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In Conversation With Chalo H.Q: Championing Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri Artists

Chalo H.Q founders Jitwam and Dhruva Balram noticed a gap in the music industry. Although musicians of South Asian descent have been producing impeccable tracks in the spectrum of genres, the global conversation seems to be limited to a handful of artists. Chalo H.Q set out to spotlight musicians from India, Pakistan and Kashmir with hopes to expand to other regions in the future. The first album Chalo is a compilation featuring violinist and composer V.S. Narasimhan, New Delhi band Peter Cat Recording Co and Kashmiri rapper MC Kash. The proceeds from this album will be donated to Human Rights Law Network and Zindagi Trust. Strand spoke to the founders about their current project and future plans.

Credits: Chalo (Artwork by Shweta Sharma)

What led you to create this album?

Dhruva and Jitwam: In terms of the disparity, South Asians are pigeonholed into Bhangra and Bollywood, Punjabi MC and M.I.A. When it comes to the way we are represented outside of South Asia, it’s one simple narrative brush. Have there been any South Asian musicians on the covers of magazines that we sought out in our youth? Indians alone make up over a billion people in the world, is the music industry saying that not one of those people (in India or South Asia, in the diaspora or at home) deserve to be spotlighted?

Chalo features work by Pakistani, Kashmiri and Indian artists. How did you come up with the concept for it?

Jitwam: I think it’s just important to be in servitude to something other than your ‘self’. There’s so much shit going on in the world today and it’s hard to know what to do and how to do it without drowning in self-doubt. Finding things that bring people together is so needed right now and it is with this spirit that these collaborations came about. Zindagi

Trust is doing such amazing work bringing educational and extracurricular opportunities to all kids in Pakistan not just the wealthy. And Human Rights Law Network, I heard about a while ago on one of my trips to Mumbai and after hearing and reading the tireless work they do for Dalit rights, and countless other communities that don’t get their voices heard like we do it all just made perfect sense.

What was the collaboration and compilation process like when you were creating the tracklist?

Jitwam: The aim of the compilation was to really highlight the disparate sounds and styles from the region, and showcase the breadth of talent coming from the scene. A lot of the artists are friends or friends of friends, and it was in this spirit that the compilation came to fruition.

Are there any upcoming projects you are working on? Will we see inter-disciplinary creatives along with more music by Chalo?

Dhruva: A podcast, an art series, merchandise and a documentary. All are offshoots of the compilation. We went into Chalo starry-eyed with an ambition to cover so many creative fields (because we believe they all deserve their due). So, the documentary showcases the plight of South Asian artists, asking the question: why are we so underrepresented? Produced by our creative director and guiding light, Amanda Liu, the documentary is set to feature a number of the artists on the compilation discussing what unites us across borders while spotlighting the struggles they’ve faced as musicians navigating a white-dominated industry. The podcast is much more of a deep dive into the systemic issues that plague the region. We wanted one discipline of Chalo to be politically-charged where we can give space to people to discuss, at length, the issues that are dividing the region (you can imagine what most of them are). Some episodes also deal with our own missteps with Chalo while admitting the space we occupy in the diaspora championing artists at home who are living with the realities we only experience on our visits back. With the podcast, we want to ensure that we’re not just another voice in the echo chamber.

Buy and stream Chalo here.


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