Exclusive interview with Prithpal from Asian Dub Foundation & Ministry of Dhol (MOD)
Q. Now, most of us know that you’re a member of the smashing and unique group, Asian Dub Foundation; we also know that your real name is Prithpal, but what I want to know is where the band name ‘Cyber’ came from?
A. WOW, now that’s a good question. When I started with Asian Dub Foundation in the later part of 1999, tabla and dhol were new live elements to the band. I remember once in rehearsal we were talking about experimenting with the sound of the tabla by putting them though effects pedals and so forth. Dr Das, our former bass player and one of the original band members came out with the line ‘cyber tabla’ because all this talk about manipulating the sound of the ethnic instruments took all our minds into outer space. Hence the name ‘Cyber’. And to further endorse the name, one of my fans and good friend from Czech Republic designed a t-shirt for me with the following design :
So I adopted the name Cyber! Here’s another design by a fan from India from when we toured there in December 2010:
Q. I know Asian Dub Foundation has been keeping busy with gigs and making music and not to mention their THIRD WORLD TOUR! Am I right in thinking that you’ll be touring in the UK? If so, where and when can we find you performing? A. Surprisingly we don’t really do many gigs in the UK. We’ve done a handful this year……… Brighton Festival, Glastonbury, Bestival, Larmer Tree Festival and a couple at the start of the year. I guess the best way to know when and where we’re performing in the UK would be to keep checking the website www.asiandubfoundation.com or better still keep checking the facebook page. Q. Asian Dub Foundation has quite a unique sound, incorporating all sorts of music genres and instruments. What kind of responses do you get from your Non-Asian audiences when touring in different countries? Well, the majority of our crowd has always been non asian. Our music is very much ‘in your face’. Punk – rock – drum & bass – dub reggae – dub step, all with a slight live ethnic twist. Our vocals are in English and we sing about current issues in the world …….. Conscious lyrics. Lyrically, a lot of people can appreciate what message we’re putting across because a lot of people all over the world can relate to them in some way or another. Musically, because the music is hard hitting and powerful, people can’t help but dance or make some sort of movement wherever they are and feeling happy and energised. So I think ADF have the perfect package when delivering to our audience. We’ve been to some countries where although the people would have heard something similar to our music, they wouldn’t have been exposed to my instruments. Then when they hear these instruments within a western setting they get overwhelmed. People are totally blown away when I start pounding my drums. So as an answer to your question……. Our audiences give us a happy vibe because they love what we do, and in return we absorb that vibe and turn it into energy….. and chuck it back out to them.
Q. What is the largest audience you have ever performed in front of and where was it?
There have been quite a few ‘BIG’ gigs, the biggest one that I can remember:
Primo Maggio (Rome) – Live audience of 700,000 + millions of live TV viewers all over the world.
There was also one festival we did in France where there were 100,000 people, but I can’t remember the name of that one……. Memory isn’t what it used to be (getting old)! The Solidays festival in France is always a big one also.
Q. Where has your wildest concert been so far?
My wildest concerts have always been in Japan. I’ve been to Japan 9 times to perform with ADF, and it’s been mad every time. The Japanese audience, although quiet between tracks and very respectful and humble, can really let their hair down and freak out! They are little people but they can jump and pogo… just like masais from Africa. They actually took our album Enemy of the Enemy to number 1 in Japan.
Cuba and South America are pretty wild. A lot of the remote places we’ve been to have been really wild in the sense that we sometimes get mesmerized in a state of spiritualism! Some places are so overwhelming that it’s hard not to go into a trance.
It’s hard to explain!
Q. What has your wildest experience as an artist been so far? And what made it so wild?
I guess my wildest experiences have been going and performing in countries that I thought I would never ever get to go to and experiencing their cultures. And also getting to jam with the local musicians and share our music styles with each other.
Japan – Been to Japan 9 times and every time is like stepping into the future. New technology and funky fashion…. Torrrrrtally viyld man (in indian accent).
Colombia – The whole atmosphere makes you feel like you’re a drug lord (lol). When you walk the streets, you see a lot of military police guarding buildings with their machine guns. I guess there are a lot of drug wars in Colombia. But it’s an adrenaline rush just walking the streets.
Cuba – exactly like how it’s shown in the movies. Clear blue skies, hot weather lots of beautifully tanned people and men walking around with hats smoking cigars! Great audience here, because they’re kinda deprived of bands coming and performing in their country.
Mexico – Scary place to walk even during the day. They say that if you make one wrong turn, you’ll end up back in the right path but with body organs missing. Another adrenaline rush when walking the streets. Lots of crazy people also in the audience.
Morocco – totally mesmerizing country. Great music and culture, not forgetting food. We had an audience of thousands upon thousands of people just going crazy. I think our music was something new to them as a live element.
La Reunion – This little tiny island is off the coast of Madagascar right next to Mauritius. You can just imagine what sort of tropical paradise this was.
Brazil – Been to Brazil 4 times. The first time we toured 4 cities. I’m sure I don’t need to say much more about this place in heaven…lol!
There have been many wild and wonderful experiences that I’d love to share with you all, but you’ll be sitting reading all night!
Q. Speaking of experiences, give us an insight into the Journey of Prithpal and how he became Cyber; who was your biggest influence as a youngster?
Ok here we go, you ready?
When I was very young, I used to get dragged along to the gurudwara with my Grandma. She was percussionist (dholki), for the women’s congregation every Saturday afternoons. I would sit in her lap and watch and listen to her play the dholki. This is where I first learned the simple rhythms.
I then started tabla lessons with the late ustaad Gurmeet Singh Virdee. I was his student for hell of a long time. He took me to the world of classical tabla, but during this journey my concentration and focus got distracted by another percussion instrument…….. The dhol!
So to cut a long story short, I picked up the dhol and transferred everything that I had learned from tabla on to it.
A lot of people noticed my talent and I started to do performances with Dj’s and bands.
I then started to teach because there weren’t any proper dhol teachers at the time who knew what they were teaching. There were a lot of dhol players, but there wasn’t anyone who had the patience to teach properly. I still teach dhol in the same way that learned tabla. My ustaad was a great teacher so I’m using his teaching strategy to teach my students.
Ok, then I started my career as a touring musician from 1996. And then joined Asian Dub Foundation and toured the world several times over.
I’d say as a youngster I was influenced by 3 people who were landmarks in my musical journey because these three people introduced me to my weapons of mass percussion.
My grandma, Harjit Kaur Rajput (dholki)
my ustaad, Ustaad Gurmeet Singh Virdee (tabla)
my brother in law, Satinder Singh Sev (dhol).
Q. Who has been your biggest support in getting to where you are now?
I can proudly say that my biggest support has been myself. My personality, humble and respectful nature has held me up all this time. I believe that everyone needs these qualities to be able to get where they want. A person can be the biggest and best musician in the whole of the world but, if his attitude stinks then he might as well go home and blow his own trumpet to himself in his own living room.
No one needs any support from any one person if they are good within themselves. And that’s what I believe in.
But having said that, there are people who help along the way and I am extremely proud to say that all my students have been very helpful especially my main team leaders (Davinder, Sunny, Guru, Daljit, Parm, Gus and Pav). These guys have held the fort every time I’ve been away on tour. These guys have always made sure that the level of quality and professionalism within the Ministry of Dhol has never dropped. They’ve always upheld the MOD flag!
Q. Looking back upon your journey, is there anything that you now regret or wish you had done differently?
I sometimes wish I had carried on learning tabla and not stopped. But I guess everything happens for a reason and as my ustaad used to say…… All thing’s must pass!
Q. Now let’s move into the present, ‘A History of Now,’ ADF’s brand new album, can you explain what the title of this album represents and what we can expect to hear in it?
The History of Now is a ‘Loud meditation of modern love’!
The history of now is the idea that everything is going too fast in life, things are changing and moving forward at lightening speed thus creating a history of every moment in life!
Anyone who doesn’t understand what I just wrote, should take it up with Chandrasonic (guitarist and one of the original members of the band) lol!
There are 12 twelve tracks on the album. Wicked collaborations with Ministry of Dhol, Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, Kerieva, Chi2, Ed Skrein and many more.
History of Now is another mind blowing instalment from Asian Dub Foundation it’s got a lot of Thunderous dhol and super high speed tabla all over the album. Without giving too much away, I would say it’s a ‘must have’ album. I guarantee you’ll love it! Even all you bhangramuffins out there will be doing thee bhangras!
Q. I’m sure everyone knows about your signature instrument; the Dhol! How did you first get into playing the Dhol? And where did the idea of incorporating such an instrument into ADF come from?
Back in the days of olde I used to be a dancer in our family (cousins) bhangra team. We were managed by our brother in law who was in his Sikh Students Union bhangra team at University. We once had a performance and he bought along his dhol to play as part of an ‘off the cuff’ performance.
From here my relationship started with the dhol and adopted it as my musical soul mate.
The dhol within ADF started as an experiment but rapidly became a fixed element in the band. Prior to my joining the band, they used ethnic instrument samples on the tracks from the earlier albums.
It’s actually a good thing that the dhol is showcased within a punky / rocky type of environment. It’s proving to the world that the dhol can be used outside of the bhangra field. I still get asked if our music is bhangra music and how many Indians we have at our shows.
ADF and myself have created a new style of music from the many years of performing in this setting.
PUNKRA is a celebration of punk music fued with bhangra. An example of this is a track ‘no fun’ from our album PUNKARA. It features Iggy Pop and Subs on vocals and yours truly on the dhol. It’s an ‘in ya face’ punk/bhangra track.
I’m not going to say more because I want you to be curious!
Q. Let’s not forget about the Tabla, another instrument that you’re highly skilled at playing. What came first, the Tabla or the Dhol? And which one do you prefer playing?
My very first instrument were my hands. I could play these in different ways and produce different sounds with them.
Then came the dholki
And then everything else followed. I can play almost any instrument you know…… it’s just a matter of making the instrument speak my language.
A good example of “it’s not what you play, it’s how you play it”! (If anyone says that’s wrong, don’t believe them. They don’t know what they’re talking about)
I love both the tabla and dhol just as much as each other. The tabla allows me to be chilled and intricate and the dhol commands me to be loud and proud.
Q. You have a song named ‘Warring Dhol’ which has a big Bhangra vibe to it. What does this track mean to you as Dholi? And does it make it into your personal top 5 ADF tracks?
Warring dhol of the bhangra soldier striking out from Pakistan, desh and india.……. The opening line says it all!
For me this song depicts dhol players as being soldiers… soldiers of rhythm.
Through this drum we have become soldiers of virtue. We can unite everybody just by the sound of our drum.
‘one people, one nation it’s time to make a stand now bang’!
Bang out any injustice that we might experience!
It’s a powerful song once you read the lyrics and relate them to yourself and any situations you might have come across in the past.
The dhol is a relation to the war drum called a Nagara hence the obvious association to a soldier.
This track is most definitely up there in my top 5 ADF tracks along with :
The track Dholrinse also has a massive bhangra vibe to it also. It’s almost like a 3 minute dhol solo with hoy’s and chants…. And a heavy bassline, not forgetting guitar played in a catchy tumbi rhythm!
Q. I’m aware that you teach Dhol lessons with the Ministry of Dhol. What made you get into teaching? And for anyone interested, where and when do these lessons take place?
From my many performances, I had developed quite a little fan club. At the time there weren’t many dhol players on the circuit doing what I do. When someone idolises a person, they want to be like their idol. A group of guys wanted to learn to play dhol in the same way that I played. So I started a little class for these guys. They then got their friends and family involved and the class got bigger and bigger.
If there was anyone teaching, the quality of the teaching wasn’t good enough and many people didn’t get taught everything they needed to know. I was privileged to be taught by one of the best, so my teaching was a reflection of this. My teaching also wasn’t limited because I had a good knowledge of the various tabla beats.
At present all the MOD classes operate once a week in West London…… Cranford, Slough and Reading.
We have a great family vibe at all of the MOD classes. Everybody has time and respect for each other and are all extremely helpful.
When we enlist new students, they join the MOD to learn about the dhol and how to play this instrument properly. Many dhol groups might enrol students to develop them into stage performers, but we at the MOD concentrate on just DHOL and definitely not on making money. The whole atmosphere at MOD classes is another influence on our students. The calm and friendly ambience is greatly soothing to peoples characters. That’s why a lot of my students are very respectful to each other and people who come into contact with them.
Anyone interested can either get in touch via facebook or email…….
It would be a grand pleasure to have you join the family.
Q. How long has Ministry of Dhol been up and running for? And how many members does it currently have?
The Ministry of Dhol started in 1993.
At present we have a solid and committed student base of between 80 – 90 students, male and female, asian and non asian, old and young, and all from various religious backgrounds.
Q. I hear that the Ministry of Dhol are doing big things this year! Tell us about MOD and The FA Cup final!
The FA Cup Final was an exciting project for us. We were approached by the organisers of the entertainment section for the whole event. They had seen the MOD at many various events and loved the way we performed and presented ourselves.
So one day I got a phone call from this really polite guy. He asked whether I wanted to play at the FA Cup Final…… I obviously heard it as he said it, and so replied… what? Football?
He was like no! your drums!
You can imagine what my answer was………!
We did a few rehearsals, recorded the backing track with all 8 of us playing dhol along with Japanese Kodo drummers and marching band drummers. And then went onto the Half way line at Wembley Stadium and did what we do best!
Q. One emotion that you are you feeling at this precise moment in time?
Q. Where are you replying to us from?
Right now I’m in Skopje in Macedonia. This is the last ADF gig for the year. It’s been an extremely busy year so we’re going to give this gig all we’ve got and finish this touring year with a blast.
BTW……. It is bloody freezing here. I’m freezing my socks off! Thermals don’t help much!
Q. And to end this interview, what is your favourite colour ?