The Dhol Foundation founder Johnny Kalsi takes journeys between making albums and records his stories from those journeys in the form of audio anecdotes. The Dhol Foundation, a ten-piece multi-instrumental collective hailing from England, mixes the thunderous beats of the dhol drum, a double-sided drum that originates from 15th century India, with music from all over the world.
“What I do is I take my time making an album every three or four years,” Kalsi said. “And in the journey that I’ve had in that three or four years I actually play with many different bands, get exposed to many different people from all walks of life who play different instruments. So I invite them in for a collaborative track for my album…. We just have an amazing time.
“And actually what happens is the next time I make an album is that I’m showing people the journey that I’ve had over the last three or four years, which is quite nice. I bring those flavors on the album. So whatever journey I’ve had over those years I make them into memories on my albums.”
Kalsi and The Dhol Foundation are currently on a new journey, embarking on its first North American tour as a group. Kalsi compared the group’s tour to the seminal mockumentary film “This Is Spinal Tap,” because the tour bus company they were going to use dropped out at the last minute, forcing them to hustle for another means of getting around.
They settled on a bus that Kalsi said looks like it’s from the 1970s or 80s, hence the reference. The group is coming to Washington, D.C. on Friday, Sept. 23 for a show at Tropicalia.
Also, The Dhol Foundation is working on its fifth album, Stick to the Drum, which Kalsi expects will be released in the early 2017. He said that every album has the word drum in it because even if they don’t understand what a dhol is, they get an idea of what The Dhol Foundation does musically.
The musical journey that The Dhol Foundation is set to take on Stick to the Drum will include a stop in western Ireland with a feature from fiddle player Declan Foley, a Punjabi singer from India, a Bhangra singer from Birmingham, England and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and activist Angelique Kidjo. Kalsi said that because the drum – the dhol drum in his case – underpins cultures from all over the world, usually as signal for harvest, it serves as musical unifier.
“The version of the dhol drum that we play comes from Northern India, Punjab. Punjab means land of five rivers. Because it has five rivers, the soil is very fertile. Many of the people who live there are landworkers, they’re farmers,” Kalsi said. “And this instrument was used to keep the farmers going in the fields. It was used to play and accompany while they did folk dancing. The folk dancing of Punjab is very agriculturally influenced.
“They’ll do an action that’s baling the hay or they’ll do an action that’s cutting the corn… So it’s traditional and it’s an integral part of the folk dance of Punjab. The DNA of Bhangra [the folk dance] is in the drum. So you can’t get away from that. But what I wanted to do is show the diversity and show a broader horizon for this drum and expose it to different types of music. And I strongly believe that music has no language. It has no barriers….Over the eras the dhol is one instrument that developed and evolved…and it’s quite interesting. Every barrel-shaped drum with two skins has one thing in common: harvest. Anywhere in the world.”