There comes a point in the career of many a musician when the time is ripe to tackle a concept album – though only the most audacious would use it as a calling card. Janelle Monae pulled it off with her first full-length album The Archandroid, itself a sequel to her debut Metropolis EP. Glasgow-based Scots-Indian composer and multi-instrumentalist Kapil Seshasayee is similarly ambitious for his music. He kicked off his self-styled Desifuturist trilogy, inspired by South Asian diasporic culture, with 2018 debut album A Sacred Bore, themed around the abuses of the Indian caste system and drawing on Indian classical music traditions, hip-hop and electro rock to create an idiosyncratic, dynamic sound.
Seshasayee swiftly set to work on a follow-up critiquing the traditions and tendencies of India’s blockbusting Bollywood film industry, initially releasing new music in 2019 before the pandemic hit. He subsequently spent much of lockdown finessing Laal – the title means “red” in Urdu – into righteously rocking jazz fusion shape, topped with Seshasayee’s almost tender soul vocals, exposing some of the darker aspects of an industry which presents itself as ravishing escapist entertainment.
“It’s a real departure from my previous releases,” he says, “sonically referencing contemporary R&B, hyperpop and bebop while staying true to my roots as a protest musician. The album covers a number of themes including nationalism, disability rights and misogyny in pop culture and Bollywood cinema, but it’s a record that charms you into engaging with its subject matter – not least because of my two-drummer live band line-up that’s gotten folk dancing in the crowds at festivals over the summer.”
Seshasayee is now a veteran of South By South West, Canadian Music Week, South Asian festival Dialled In, Glasgow’s 2021 Euros cultural programme and – of course – the Scotsman Sessions, for which he went split screen with drummer Edwin Stewart McLachlan back in summer 2020. McLachlan joins him remotely again for his second Scotsman Session, a two-pronged rendition of album track 370, with Seshasayee rocking out in his Glasgow studio.
The song title references Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special status to the northwestern region of Jammu and Kashmir, until this autonomy was revoked in 2019. Bollywood has registered rights to make films about the ongoing conflict in a territory which has long been at the centre of disputes between India, Pakistan and China.
“The song explores how the conflict is nuanced,” says Seshasayee, “and that multiple minorities – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian, as well as smaller faith groups – are suffering, but there is selective outrage depending on which platforms are reporting on the conflict. The conflict has also been largely ignored over the last couple of years, being overtaken with coverage around conflicts such as Ukraine. A social media campaign was launched to raise awareness of the conflict called ‘go red for Kashmir’ which is referenced in the title of the album.”
Laal is released on 18 November and launched on 23 November at Audio, Glasgow. Tickets from https://eventbrite.co.uk/e/kapil-seshasayee-laal-glasgow-album-launch-tickets-411571691007