There we were, round at a mate’s house listening to his excellent hi-fi, when he selected a track from his extensive collection and announced the artist as Talvin Singh, OBE. (That’s Order of the British Empire for those of you outside the UK.) Embarrassingly, I had to admit that I had never heard of that particular musician with an honour to his name. But I enjoyed the music and resolved to look him up.
Let’s start with an example of his work. And, while you are listening to this video clip, I’ll give you a few basic facts about the man and his musical style.
Wikipedia describes Talvin Singh as “the father of modern Asian electronica music”. He grew up in Leytonstone, an East London suburb whose main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock. At the age of 16, he travelled to India, where he studied tabla for a year. When he returned to England in the late eighties, he began to fuse Indian classical music with the drum & bass sounds prevalent at the time. His breakthrough came in 1991 when he played tabla and sang on the Siouxsie and the Banshees single, Kiss Them for Me.
Since then, Talvin Singh has collaborated with the likes of Sun Ra, Terry Riley, John Martyn, Yoko Ono, Björk, Madonna, Massive Attack, David Sylvian and more. His debut solo album, OK, was released in 1998 and another solo album, Ha!, appeared in 2001. Two notable collaborations bore fruit over the next decade:Vira, with Rakesh Chaurasia (2001) and Together, with Niladri Kumar (2011). In 2014, Talvin Singh was awarded an OBE for services to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The Crotchety Assessment Panel found the earlier material too close to D&B/hip-hop for our taste, but there’s no doubt that TS is a fabulous tabla player, a talented producer and an accomplished composer. Vira uses the wooden flutes of Rakesh Chaurasia to create a mellow, pastoral sound. Together features the sitar of Niladri Kumar for a soothingly engaging accompaniment to life. Here’s a nice example:
It seems to me that Talvin Singh deserves his royal honour. It really shouldn’t be surprising to find that a well-respected percussionist has a gong to his name, should it?