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Aki Nawaz and Dave Watts of Fundamental and Nation Records sit down and share their views about life, liberty and persuit of good music.
AV: First lets talk about the history of things - How did nation records and Fundamental get set up?
Aki: Well Nation got set up to take world music and make it more accessible to club culture; rather than the coffee table mature academics. So the main purpose was to do that but, at the same time as I was running the record label and I thought it would be great idea to get together an Asian band which was very politically charged. Initially I gave the idea to Talvin - I was managing him at the time but he, obviously of a different generation, was very political but just not in a very musical sense. Then luckily, somebody offered me this big concert at the Notting Hill Carnival and we had five days to get it together. So, we decided to form Fundamental, wrote six or seven tracks, took loads of things - gelled them all together and just went and performed. And, the response was absolutely brilliant. Then as time went on we got Transglobal Underground, Loop Guru, Asian Dub Foundation and we got really active. In the sense that we weren't just putting out records but were actually going out doing concerts and setting up live shows. They weren't just normal shows either, you'd get all the cultural elements and the political elements there on stage. It was really challenging the system which for a long time had put us down and insulted us.
AV: So being that your sound is so political, what do you think your next album will be like? Especially considering the current state of things and that your last album was more vocal and musical than political?
Aki: I think the next album will be so politically damaging for us that it will land in jail or something. I mean even the last album it was very political if you understood the language. Qwalli music is essentially political. It talks about either religion or society in general or good and evil. Then the album had the South African element which was essentially talking about everything that happened during apartheid. So it was definitely political - it just wasn't in English. But musically it was obviously a lot more. For the last two or three years we had engaged with a lot of musicians both culturally and traditionally and we really wanted to bring that across. To a large degree Fundamental's music had been left aside - it was always the politics. It was also a concentrated effort to out maneuver the white media. Because, before we drop another album out which was just totally political its almost like we would be repeating the same issues. So we decided to concentrate on the musical aspect of things. It's still political, the sleeve is still political and everything else is still political but we decided to do a really beautiful album in the concept of music so people learned a bit more about us and say "we had ignored fundamental's music." With that they might just start referring back to some of the old stuff albums - which musically had some great ideas in them.
AV: So with that in mind what's in the works for the next album?
Aki: I think we just have to imagine Metallica meets Fundamental. Absolutely without any doubt whatsoever the next album musically, is going to still be interesting but lyrically everything that we feel and we are concerned about. Essentially without any doubt, Anti-American!.
Dave: Yea. Can't wait (sarcastically). I mean, there are good things here; but then again, there are good things everywhere. There is just this small minority of people here who are complete assholes, they have no idea what they are doing - they have got to go. We have been holding back long enough. These people aren't holding back, they have killed millions.
AV: So I should expect this point of view in your next album then?
Dave Yea! I think it will be album which you will listen to and just think "wow they have just done something really unique here, because they have gotten across every little point that they were talking about." Though, musically it will still be really interesting.
AV: Considering you guys are so political and have a roster of artists that are ever-changing, have there ever been disagreements among the group members about the issues at hand?
Dave: No not really. Because to be honest we aren't opinionated in an angry sense, we might come across as that but we rather get involved in very deep discussions debates, play devil's advocate, try to put ourselves in different people's positions, speak from their perspective but, generally you can go to any of the traditional musicians that are on the album and ask them: How did Aki approach you? And they will say that after he approached us the first thing that we talked about was politics. That's what we do. We present ourselves and say "this is what we are concerned about, so now How are we going to represent that in our music?"
AV: So when you approach artists that are sitting in South Asia or Africa that could have a different approach to world affairs as you - has that ever lead to tension there?
Aki: No, not at all because it all depends on what your world view is dictated by; is it dictated by the media here or is it dictated by your own venturing and finding out what is actually happening and what is not. When I go out there I find myself engaging with the people without any problem what so ever. And I get that feeling by talking to a peasant who knows more about what is going on there than a scholar with a PhD sitting in University of London.
Dave: I mean I will get into a taxi to go to Aki's place or wherever and I have this one particular taxi that I call and this one guy that I get, he is from a village outside of Lahore, Pakistan and yes he isn't very well educated - in terms of certificates, institutions or what not. But, I will ask him about things because I know where I am coming from, I know what's in my head, what I want to know is what's in HIS head and the stuff that he is coming out is just making me think: "Wow this guy is on it."
AV: So, do you ever feel the urge to bring someone like that back into the studio and have them just talk over some music about their views and thoughts?
Aki: You could completely do that all the time; there are so many people out there like that. On another aspect, we are also engaged in other venues of politics not just music. We are in the process of setting up a production company that deals with documentaries that are purely political and that has it own separate avenues. We could easily bring those people into that aspect of our political voice also.
AV: So you are working on setting that up right now?
Aki: Yea definitely. But, going back to the other artists - the thing is that there isn't much difference between what people here - the intellectual people who are enlightened - say about what is happening with the dominance of the West, to what any normal person in India or Pakistan says. They all know the same thing - that these "leaders" are going East and are dominating the political arena - they are dominating our leaders - our leaders who are corrupt and that's causing resistance movements and leading to so called "terrorists." While the world is being dominated by the West, the people over here and there are suffering because of it. There is no excuse for it, there is no reason for it - it can't be that the West has so much power when it has such little natural resources. Yet the area that has so many natural resources and so much to bring to the market is so under the dominance of these other countries. People need to discuss things, debate things and not look at things selfishly. They shouldn't be saying stuff like we shouldn't allow any more immigrants in. I say, we should allow them all to come in. Who am I to deny someone the same opportunity that I have been given. They shouldn't be denied. The more immigrants that come here - in the bigger picture will mean that less immigrants will come here. Because the people that come here will generate and send back money to their families and suddenly their standard of living will get to the point that they will not need to leave their homelands. When I first went back to Pakistan all I could think was - why did my dad leave this place? It's so beautiful, its so gorgeous what was there to leave? Then suddenly you understand it's the economical reasons.
AV: So being that your work is so political - what is the ideal expression or gain that you are hoping to make with your message?
Aki: Well the reality of what we do is that we are very limited to what we can accomplish because we are very provocative, very confrontational, we don't compromise and we are totally aware of that. We are happy as long as we can function between these limits. We don't want the prize, we don't care about the Oscars or the MTV Awards or things like that; there is no aspiration for that what so ever. And if anything the only thing that I would love to do is - not do what I am doing because everything in the world is fine.
AV: So would that be the ideal reaction you would want out the people who enjoy your music?
Aki: I think, although it will be probably impossible especially being that we are in the "West." The only band who has gotten really close to it is Public Enemy. They educated and inspired a lot of white people out of their ignorance and if we could achieve something like that, it would be great. The only reason why I would love to be absolutely massively successful is to actually become so successful that you say what the f**k you want and you really provoke some kind of confrontation. To really have white people to have their own revolution. We don't need to be a part of it, we have already had our revolutions. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Gavi, Mahatma Ghandi or whoever you want to talk about, we have already had that. It's the white folks who need to rebel against their own ignorance - racism is their problem, economic terrorism is their problem, pollution is their problem - everything that is going wrong they have a hand in - they have an influence in - with all that is wrong in the world they are lucky to be dominating. They should be thankful that they are dominating. They should be running it properly and since they are not then they have to expect some kind of resistance. If we could be part of that resistance - brilliant. If we can't then it doesn't matter ‘cause we have done our part. I, as a Pakistani, Asian or a Muslim am not living my life from a submissive context to them. I am an equal to them - I have got no problem - it's their problem because they don't want me to be equal.
AV: Your record label has had artists that have moved on to other labels with bigger deals like Talvin, ADF, Joi - tell me something about that.
Aki: The are all coming back to us. (laughs) I mean the point is that we are all in the same shit. It doesn't matter if I have got my own record label - I am exactly in the same position and the shit as ADF, as Talvin - because the industry hasn't embraced us, hasn't endorsed us with integrity and has refused to understand us. It hasn't entertained us, it hasn't given us radio stations, it hasn't given us TV shows, it hasn't included us in their festivals etc. I mean if you are at a festival, you have drum n base tents, rock tents, alternative indy band tents - you get all that, but where is our Asian tent? Where is the Asian Ungrounded tent or the Global Fusion tent?
Dave: And if we approach these festivals about that, the response you get is "well we have already got ADF" - all I can think is "so?" If you look at the rest of the list, you see: Offspring, Prodigy, Oasis - I mean they never say we have Chemical Brothers and that's all we need for the electronic tent. They just keep on adding other bands.
Aki: And the bottom line is that if I was white, I know that as one of the main players in this global movement there would be so much more respect, so much more embracement by the music industry. The fact is that we can't get away from it - they won't give a black man the credit. So they continue to look at us without giving us an equal premise - they continue to alienate us. If they are going to alienate us then who cares what they think. The thing is, this movement that we have embraces all - we don't work in isolation - we are happy when we see white people there, we are happy when we see Asians there, we are happy when we see anybody there - we are just happy that lots of people are being brought together under this uniform concept of cultures clashing in harmony and musically. That's the purpose of it - but they don't see it as that.
AV: So are there any new artists that you are thinking of bringing into Nation Records?
Aki: The simple answer to that is no. But, then you have to ask why? Then you have to ask "well what has gone wrong?" That to me is exactly what I was talking about. The music industry hasn't given us an equal shot at it. But, it was my duty, Dave's duty, ADF's duty, Nitin's duty, Talvin's duty to not say "all we want is success out of this" but to also say "we want to build a great platform for the future." That is what we as Fundamental attempted to do - some of the people haven't done that because of naiveté and we have almost killed our own scene by not getting together. I don't mean all on one label but rather saying, "no! I am not going to play at that venue until Fundamental plays there or Nitin or Talvin plays there." I mean it's really embarrassing because you shouldn't be interviewing us right noww, rather some other new bands. I mean Fundamental should have been finished years ago - finished. Instead of being at the small club like we were yesterday we should have been at the large club with two thousand people listening to some newer band. So the movement hasn't taken the steps it should have taken and you know how our communities work, you know how our families think; take Apache Indian - the parents see him be on top of the pop world and say its all good but, don't want to see their kids follow that route. Kids haven't been influenced as much as they should have been.
AV: Changing topics again - you mention Public Enemy. Taking that a step further - how do you feel about hip hop or black music in America?
Aki: He knows more about it than I do.
Dave: Well someone once said that Hip Hop is the only music form that celebrates excessive capitalism. Yea I can understand that, if they are talking about the whole "Bling-Bling," the cars and all that stuff. I mean the roots did that track where the video to it took all the hip hop clichés, the big booty gals, the champagne, the guy who wakes up in bed with 10 girls around him and made fun of it. They had all these captions going - yea right! They were just making fun of this high life and high living. And that thing about capitalism is so true. I mean, I understand that if you have nothing then you want something but, its just become an excess but then again, this is the land of excess. To me though that is not hip hop. Hip hop is people like Cannibal Arts, Company Flow, Anti Pop Consortium - hip hop is a world wide thing. We were in New Zealand where we hooked up with a guy named DLT, he was a wicked producer, wicked dj. Then there are people of Polynesian extraction - who are using hip hop to educate the Polynesian youth.
AV: When you look at the world music scene that you guys are spear heading and the things that are kind of automatically happening with hip hop - what differentiates the two?
Aki: I think the difference is that hip hop, the whole philosophy of it and the culture of it is more as a way of life. Obviously it came from America but, at other places it develops into something else. Dave talks about excessive capitalism and you might be seeing that in the videos and you might be a bit mature for it; but, for young black kids out there they are thinking "wow we can do this" and can you imagine the racist white folks - they are dying thinking "shit man we can't have these black people running around in big cars." I mean look at Ice T his house is on top of the hill in Hollywood - the house is horrible. I am not into it - I won't have it. But the fact that its there and he pisses off the neighborhood that is essentially white and he is there as a black person is great.
Dave: Yea, I can understand people having these desires, needs and wants. Just because of their background, why shouldn't they have these things? Why shouldn't they have the cars? Why not? Why shouldn't they have a nice spacious house to live in?
Aki: Its like sometimes people come to me and want to know How much money do you make? All I can think is. "Do you ask the same f***ing question to Bono?" I mean he has made millions but does it matter? Do you ever question Oasis, or Blur? What is it? Is it just because there is some kind of incapability of accepting that someone of color can make money? I mean all I want to say is "come with me and I will show you some great houses in Bombay, Lahore, South Africa which make your houses look like dog kennels."
AV: Ok personally I see hip hop and see it as being really glitzy. So would you say that if this Asian scene gets really big - then could you see it progressing to that extreme?
Dave: Yea it's a possibility. But you know what, one has to remember that there is more to it than what meets the eye. Hip hop is not only the guys in big cars running around. But, to the people that want that glitzy stuff - that is fine cool enjoy it; in a way it's still all about us but, at the same time you have also got the other end. Say you have people who wear shirts and they look good in shirts or suits, then there are people like me who like to wear t-shirts or shorts and that is fine too. We can all get along. But sometime I want to step out in a suit, I have got no problem with that. So we should all be able to go about our business and try little bit of this, a bit of that - that's not going to kill us - its good for the head.
Aki: You have to understand that a lot of the music business is dominated by young people; people who are on their journeys about what life is about. We have gone through it and decided that there is a lot of bull shit and we don't want it. But I agree let other people experience it - don't deny them the experience and hopefully they will come out of it good.
AV: So then when you compare the experience of growing up a South Asian in Britain versus a South Asian in America - it has been really different. How do you see that affecting the music? Do you see that having an adverse affect? Causing it to be too glitzy?
Dave: I mean personally I think its positive even if it does become glitzy. If it becomes glitzy there will be a reaction to that and it will be people again expressing themselves.
Aki: If you look at it, some of our biggest opportunities have come when people have had success. If you look at people like Cornershop, or Apache Indian they all deserve their proper dues. I mean when they finally broke big then suddenly we were being entertained, Nitin Sawhney was being entertained, Talvin was being entertained. So if something big happens here in America then obviously someone is going to turn to Britain and say "well there is that Asian Underground scene that exists in Britain." And hopefully people will talk about it and give it its credit and due. Also, if you come down to it the people' mentalities are the same. If you go to an Indian restaurant here on Lexington Ave, you see the same thing you would in Bradford, where everybody is talking in their native tongue, they have the local newspaper from Pakistan or India out and are finding out what's going on there. Its all very well connected.