If there’s one thing the Chill Out Festival does well, it’s fusion music. Oh yes: whether you want European electro-jazz, continent-crossing ska or Orient-infused beats, this is the place to be. It’s fitting, then, that this year’s headliner should be British-Indian musician Talvin Singh, who became an underground – and later overground – sensation in the ’90s with a then-startling mix of drum ’n’ bass and traditional Indian tabla music.
But, while he was at the cusp of a wave of world-music-infused dance tunes, he seems uncomfortable being associated with the genre’s popularity, apparently out of fear of appearing too calculated. ‘It just happened in a very natural way,’ he explains down the phone from London, his home city. ‘I never woke up thinking, I’ve got a great idea – let’s put A, B and C together. It was an organic process that came from having dual cultural experience. Making music is a very natural, personal thing and you only break it down intellectually afterwards.’
Since then, of course, fusion music has spread in popularity, and Talvin’s career has risen and risen, allowing him to work with artists as diverse as late Sufi devotional singer Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and, er, Jay-Z. And while that period of success was fruitful, it’s only recently that Singh has started to come into his own again – thanks to the global economic troubles. ‘Sometimes you have to feel really unsettled to make hot music,’ he explains, ‘and a lot of [my early music], I think, came out of frustration and struggle, on a cultural level.
‘I don’t think that in the last 10 years anyone’s had to struggle, but now I think that difficult period is starting again. And I think times like that are when a lot of my music kicks in, where you’ll hear the kind of music I make. When things are too blingy there’s not much space for my music, which is why I haven’t really bothered to put much out recently. But I make tunes every single day, and now I’m going into my archives and putting stuff out there.’
For now, Dubai will be getting a taster of Talvin’s talent at the Chill Out Festival on March 14. And he won’t be alone. ‘For this gig I’m working with a very special guest, Niladri Kumar, an incredible sitar player from Bombay. He’s magical, just really magical. He has incredible skill on a classical level, but he can understand European harmony and aesthetic at the same time. The music is going to be slamming, so the fragile acoustic nature of the sitar really helps. This is going to be a fantastic opportunity for us to do what we do.’
Talvin Singh plays the Chill Out Festival, March 14