Keeping Up With Jivraj Singh

29 June 2015

We weren’t particularly surprised when Jivraj (‘Jiver’) Singh told us how it was going.


Out of everyone making music in India, only a handful are, arguably, quite as prolific as this particular drummer. There’s scarcely a moment when he isn’t doing something. Search his name and you’ll find a jumble of work he’s contributed to in the past. This includes playing with the Dualist Inquiry band, numerous collaborations with musicians like singer/songwriter Nischay Parekh, Germany based musician T.L. Mazumdar as well as the (largely) family run experimental institution PINKNOISE. Apart from the acts he plays with, Jivraj Singh has also graduated from the influential Red Bull Music Academy (Madrid, 2011) and been a part of MTV Coke Studios.

This year looks like it might be Singh’s most productive so far. He’s got a bunch of workshops planned with German company Meinl Cymbals, presented in India by Bhargavas Musik, another Nischay Parekh album (due to come out in September), a brand new live show in the works, and a very exciting collaborative release with another, possibly equally assiduous artist – Sandunes.

When it comes to sound, Jiver’s structures and aesthetic can never be static. He’s a collaborative performer and always has been.

His significant contribution to developing the identity of our alternative Indian music space demand a few words, at least. We got in touch with the beatmaker - busy as ever with workshops, collaborations, visual shows and more - to pick his brains and try and understand exactly what makes him tick.

PINKNOISE is one of Singh’s main projects: holding significance in a different way to the rest of his collaborative ventures. The avant-garde, concept oriented band comprises of his mother, Jayashree (Jay) Singh on vocals, guitarist Amyt Datta and before his passing, Jiver’s father Gyan Singh, whose contributions on bass can be heard in their 2014 album ‘Dance of the Diaspora’. The quartet also play together as Skinny Alley.

We’d call it a musical family.

Considering the importance of early, formative years in music and the role our parents/older family member’s taste in music shape our own, we had to ask what the drummer grew up listening to and how it shaped him: “I’ve been ridiculously lucky. My childhood was spent in the midst of a rehearsing, recording and touring band. My parents listened to everything, so naturally I did, too. But there was definitely a partiality to Steely Dan, the whole family of pop associated with Nile Rodgers and Quincy Jones, and a lot of jazz. As a result, the music I like to listen to (and make) is a combination of quirky songwriting, compelling hooks, signature beats, fearless improvisational spirit, and a sense of contrast.”

PINKNOISE released a thought provoking lyrics video earlier this year and are in the process of making a visual show, which (based on the trailer above) looks very promising. “I had some great content for a couple of sequences from Topshe Das and Yashasvi Mathis, and a lot of help and encouragement from Sourya Sen. It turned out better than I thought it would.” Jiver mentions that a visual show has been on his to-do list for a few years. “I just finally gave myself a deadline with the show a week away. The visuals are simple in structure, but (I think) well-timed and coherent. The next step is to extend and evolve the show, while still keeping it streamlined.”

Image credit: Naman Saraiya

Jiver has an apparent fondness for experimentation, having worked with musicians with very different sensibilities in the past. He’s a bit of a chameleon – easily shaping his aesthetic and adapting to his collaborator’s processes with ease and without relinquishing his own style. He talks about it with regard to three, very different acts I cite as an example (Nischay Parekh, PINKNOISE and Amyt Datta): “The three acts you’ve mentioned share the same spirit of wanting to make compelling, detailed and believable (but not necessarily realistic) worlds for the songs to live in. I bring the same musicianship and spirit to each of the 3, only the presentation is different. I don’t think I have to adapt all that much. Funnily, I’ve noticed that my body language is very different for each act, and I’m sure that has an important bearing on the sound.” He even tells me that the idea of producing or making music solo (“or even as a concert goer”) has never appealed to him – “I’ve always liked bands. Even duos are great – and I seem to play in a lot of them.”

In 2011, Jivraj Singh made his way to Madrid to participate in the very prestigious Red Bull Music Academy – usually a life altering experience for anyone (and there aren’t many) accepted. “RBMA was the best two weeks of my life, period. The memories get mellower but I don’t think I’ll ever get that basic feeling out of my system. The Academy really opened my eyes to how social music is and should be. I had been a bit insular before that; practicing a lot in my room and maybe sometimes getting too caught up in the craft. After the Academy I became convinced that music was as much about the people, the culture, and the sharing of energy, as about the craft itself.”

That exploration of the culture that surrounds sound may have been a push for Jivraj to conduct workshops with and for Meinl Cymbals and their artists. He tells us about the German cymbal company which gave the percussionist an opportunity to work with high end drum equipment for the first time: “The great drummer Ranjit Barot put me on to Meinl Cymbals. I’ve had a very DIY pots and pans approach in the past. The struggle with less than desirable equipment is part of my aesthetic. However, these instruments are quite gorgeous and enjoyable, but can also be ugly if you want them to be. I don’t have a lot of drum or music knowledge in a technical or academic way, so my workshops are more about the tools, thinking and spirit I use to try to make some decent art. The new cymbals have definitely rekindled my love for just sitting down at a drumset and working on my craft.”

Jivraj Singh is swiftly becoming the go-to percussionist and collaborator for the forward-thinking Indian musician, with his vast reserves of talent and rare commitment to hard work. Despite his numerous collaborations, however, Jivraj has managed to maintain a voice (and sound) very unmistakably his own. His willingness to adapt comes with an uncompromising dedication to pushing music and art he truly believes in, a quality that sets him apart from his contemporaries and one, we think, makes him a musician the world should keep their eyes on.


3 most inspirational artists:

Trent Reznor
David Lynch
Werner Herzog

3 Favourite albums of all time:

I Sing The Body Electric (Weather Report)
OK Computer (Radiohead)
The Nightfly (Donald Fagen)

3 Favourite artists of the moment:

Holly Herndon
Mehliana (Brad Mehldau + Mark Guiliana)

Words: Diya Gupta
Image credit (thumb): Aastha Singh
image credit (main): Aditya Kapur


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