My Inspiration: Kapil Seshasayee – Laal | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Scottish-Indian classical fusion/R&B/protest artist Kapil Seshasayee performs their first solo show in Newcastle at Bobiks on Saturday 20th May. The show will be part of a UK tour to promote their latest release Laal, a concept album about Bollywood that has been getting rave reviews. 

Here, Kapil tells us more about what inspired the album ahead of the show…

Following up my debut album A Sacred Bore was daunting – it featured in Pitchfork, VICE, NPR, BBC Introducing, The Guardian, The Quietus, and Rolling Stone India on top of adventures in Canada, the US and Germany touring it. It’s a confrontational protest-record steeped in the influence of post-punk and industrial music. I realized that my best foot forward was not competing with it so I moved towards an R&B-meets-Indian-classical crossover on my second album, Laal. 

Gone was the Neubauten-like percussion in places of lush Prophet synthesizers and 808 drum machines. I’d fallen hard for the rich, conceptual work of Solange, D’Angelo and Thundercat and I wanted to bridge these new influences with the Indian classical phrasing that defined my other work. I still wanted to write protest songs but I wanted the audience to be dancing with me and my band on stage – charming them into engaging with the topics of these sonic essays I was writing.

While the serrated guitars of my debut put forth a scathing critique of the lingering manifestations of the caste system that permeate Indian communities in the guises of honour-killings and hyper-nationalism, Laal, the second installment of my Desifuturist Trilogy, expands on those issues, spotlighting less visible facets of the Bollywood film industry. Every song from this new album tells a story about Bollywood. What’s not immediately visible. I want those stories to illuminate things that people aren’t thinking about and empower those who live these stories. Bollywood informs so much of South Asian cultural identity but some of this influence requires greater scrutiny.

I always envisioned ‘Laal’ as a record written for my band in mind following the heavily electronic palette of my debut. It’s a groovy record that’s best experienced live. I’ve played some of my biggest shows to date this year and I’m excited to be returning to Newcastle on the 20th of May to Bobiks to perform Laal start to finish with my live band.

The Item Girl
The first single from Laal explores the influence of a problematic Bollywood trope on the misogyny I’ve has witnessed among South Asian males in the diaspora growing up. We must always be wary of the pop culture we’re consuming as its influence is vast and powerful. I’m combining guitar work influenced by the African-blues of bands like Tinariwen with the lush synth textures I’ve heard on records by Frank Ocean and Thundercat.

The Pink Mirror
Named for a film long-banned in India by queer filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan who has worked hard to establish an audience for it abroad (all sales from the single will be donated to his film production company Solaris Pictures which platforms queer Indian cinema) – this song is a sonic essay on the importance of true representation as it pertains to minority voices. Often when you ask a bigot where their homophobia/transphobia comes from – it stems from pop culture stereotypes and not actual interactions. Nuanced representation is the only way to humanize minority voices which I explore through the often-1 dimensional stereotypes of LGBTQ+ Indians that make it into mainstream Indian media and Bollywood.

The Gharial
Named for a type of crocodile deemed sacred in Hinduism, this song explores the exploitation of religious conflict for profit by the Bollywood film industry – centering on a historically inaccurate scene in 2020 hit film ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ of a Muslim caricature roasting and eating a crocodile which exists purely to instill ire among any Hindus watching. I was listening to loads of Solange, Indian classical music and 70s outfit The Cars when I was working on this song.

Rupture Of The Wheel
My first song to feature lyrics in languages other than English – this single features a guest verse in Urdu from Pakistan’s underground rap heroes Daranti Group. It expands further on the anti-nationalism message of my album “Laal” – telling the story of a wheelchair-using activist in India who was assaulted in a movie theater for not “standing up” for the national anthem which typically plays before Bollywood films and why we must be wary of hyper-nationalism. If you listen closely to the intro – taking cues from the sonic innovations of 100 Gecs and Arca – it’s evocative of the melody of the Indian national anthem itself.

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