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I got to sit down and interview Janaka and Maneesh of Dhamaal Soundsystem and hear their story behind the new album and the collective.
Note: In parts where both of them are speaking Dhamaal is written, where it's only one, the name is provided.
AV: First off why don't you tell me something about Dhamaal. Where did it all come from? I know it was called Azaad before hand.
Janaka: Well it's all really one big continuation. We just celebrated five years of Azaad and Dhamaal together. Nothing much has really changed between the two things. Dhamaal actually got started about five and a half years ago at a house party in my place. Maneesh, Mustaf with Rhino Affects and myself were going to DJ there and, Shabi Farooq and Adheesh were going to play in a smaller room in my apartment; sort of a classical room. But Adeesh had the idea of actually mic-ing up the tablas with the DJ music. Overall, it was a really successful party but we did get busted though around one o'clock when the police came. At the time the whole place was shaking - for my small apartment it was a huge party. The night was one of those, for the lack of a better word, magical parties where all these people had crashed (some invited, some not) and they were all mingling. It was a very interesting vibe and it was jammed! So, we asked people if they like to see this in a club environment and a couple of weeks later Maneesh, who was doing a residency at 111 Minna on Fridays, was able to sort out a spot there on Saturdays. And that's sort of how things got started.
Maneesh: Yeah, basically we started out there with the live organic aspect along with the deejaying. On any particular night, we start off easy, maybe just classical and then classical with beats or just some mellow stuff and then finally we really get into it: with dance floor stuff accentuated with tabla percussion and other musical elements.
AV: Dhamaal seems to have a lot of artists working at any one night - how does that dynamic all play out at the parties?
Dhamaal: Well, we're the only two at the DJ side of it (Moussa too when he was taking more of an active role). Mainly, we have a lot of live musicians; 17 of them actually. A proportion of them are visual artists but the majority of them are live musicians. The whole crew doesn't usually attend every function. Basically over the course of producing the album and live collaborations at a club gig, all these people have rotated in and out. Essentially the set up is: the live musicians, two DJs and three visual staff. When we're doing touring not everybody can make it but when we do Dhamaal night in SF that's our configuration.
AV: I heard you calling it a function? Is that how you view it?
Dhamaal: To include all the uncles and aunties...haha jk! The event is not a straight classical music event and neither is it a DJ club night, so jokingly yes: a function. It's in between those things. At the night we get a mixture of different types of people, i.e. some folks who would go to a classical concert and some folks who would be getting down to some drum and bass. We have people in their fifties there, and not just one or two people. That seems to be because some of the classical artist we work with are either well known here in SF or have some type of following. Having the Ali Akbar Khan's music school in the area also helps; also, several Pundits have made the Bay area their home so there is a lot of talent here. There is a rich history of South Asian music here and our night is the natural progression of what's happening here.
AV: When the fact of actually putting together an album came about, how were the musicians and DJs worked into the production?
Dhamaal: It's actually a nice continuation of what we do live. For instance, when we plan out a set, usually what will happen is that one of the DJs picks the selection of music and it's predominantly heavy beat laden stuff. Then they actually talk to the artists that are going to play on top of it i.e. where and how they should come in, when the mix-out's going to come in, what should happen here and there. So, there becomes a process of how to produce a DJ set with live percussion. It's the same thing when production of the tracks is done. What would happen is that one of the producers, which could be myself, Maneesh, Dhruva, Adeesh or Parag would have the people who they wanted on that track to come in after the foundation has been laid down, and get them to play over the entire track.
Janaka: Personally, what I would then do is pick certain sections which were working and cut those, put them back together and say, 'Ok, use this particular idea and do variations and improvisations on it and come back to the set.' Melodically, we always work within some Raag, so all the other pieces of melody fit into that Raag. The main key and things like that, all match up.
AV: I read something online that said that the particular venue that you were using, you had all these South Asians come in with expensive clothing and buying $10 martinis, and that's not the crowd you were aiming for. So with your music now and your party now, what kind of crowd are you aiming for?
Dhamaal: That comment might have been about a club where we had a brief stint - an uptown Jazz venue called Rosella's. Some of that kind of crowd was there. What's kind of cool about our venue now is that it is in a sort of gritty but up and coming part of town. The one thing is, we did not want our night to become a straight up Desi party, and also not to be a place where the actual artistry of the night becomes secondary to a singles environment. Rosella's was a really nice place and but when we analyzed what we were doing, what our idea and our visions were, we realized they were becoming secondary to the expensive drinks and the hitting on each other. Musically what we are trying to accomplish, and it has happened over the years, is to get to where we're really not considered a desi party in town. Obviously we have South Asians there, but we have a fair mix of non-South Asians as well who are just interested in hearing new sounds.
AV: Along with that, it seems that not all the artists in the Collective are South Asians, is that true?
Dhamaal: Well if you look at Adeesh, who is Marathi, you might mistake him for being white. But, there is actually a good mix; the visual artists, Kyle and Glen are white Americans, Gus is Costa Rican. Practically, all the South Asians are represented: Hindustani, Pakistani and Sri Lankan. So there is a good mix in the collective of South Asians along with non-Asians. Be the artists South Asians or not, it all works together where we all have a vision and vibe of how we want the night to look and sound; so even though everyone has a lot of freedom as to how they want to contribute, we all still have a common goal as to what we want to achieve.
AV: Here in NYC we had Mutiny and all the artists had other outside projects that they all worked on. Do you guys at Dhamaal have that?
Dhamaal: Dhamaal is itself a collective of artists so there are loads of these side projects that go on. In all honestly the album is just a side project of Dhamaal. We had another project that was a 100% live project with Dhruv on drums, Gus on bass. It was really well, but was shelved for the album but it'll come back. There are a lot of different projects because 17 people break off into little groups and do their own thing. We try out different things - new things musically - and all those things generally come back to the event. So a group of us might go out, try something new, test it out and if it works it will be showcased at the Night because that's where all the people come to see it.
AV: I know some of you guys went to Europe touring with the album, how were you guys received?
Dhamaal: That was absolutely mad, we played with Asian Dub and Visionary Underground. It was absolutely amazing! I can safely say that it was a pretty constant flow of solid music all the way through from start to finish. It was all the different sounds using South Asian elements, it was really pretty incredible.
AV: Any plans of working with these guys producing music?
Dhamaal: I have a feeling the Visionary Underground guys are going to be very successful in the coming years. We are very close to those guys but we haven't got any plans of doing anything together but I'm sure something will happen in the future, but nothing has been discussed.
AV: So personally, who would you two consider your musical influences?
Maneesh: Dub reggae is a heavy influencing factor for me. Production technique wise, what these guys are doing innovatively, engineering, audio sound wise, and how they were manipulating live sounds into new sounds and a new style of music in a way that had never been done before.
Janaka: I've always been into the early days of rave music back in England. I actually grew up in London around that time. So groups like Prodigy, I like the old school sound bordering on rock. There are a couple of songs I'm working on with break beat but with some blazing rock guitars.
AV: So when you guys are all coming from all of these different influences, how clashing or how comfortable are the relationships when you're trying to present all these in an album or at Night?
Dhamaal: In all honesty, when we started out we knew that we had enough talent to actually put a good album together. What we didn't know was how it would hold together as an entire piece. The tracks are done by different people in the group and a different combination of those people and they were done in separate locations without really consultation between the tracks. But, they still held together. I think it might be a blue print for what's going on in general with Dhamaal. We just try things and if it sounds good then we work on it more, hone it and then we put it into a finished product. I think inherently it works because we all know when something just sounds bad.
AV: So what is next for Dhamaal?
Dhamaal: If we have enough guts to go through the business again then there's already enough tracks for another album. But, I don't think we're ready for the business side of it just yet.
AV: Well, hopefully we'll be hearing that material soon enough. Is there anything else you guys wanted to share?
Maneesh: Just on the note of new tracks, Dhruva has finished a remix of Soul Williams's 'Not in our name'. I think it's going to appear on the Soul Williams remix website and maybe on a side project. Also, I don't know if Janaka had mentioned this earlier but we're charting on different college radios, so that's happening for us right now. And we actually just broke the Top 30 at Itunes so that's pretty cool. Different things are happening so we're going to see what roads that lead to.
AV: Allright that's all I had planned - thanks a lot of this guys.
Dhamaal: Thanks for everything. Peace!
Transcribed by: Rummie