TJ Rehmi, producer, dj, artist, musician extraordinaire agreed to conduct an interview with AsianVibrations.com and after some cajoling he opened up about his secretive life very nicely. Enjoy!
AV: Would you liken the Asian Music / Underground / Fusion movement that has grown (to a degree) out of Britain to Rap/Hip Hop in America? Being that South Asians are a big minority in Britain, just as African-Americans are here.
TJ: Yes and no. There are obvious stylistic differences based on cultural background but also similarities in attitude and in the usage of technology, breakbeats and heavy bass lines.
However, Rap/Hip Hop has become well established, turning into a worldwide commercial success and progressive Asian music is still really a specialist area for those who have a particular taste in music. Both the Afro-American and the Brit-Asian musical experiences are part of a cultural evolution. In other words, when you have a melting pot of various cultures and musical traditions clashing with each other, you end up with something new, which is initially seen as fusion or underground or a distortion of the traditional norm. Blues and Jazz, in the early days, was looked upon as black anti-christian music for reefer smoking drug addicts in the red light alcoholic clubs in the back streets of urban poverty. Now this music is a worldwide high art form, taught at universities around the globe, analyzed by intellectuals throughout the galaxy! Similarly, this evolution and fusion can be seen throughout the history of India, from the development of classical music to the latest Bombay film songs and to the recent Brit- bhangra and alternative/Asian underground movements....in fact, everywhere you look; a whole lot of migration and fusion has been going on throughout world history. Out of the chaos and confusion of clashing cultures and identities, something new is born...a bi-lingual, bi-cultural and multi-fucked up baby who has a new twisted arrangement of some old tunes.
AV: So, your up coming work with Maad Ethics - where would that get classified? Being that it has both the rap - hip/hop and the south asian fusion elements? (at least to my understanding).
TJ: I don't usually think about classifying music and I tend to make music which reflects how I feel at the time...but for the purpose of music retailers and their customers, I must accept that it is part of the marketing and sales procedure to slot music into a particular classification... Maad Ethics could be classified as hip-hop or rap ... why not? Asian music influences have become part of the western culture because we live here and we are adding our vibe to the evolving global society...and my point is that rap - hip/hop is and has been open to all sorts of influences... and this is a good thing because all this rap shit can get a little bit boring, especially too much of that gangster bullshit... the world needs the Asian touch which can definitely provide a wider spectrum of rhythmic and melodic colors... Maad Ethics could also be classified as electronic, fusion, world music or even Asian underground ... I don't really care ... as long as people know about it and listen to it ... perhaps it's best to leave the classification to the marketing and media experts ... hey, how about electronic ambient world fusion!? ... I've just had another thought that maybe all music should be classified as world music because all music is music belonging to the world.
|More About This Artist|
AV: How did you meet Maad Ethics? How did that partnership come about? Wen is the album you are working on w/ them coming out?
TJ: I met them in a studio complex called Rich Bitch ... the engineer introduced me to them after mentioning that I wanted to add rap vocals to a track called Skrutinizer on the album Mind Filter ... this was 1997 ... later on, they approached me to produce an album for them ... I spent a little time developing ideas in between other projects and I am now concentrating on finishing their album ... I really want to get rid of them! The album will probably be released in 2003. Keep checking my website tjrehmi.com for any updates.
AV: So being that you said you make music that reflects how you feel at the time. Exactly what was going through your mind when you composed/produced Invisible Rain?
TJ: Invisible Rain is both the title of the album and name of a track on this album ...the track was composed at some point during the year 2000 and I remember spending a very long time on building this track (maybe 2 or more months)... I was generally feeling 'the blues' about a lot of things in life that concern me... working on this track helped me to focus my mind and to eventually feel much better as the music evolved from day to day. I ended up dancing around the studio, feeling ecstatic and delighted at hearing the final mix (or was it after Shakti offered me a record deal?!) ... and all this without taking drugs. I think that it's difficult to explain what my music really means because it's all part of a subjective experience that can't be put into words ... humans are very complicated animals ... it's up to you to experience the music and give it your own meaning ...
AV: So why the secondary track list for invisible rain that u mentioned in the liner notes of the album? Why wasn't that order used when the actual album was put together?
TJ: The track list on the liner notes was the original idea of how the tracks should run in a particular order. I was thinking along the lines of unfolding a journey from slow ambience to more energy. However, Shakti records suggested an alternative track list, which also sounded good, and so I decided that it would be an entertaining idea to include the original track list on the liner notes.
AV: Talking of Shakti Records, why was the last album not released on Nation Records? Seen from an outsider's point of view until now you have had a great bond with Nation, being that every album of yours was released through them; why the change now?
TJ: It was time to move on and Shakti showed me the money! ... Nation were quite happy for me to make this move ... it's always been a friendship thing between me and Nation's Aki and Rich... and I still regularly ring them up and chat about things... the other bonus is that Shakti, who are based in the US, are more able to promote my music to a huge audience (market) in North America and Canada which is good for my health.
AV: So give us a history lesson, when did you meet Aki and Rich? When did you decide to work w/ them for Nation Records? How did that friendship come about?
TJ: It was during 1995 that I rang up Nation and, after talking to Rich, ended up sending a demo of some of my experimental work ... they liked the stuff and released the track 'Is It Legal' on a compilation called Fuse 3... the response to this track was overwhelming ... and around this time there was something happening... there was a buzz... there was excitement about the new 'Asian Underground' scene ...the London clubs, radio stations and media ... the DJ's, musicians, promoters and record labels ... all of a sudden, being Asian became the new 'cool ' ... In 96, I released my first solo CD which was a 4 track EP called 'The Fusionist' ... followed by the Skrutinizer EP in 97, Mindfilter album in 98, Mera Therapy album in 99 and the Raag DigiTaal album in 2000 ... I started visiting London more often, DJ- ing and doing interviews, and the friendship with Nation grew from there.
AV: So you didn't know them on a personal level? It was through that initial demo tape that the friendship grew from?
TJ: Yes. I knew of Aki, Nation records and his band Fundamental but I had never talked to him until after the demos and talking to Rich on the phone.
AV: Switching gears here a little bit, would you mind telling our readers and your fans how you have your studio/sound equipment set up? And which of those do you usually start with when you compose your music?
TJ: My studio is called the Mood N Bass Laboratory and it is all set up around a G4 Mac computer running Logic Audio and other software. In addition, there are various synth modules, an Akai sampler and a controller keyboard which are midi linked to the G4 and all the outputs from these sound sources go into 2 x 16 channel Mackie mixing desks. For monitoring I use Genelec and Yamaha speakers. I also have lots of guitars, various other stringed instruments, effects pedals, 3 guitar amps, percussion, a hi fi system, a record player and a fridge. Each composition is different and there is no set way of starting ... I might start with a chord sequence, a drum loop or a guitar riff... maybe an idea or a certain mood ... perhaps a piano melody or an interesting sample ... the important thing is to begin…feel inspired ... to create and develop the ideas.
AV: Being that almost your entire studio is set up through midi, a digital medium and yet your music has a very organic, earthy, natural and unique sound (hope u get what i mean there) how do you achieve that? And tied in with that, how do you decide when to use live musicians rather than samples or loops?
TJ: Sorry but I can't answer this question because of the musicians union trade secrets policy ... ahh ha ... only joking! Even though my studio is computer based, I can record real musical performances into the computer using Logic Audio (music software), which enables me to do multi-track recordings in the same way as tape machines. I can sample instruments or vocals into my sampler for use in various compositions... and also, I can use sounds off the synth modules by playing the keyboards ... it could be a bass or piano sound ... the point is that I tell the computer what to do and not the other way round ... and I tend to leave the notes as they were played without quantising (timing correction done by the computer) ... I prefer the human feel and I don't mind playing something again and again until I get it right! I like to use live musicians whenever I have a definite idea of their part in the arrangement.... and after they've gone... sshhhh....! .... (I sample what they've done because this gives me more freedom to manipulate the shape of the composition).
AV: So besides the guitar and keyboards what other instruments do you play? Any south asian instruments?
TJ: I have a Sitar Guitar which is a guitar that sounds like a sitar and I also used to play Bass guitar in a Band .And no, I don't play any south asian instruments but I've studied Indian classical music and have experimented a lot with playing raags on the guitar. Some other instruments that I own and dabble with are Mandolin, Toombi, Shenai, Tabla and Dholki.
AV: Well TJ that's all the questions I can think of. Any final comments you want to make for AsianVibrations.com readers?
TJ: Thanks for the interview and I hope that all the AsianVibrations.com readers will go out and buy the Invisible Rain album ... so go out and check out one of those listening stations in a music outlet or go to tjrehmi.com and turn up the speakers ! Peace, Love ... aloo gobi and 2 roti.