Nobody likes being typecast — and the UK-based percussionist Sarathy Korwar is no exception.
But because he grew up in India and has a predilection for jazz, he often finds himself lumped into one group or another. On his 2019 album More Arriving, Korwar combats those narratives and reclaims his own.
“There are questions about how the music gets categorized,” he told me during this year’s Winter Jazzfest, in our pop-up studio in The Moxy Hotel’s Bowers & Wilkins Sound Lounge. “Is it Indian music? Is it Indian classical music? Is it jazz enough because I’m a brown dude playing jazz? Especially when we are doing gigs, often you would see tour posters of me under a banyan tree or on a carpet or something, and I was never subscribing to that worldview of what I am.”
With More Arriving, Korwar creates his own sound, something he describes as “Modern Brown Music” — an enticing mix of hip-hop, jazz, and Indian music. While doing so, he also tackles issues important to him: xenophobia, immigration, and the rise of fascism around the world. These topics stingingly come to life by rapper Zia Ahmed. Here is the band’s performance of “Bol,” featuring Ahmed, saxophonist Pawan Benjamin and keyboardist Al MacSween.
In addition to bristling against ethnic stereotype, Korwar reflected on a label he’s often branded with, even by those with the best intentions. “I’ve never talked about my own music as being spiritual,” he said, “but that’s the first tag you get when you start playing jazz as an Indian, is spiritual jazz. I’m not saying that I don’t subscribe to ideas of spirituality. I almost stay away from them because I know the first time I start saying the word ‘spiritual,’ it’s going to go completely out of control.”
Audio Recording and Mix: Corey Goldberg
Video: Dayglo Ventures and Relix