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Jazz, hip hop as a storytelling tool

  • The debut album by rapper-producer Siva Baskaran entails music production with a penchant for science-fiction storytelling
  • Baskaran’s Native Indian’s project was conceived four years ago

Siva Baskaran aka Native Indian
Siva Baskaran aka Native Indian

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On his debut album Nature Of The Self, rapper-producer Siva Baskaran (aka Native Indian) blends jazz, synth-pop, hip hop, dance music and a plethora of samples to create a kaleidoscopic soundscape spanning continents and musical traditions. This sonic melange sets the stage for Baskaran’s sci-fi/fantasy exploration of the history of identity and the self, featuring Rastafarian robots, post-singularity deities and philosopher AIs.

“I’ve always been inspired by non-musical sources like games, comics and films,” says the 29-year-old Chennai-based musician. “So I wanted to create this semi-fantasy, semi-realistic story that branched out from all the inspiration that I had kind of gathered over the years.”

An automotive engineer by training, Baskaran joined Toyota after he graduated. But he quit soon after to look for work in the music industry. He took up a job as an events manager at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai, before moving to Mumbai, where he managed a number of popular indie artists, including bass music producer Sandunes and multi-instrumentalist Sid Vashi.

“The only musical education I have had is what I learnt from the artists I have managed and hung out with,” he says. “Also working as an artist manager was a great way to understand the music industry, how it works, who to approach.”

The Native Indian project was conceived about four years ago, when Baskaran was still in Mumbai. He initially wanted to put a band together, but quickly realized that he had neither the time nor the bandwidth to juggle both a day job and a live music act. So he started experimenting with electronic production, putting down loops and song scratches that drew from the rich—and often noisy—tapestry of sounds around him.

“The sounds I wanted to use and the sonic landscape I wanted to create were very much based on what you hear when you walk down the street in India,” he says. “I wanted to draw a balance between something that people from India can readily understand and relate to, and something that’s like a passage for people from the outside to come and view our world.”

Early last year, Baskaran took time off from his day job to convert these loops into fully fleshed out songs, tied together by a loose narrative inspired by his interest in futurism, science fiction and philosophy. The seven tracks follow a godlike being from the future who travels back in time to unearth the roots of his mental and physical conditioning. The works of inventor Ray Kurzweil and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari are important touchstones for Baskaran, who also took inspiration from comic books and his own dreams. “Each song represents a key moment or environment that shaped the DNA that has been passed on to him,” he says.

With the album released on 5 April on the independent recordings label, Baskaran is already looking at the follow-up. He plans on collaborating with comic book artists to create a visual representation for his narrative, as well as start work on the stories for the next record.

“On volume 2, I want to take the characters, identities already in place, and the micro-cosmos in which they exist, and develop the story further,” he says. “Now that the character has understood where his conditioning comes from, what does he do with that information and how does that story develop?”

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