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Kapil Seshasayee is an art rock musician in the Indian classical tradition. He was born in Ramnad in South of India, but grew up in Glasgow in the United Kingdom. Like teenagers of the diaspora the umbilical chord to the Indian grandmotherland tugs at Kapil Seshasayee’s music strings. The Carnatic violinist L Subramanium and Bengali musician Ananda Shankar, whisper in his ears and commentary on Bollywood suffuses his music.

Growing up in Scotland, Kapil often visited India with his parents. “One of my earliest memories is listening to them (cousins) practice their vocal exercises along with a harmonium,” he told Vice.  At home in Glasgow, his parents listened to the music of their adolescence, Bollywood disco, and ABBA. Kapil listened to Pink Floyd, Free, and folkie John Martyn.

Kapil Seshasayee talks of Bollywood whose influence shapes the mindsets of the children so far away from Mumbai. His latest album, Laal is the second installment in his Desifuturist Trilogy of albums and focuses on issues within the Bollywood film industry. 

The singles from the album, “The Gharial” and “The Pink Mirror” tell a story about what, he believes, is not immediately visible in Bollywood. “I want those stories to illuminate things that people aren’t thinking about and empower those who live these stories,” he said.

The Gharial” (set for release May 22nd) is a critique of Bollywood profiteering off of nationalism, particularly in the context of religious identity. The song is named after a type of crocodile considered sacred in traditional Hindu mythology. By no coincidence, the recent hit film Tanjhaji featured a cartoonishly “evil” antagonist roasting and eating a crocodile on-screen. Such films seek to escalate tensions in an audience already divided by current issues, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act & COVID-19.

The Pink Mirror” (set for release June 5th) is a sonic essay on an odd double standard regarding trans representation in Bollywood cinema. While antiquated versions of trans people in mainstream Indian cinema continue to serve as little more than comedic relief, attempts by LGBT filmmakers to tell their own stories of trans-Indians are often blocked from release. A frequent plot detail in modern Bollywood films includes an offensively-portrayed trans character trying to seduce the cis protagonist away from the heroine, typically via deception.

“I usually start with a notion of what a song is going to be about and then I work on what intervals, rhythms, and textures might best assist the listener in parsing the intended narrative of the piece,” Kapil said to Kajal.

The musical influences driving Kapil’s work are disparate enough to elicit intrigue, but can all be heard throughout A Sacred Bore: Richard Dawson, Scott Walker, Glenn Branca, Satyajit Ray & Einsturzende Neubauten. For Laal, Kapil draws on a diverse set of influences – from the socially conscious R&B of D’Angelo to the Indian classical ornamentations of saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, from the abstract yet holistic cadences of Amirtha Kidambi to the inspiring production chops of Kindness and Blood Orange.

Fusing Western and Eastern musical styles, Kapil Seshasayee celebrates forward-looking voices in South Asian culture. However, not unlike other diasporic children, Kapil Seshasayee can’t resist talking about the movies that influenced his view of India and, by extension, his view of himself. 

The sprawling narratives of the Indian tradition wind their grandmotherly arms around him. Even as he marches forward he looks back.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

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