shot down, another opened up which led him to begin developing his own style of musical fusion, eastern classical meets electronic sounds.
“I wanted to be myself, I didn’t have the classic style, I had blue hair and didn’t wear Kurtas. My parents had wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, but I was coming home at 3am with armfuls of drums.”
Since his teenage years, from the late 1980’s, Talvin has been a working and travelling session musician. In his early career, Talvin was already performing live as a percussionist with bands. He was taken on the road by Siouxsie and the Banshee’s as a live percussionist, before being picked up by Björk to perform live with her and come on board as a director and string arranger for her acclaimed debut album ‘Debut’.
With each experience his musical vocabulary was expanding, and Talvin was becoming more adept at mixing influences; taking everything from the late Ravi Shankar to the Hip Hop beats of Run-D.M.C.
In the 1998 Talvin released his own debut album ‘Ok’ to critical and commercial acclaim and the album received the Mercury Music Prize in 1999. Talvin used the prize money to buy his dad, a TV repairman at the time, a Mercedes.
In 2014 Talvin was awarded an OBE for his services to music.
Sutrix – From ‘Ok’
In 1995 Talvin founded the club night ‘Anokha’ at London’s now legendary Blue Note. The club night featured live tabla and percussion jams over featured emerging Asian DJ’s and bands. The night established itself as part of the underground scene in London and in 1997 he released ‘Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground’, a compilation album comprising songs by Singh and other Anokha artists. This period is cited as the starting point for the sub-genre of music titled ‘Asian Underground’ or ‘Indian Electronica’. Asian Underground, of which Talvin is considered the ‘father of’, developed a massive buzz throughout the British music scene into the 90’s and early 2000’s.
“Music shouldn’t have boundaries. That’s the way I’ve always seen music. It’s just language that everyone can identify with.”