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Once described as “…the best tabla player on the planet…” DJ Shiva Boom Bass began his career in the dizzying world of classical Indian percussion. A prodigy from an early age, Boom Bass developed and refined his talent at the District 7 Academy of the Musical Arts in Madiawhar, India. Many of his teachers were taken aback by his mix of precocious talent and desire to shock the public with outrageous display. One teacher remembers…
“Shiva would be seated and playing some rip-roaring old-time rhythms, but suddenly would jump up and start playing the Tabla with different parts of his body… a little like his hero Jimi (Hendrix), he was a one-man virtuoso, opting for the flamboyant as opposed to the conventional…”
It was the late 1970s when an adolescent Boom Bass would strike up his first musical collaborations. Having left Gujarat, the big-city music scene of Mumbai beckoned. Boom Bass hooked up with some old school chums and formed the now infamous Habib Patel Paan House Group of 3 (HPPHGO3). Experimenting heavily with ethereal German Art house and classical Indian ragas, Boom Bass started to find new dimensions to his artistic creativity. Habib Patel remembers fondly:
“Those cats could swing. They had this joint rocking night after night. It’s a shame they had to go to prison. I thought they were as good as, maybe even better than, the Stray Cats.”
Indeed, Boom Bass’ career started to go awry with his musical adventures in the early 1980s.
“(Collaborator) Sunil (Bass, Cello, Harmonium and Kazoo) and I really got into the whole London Punk and post-punk scene. We tried to make it our own thing, you know, and capture the angst of upper class life in India. In fact, Sunil added a great harmonium solo to Janie Jones. It was brilliant.”
This new musical adventure ended in tragedy. At the local district 1 school cafeteria, where HPPHGO3 would play their last concert together, a riot broke out and several people were injured after clashes between band members and the cafeteria staff. Boom Bass was arrested for desecrating a rented dholak after he jumped onto a table while playing before he knelt before it and lit it on fire. He was sentenced to 3 years at the Gharamnagar Maximum Security prison.
“The Gharamnagar years were a musical awakening for me,” Boom Bass politely intones. It was during this time that he explored the profound musical depths of his sorrow through his friendship with Jewish American Blues Master, Blind Hershel Rabinovitch. The two recorded an album together in 1985, The Gharamnagar Prison Blues. The sparse guitar-hewn tracks like “His name was Suneeta” and “Down to my last chapatti” bespeak the bitter, melancholic life that Boom Bass would have lived had he been born to a much lower caste.
“That Rabinovitch could play like some kind of bastard. His bitter, melancholic guitar-playing really forced me down new artistic paths. I can’t say that these were easy paths – they were very rocky and on a deep incline – but together we made it to the summit.”
Boom Bass and Rabinovitch played local prison social events for two years. Upon release the two collaborators parted way – Rabinovitch heading back to his native Mississippi and Boom Bass heading to Mombassa, on the sunny coast of East Africa. “I needed to see the sun once again – and be close to the magnificent waters of the Indian Ocean. I wish we had something so beautiful in India.”
In Mombassa, Boom Bass worked as a musician along the coast and built a reputation as a local celebrity with his unorthodox tabla style. Playing local music parties for a pittance, he was living hand-to-mouth along the coast. During this time Boom Bass was approached by a German ethereal musician (from the rock group, the Martin Heidegger Evening Club) Jorg Kiehler. Kiehler wanted to work with Boom Bass and introduced him to keyboards and turntables. Boom Bass took immediately to the fluid musical arts of DJing. Kiehler reminisces:
“At first he kept trying to hit the spinning records with his thumb and fingers – it sounded like industrial noise – lots of screeching and driving sounds. Slowly he incorporated a tabla style to mixing. We sounded a lot like Einsturzende Neubaten meets Pink Floyd in a café and then takes him to an alley in the back and kills him with a knife. That’s what it sounded like.”
Boom bass also started to develop friends in the nascent hip hop scene of East Africa in the late 1980s. Deeply influenced by RUN DMC and BDP, he recorded several tracks on his well-received “Nairobi is My Robi” EP that included the sulfuric local chart-topper “Pankaj salo cuti, you are going down”. The notoriety took him to Europe via the Berlin Macabre Music festival in 1988 – and on to the Sons des sauvages contents festival in 1989 and to Festivebury in the UK that same year. At Festivebury, Boom Bass once again had a musical revelation with Happy Mondays and the Madchester scene.
“Everybody was talking so much about ecstasy – and how ecstatic all of these English youths were and I also felt their ecstasy by dancing with them and chatting with them and then sharing deep fried Mars bars with them. What a gaggle of madcap vagabonds we were…”
In 1991, Boom Bass moved to Brazil, for reasons that remain unclear to him at the moment. “Brazilians have this very unique rhythm – my mixing needed a dose of Brazil.” But after a week in São Paulo, Boom Bass decided to return to Europe. “Things didn’t work out in the land down under – my mixing was too hard for these loose dancing Lotharios. Also, my Dad’s money ran out.”
In Uberwindung, Germany, close to the Black Forest, Boom Bass found a new community of DJs associated with the flourishing “Ethnikmusik” movement. In 1992 he started the Weltenschaungbildung Collective, or WC. WC became the vehicle which would propel DJ Shiva Boom Bass into the stratosphere of contemporary musicianship. His mind-blowing raga-meets-reznor-meets-robot-meets-roots-meets-ringo style, is a post-modern parable of modern music from a classical musician.
Recently, Boom Bass has moved his studios to the foot of the Canadian Rockies, to Wakooskamin, Alberta. Having deftly layered in a more organic sound into his mixes, he has unearthed a pure and worldly noise – a noise that began with the dawn of humankind and dribbles across epochs into the contemporary blitzkrieg of culture. He has reserved the title of “ Dawn as seen from the Fishmongers’ Wife’s Bedroom Window” for this collection of artistically transcendent mixes that will, without doubt, reshape our collective conception of music as we know it.
Despite this achievement, DJ Shiva Boom Bass remains humble and reflects peacefully…
“You know in the grand scheme of things, we are nothing but interlopers – pigeon shittings on the highway of time. But there are those moments of unmitigated beauty, moments where our spirits soar – that is when we transcend pigeon shit. That is what I want to accomplish. For example, look at these Majestic snow-capped peaks that Canadians mundanely refer to as the Rockies. This is art, my friend. I wish we had something so beautiful as these mountains in India.”