In the world music world, every encounter has the potential to inspire. One such moment happened to us a little over two months ago when we were fortunate to witness Jason Singh‘s performance during his captivating curation at Womad’s World’s of Art, also involving a soundtrack for the impressive Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram. This experience was our “live” introduction to a versatile artist – a sound artist, nature beatboxer, producer, DJ, facilitator, performer, and more.
A few weeks after this revelatory experience, we had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with Jason and explore his musical journey. We delved into the inspiration behind Travellers and its profound connection to the culturally rich landscape of Rajasthan. Throughout our conversation, we discussed how he masterfully blends elements of nature, technology, and tradition to craft a unique sonic narrative, inviting us to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of rural communities and the universal language of music.
Being a multifaceted artist involved in sound, beatboxing, production, and more, how do you maintain such a diverse creative output across various art forms and music genres?
Music isn’t something I just do, it is what I am. I hear music in all art forms and everyday lived experiences. I then try to communicate how I hear and experience the world through various outlets and collaborations. Whatever the project, as long as something resonates and draws me in, I tend to pursue it.
Travellers marks your latest album. Could you delve into the inspiration and themes behind it, particularly its deep-rooted connection to Rajasthan?
Travellers is the first predominantly acoustic project I have produced. It’s also the first album I chose not to perform on. The themes of the album include love, longing, separation, devotion, climate, and nature. I have been working in Rajasthan for many years, and this album took over 10 years to come together. It was definitely a thing about timing and all the stars aligning both in the UK and India to make it happen. It has been an endeavour of many people behind the scene.
The album incorporates nature and environmental references. How do these elements weave into the narrative and themes of Travellers, and how do they relate to your previous works, such as The Hidden Music of Trees?
Some of the references are literal, through field recordings and lyrics, and some are woven within the music, for example using rhythms that mimic the sway of camels or melodies inspired by birdsong and spiritual stories of forest dwellers. I never see any of my projects as separate from each other as everything influences everything in some shape or form.
The album showcases a collective of master musicians and vocalists hailing from the Manganiyar community in Rajasthan. Could you shed light on how this collaboration came about and describe the creative process?
I had worked with the musicians separately in various projects over the years, and a year before recording the album, we tried a pilot collaboration in Jaipur. After a week of writing and experimenting, we performed at an outdoor concert in Jaipur which was incredibly well received. When I got back to the UK, I felt really inspired and focused because we had such a strong group of musicians. A year later, I went out to Rajasthan with sound engineer and producer David McEwan, and we recorded the album during the monsoon of 2019. We took folk songs and spiritual songs and reworked and rearranged them incorporating field recordings and additional instrumentation back in the UK.
The collective’s name and the seventh chapter of the album, “Banwasi,” translates as “forest dwellers.” Can you unravel the story and symbolism behind this track and its significance to the artists’ rural heritage?
Banwasi (meaning ‘forest-dweller’) takes us to a great Hindu epic, the Ramayana: ‘the tale of Ram.’ The song glimpses an early moment in the story when Ram is banished to the forest for a 14-year exile, by his regretful father Dashrath (king of Ayodhya). Ram is joined in his exile by two loyal followers: his brother Lakshman and his wife Sita, though the latter is not mentioned in this song. The poem is written in Hindi and is attributed to Tulsidas, the great 16th-century poet-saint who is renowned for writing down the life of Ram in Awadi and Sanskrit languages. In this track, you’ll hear the interplay of my field recordings of birdsong, along with subtle accompaniment on the harmonium and dholak, as Bhuta, Nehru, and Safi sing the story in gentle unison.
“Travellers” seamlessly incorporates traditional instruments and delves into Sufi culture while addressing the impact of climate change in the region. How do these elements intertwine within the album’s narrative?
It’s through the songs themselves. The album isn’t directly speaking about the climate crisis, but instead, the themes and inspiration of nature and wildlife are themselves there to help people get a sense of place and place.
The album was recorded in both Rajasthan and London. Could you share how these distinct locations influenced the album’s sonic landscape and overall ambiance?
I wanted to explore the fact that I was born in the UK but have deep connections to India. I wanted to bring together my inspirations of different styles of folk music, including drum and bass and electronic music, but present these through an acoustic lens. Whether the songs are sung in different languages for me doesn’t matter; it’s the energy and passion and ‘soul’ of the music which has roots in growing up in East London and Manchester as well as my travels around the world.
Travellers made its debut during your curation of the Enchanted Forest stage at WOMAD 2023, alongside Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon. How did the audience respond to this performance, and what were your feelings about the experience?
We presented the world premiere of the album as a D&B Soundscape immersive listening session in the rain on the last day of Womad festival. We’d built an amazing atmosphere over the course of the festival, starting with an impromptu rave in the woods on the Thursday night and continuing with incredible live performances and nights of dancing. I’ve had some wonderful messages from people about the performances we had there. So by the day of the launch, the space was full of magic. To play the album in that space, under Luke Jerram’s moon felt pretty special, and I think people felt the same.
With your involvement in numerous projects and performances, how do you strike a balance between your solo work and collaborative endeavors?
I want to be part of a posse! Even when I’m doing so-called ‘solo’ projects, I like to build a team around me.
Considering the music realm, what currently inspires your sound the most? Are there any specific artists or albums you’ve been particularly fond of in the last few months?
I’m constantly being inspired by all sorts of things, all of the time, not necessarily all musical. I’m always listening, so it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve gone back to buying records, and searching out new and old records. I’m currently listening to Nala Sinephro, Joe Armon-Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Irfan Rainy and Joe Claussell, UK garage, broken beat. I also listen to a lot of ambient music, old and new, and I also love Arooj Aftab.
Looking forward, what are your aspirations and hopes for the impact of Travellers, both as a standalone album and as a part of your ongoing exploration of the intersections between music, nature, and technology?
My hope for the album is that people will get an understanding for the beauty and richness of rural traditional communities. And that through the music – whether they understand the lyrics or not – people will be able to connect with themselves and the world. People have sent me messages saying there is a beauty in this. I like making beautiful things. I like there to be beauty present in what I make. And if through this someone connects with it in this way, then I’ve really achieved something.
Part of this work is demonstrating the power of folk knowledge: FUBU – for us by us. In a way, I’m connecting with a traditional community that’s really old. That has wisdom, knowledge, passion. Rajasthanis are passionate. They’re like Punjabis! There’s something about that passion – people that are heated. We’re numbed here. What I find in Rajasthani culture is that they still have this passion where the music has the power to transport.
Technology is a tool that helps us to dialogue with other living things on the planet. It allows a communication between a dolphin and a person and a mushroom – to tell the story of something that’s constantly happening all the time. To live is to be experiencing this whole living thing.