Anjali and I caught Firewater at the Doug Fir last week. I had never heard of them before, but when DJ Rekha was in town recently, she had told Anjali that the legendary dholi and leader of the Dhol Foundation, Johnny Kalsi, was touring with them. Anjali and I weren’t aware that the show was happening until the day of (or I would have writtten about it in my blog), and I was very skeptical that Johnny Kalsi was actually going to be on stage with them in Portland, Oregon, but shortly after we arrived (forty-five minutes after their start time, according to the posted schedule) at the Doug Fir, Todd A, the leader of Firewater, introduces a song called “Bhangra Brothers” that featured some solo dhol action Johhny Kalsi.
As I watched the pumped and packed crowd respond raucously to Johhny’s acrobatic dhol solos, I realized that after nearly six years of Andaz, we have yet to feature a live dholi at our night. Anjali and I travel so much, and see such a range of Desi events, featuring dholis of many different ability levels, in many different contexts, that I forget that people stuck in Portland, who rely on our nights for their bhangra fix, have possibly never seen the power and thrill of a live dhol performance. We have to do something about this.
The problem is that there are so many mediocre dhol players, and so few real talents. A lot of Desi DJ nights in other towns regularly feature dholis who often can’t play in time with the music, and just create a clashing, clanging mess. Sometimes they can stay on rhythm briefly, and then they veer off into trainwreck territory. I was once in the balcony of a club at a Desi DJ night, and I heard the downstairs dholi consistently playing a completely different rhythm from the DJ, that sounded awful. I couldn’t see him from the balcony, so I went downstairs to see what was going on. The dholi was in the crowd, not on stage, and playing for a group of his friends, showing them his licks, while completely ignoring what the DJ was doing. No wonder it was such a train wreck.
Quality first. That is why you haven’t seen Anjali and I feature a dholi yet, because we would only want to spotlight the very best. Raymond Bhullar of the Dhol Nation Academy often comes up in our discussions, so we may just have to arrange for him to come down from Canada at some point. After the Firewater show we asked Johnny Kalsi about performing a solo show in Portland, but he says he wouldn’t do that to his band. The Dhol Foundation are an awesome and powerful sight, as I discovered when I had the joy of seeing them at the Basement Bhangra Ten Year Anniversary show, but we are going to need to source some major funding to bring a fourteen-piece percussion ensemble from London. Their albums don’t even come close to capturing the force of their live presence, and I highly recommend checking out the Dhol Foundation if you happen to be attending European Summer festivals, where you will probably be most likely to see them. Our fantasy is to have them play an all-ages outdoor Summer show at the Oregon Zoo some year. That would be amazing.