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October - November 2009


The Dholaholic

by Kanika Tandon

You have heard his dhol beats at WOMAD festivals and in the music of Hollywood movies like The Incredible Hulk, Tomorrow Never Dies and Gangs of New York. He has popularised the dhol amongst the young and the musically-inclined. His creation, The Dhol Foundation, aims to popularise the dhol amongst the youth. Meet Johnny Kalsi, the man who gave the Indian instrument dhol a new life...

Just beat it: Johnny at a stage performance

· Why the dhol?

I never thought I would play one. As a teenager, I was very much into mainstream music and loved listening to Blonde, Cool and the Gang, Jackson five, Earth, Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin.

· What made you take up the dhol then?

I always had a musical streak in me. I was asked by my family to learn the Tabla but after a few lessons, I decided it wasn’t “funky” enough for me. So I taught myself the beats that appealed to me more. When I was nine, while attending a wedding in the family, I accidentally found a drum behind an upturned sofa, meant to be kept hidden from naughty kids. I instinctively started playing it. From that moment I became the dholki boy for everybody.

I played at all of the weddings in my family. It was at one of these wedding receptions when I had my first exposure to the dhol. One of my uncles was the dhol player for a very small Bhangra dance troupe. They had amazing gadgets which they used during their act but the dhol was their main instrument. Its sound mesmerised me. I just knew that this was the instrument for me. I knew I wanted to be out there and play it on stage. But then came a major break and I was asked to be a part of the Bhangra giants Alaap. This put me in a very strong position and made me the leading dhol player in the UK.

· What makes you successful?

I think success depends on media exposure, fame and selling loads of albums. We don’t get much media attention, especially in India. Perhaps because we don’t allow people to download our music! We are not as famous as other talented artists like Rishi Rich, Juggy D or H. Dhami. Those guys are great and have a good production line! I think that’s great and that’s success!

· How many hours do you practice the Dhol in a day?

I practice whenever I get time. In the car, at the breakfast table, anywhere! You don’t need a dhol to practice. Sofa, knees, chair, table or just a plain surface is enough for me. Imagination and the motion of your hands is all you need.

· Which has been your most memorable performance till date?

The most memorable performance to date was one that I had my pants tugged down while playing by adoring fans. That was great and made me feel like Tom Jones, even if just for five seconds, after which the embarrassment set in.

The other memory is a bit sad. While playing with Alaap at a night club in Watford, the last number we performed was Duma Dum Must Kalandar. As we began to perform, a guy climbed up on the bannister of the balcony and jumped on to the dance floor, Everyone moved out of the way and he fell on to his lower spine and was paralysed from the waist down. The whole band went to see him in hospital and when we asked him what had actually happened, he simply said, “I just got too excited”.

· Two things you are looking forward to.

Some big gigs coming up that I can’t disclose just yet but involves a certain mainstream female artist. The New TDF (The Dhol Foundation) Album and our DVD.

· What’s your USP (Unique Selling Point)?

No one in the world is doing what we do. There are many people imitating us but they come nowhere close to our standards and passion for the dhol. This makes us unique and together with our own productions for stage and of course, with our albums, it puts us in a very good selling position.

· Countries in which you love to perform and why?

Prague, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka we have a big following in those countries; so when we play there people come from miles!

· Not everybody gets a chance to work in Hollywood. How was the whole experience?

Hollywood was a wonderful experience and they really looked after us. Our very first experience was mind-blowing. Performing to a giant screen with the time code running and composing to film while the scene was running in front of us. Incredible! Just amazing! Still can’t believe we did that. Those gigs don’t come by everyday but I wish they did. Then to see your name on the silver screen in the credits is another buzz. I never thought I would see that; but it was great to see that something you wrote was appreciated by millions.

· Two things people don’t know about you?

I still don’t have a place of my own. It’s way too expensive and am still waiting to be successful enough. Also, I don’t eat fish or sea food! I keep them as pets.

· Johnny likes...

Music, drumming, driving, gigging, playing with my kids on PS3, chilling out with the ladies Jaz and Bally. I wish I could do more of scuba diving, shooting, sky diving. Can’t do them everyday!

· The secret of your energy is...

Adrenaline! I live for it, I love it and when I’m performing on that stage in front of thousands, I just unleash myself and play the dhol like never before. The more the crowd cheer, the more I get excited and the better I perform. There’s nothing like performing to a cheering audience. At its peak, it’s better than sex!

· Dhol Foundation’s purpose is...

To expose the sound of the dhol to the places it’s not yet been and to the ears of people who have not yet heard it being played like we do it. With the help of the Internet and great sites like Google and Youtube, we are getting more exposure and popularity!

(Johnny Kalsi’s The Dhol Foundation gives you an opportunity to learn how to play the dhol. For further information, log on to its official website


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