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Interview: Sudha Kheterpal of Faithless

1 February 06 interview: Kate Symons

"Being a good Percussionist is, of course, about understanding the intricacies of rhythm. It's also, as with any instrument, about feel."

Girl Power was a load of nonsense, but talented girl drummers make you proud to be female. Sudha Kheterpal is one of these women. As the percussionist with Faithless, she’s an accomplished rhythm mistress and also a Nottingham girl.
Some of you might have seen her on stage with Faithless at the Arena last December, she’s been with the band ten years. She also played with Talvin Singh (winner of the 1999 Mercury Music Prize) and formed part of the original Sister India band, as well as countless other appearances in British-Asian crossover music. Sudha is currently working on her first solo album, so we caught up with her for a chat.

How did you start playing percussion?
I was given the opportunity to learn at school. I studied at Nottingham Girls High School and I remember my music teacher telling us that the drum teacher from the boys school would be coming over to give trial lessons. I'd never felt so excited in my eleven year-old-life and that night begged my parents to let me go. I studied with drum teacher Mike Sillitoe for five years and he still remains to this day my biggest mentor. After university, I moved to Leicester to do an Access to Music course where I met a number of session musicians. Realising I'd found my vocation, I moved to Manchester to further realise my dream. It was here I launched my professional career with 90s pop band K-Klass.

Is being a good percussionist all about the rhythm, baby?
Being a good Percussionist is, of course, about understanding the intricacies of rhythm. It's also, as with any instrument, about feel.
About knowing when not to play and when to punctuate. My style is influenced by many world music types, predominantly Cuban. Cuban music fires me up. It gives me goose bumps.

If you were stuck on a desert island, which three percussion instruments would you want to take with you?
A conga, a tabla, and a glockenspiel. A conga because that's my main instrument and I couldn't live without at least one, a tabla because it reminds me of much of what I love about being Indian and a glockenspiel so I could create melodies. Needless to say I'd create sticks and shakers out of coconut trees!

Which gig has given you the biggest adrenalin rush?
It's hard to isolate just one. Live 8 this year with Faithless, Werchte in Belgium where we caused an earthquake and Lapland in minus 30 degrees (if there was no adrenalin we'd probably have died!) Playing with Talvin Singh in Brazil, playing with Sister India at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1999.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in the music industry?
People not taking me seriously because I'm a woman drummer.

What’s your experience of Nottingham’s music and arts culture? What local musicians do you rate?
When I grew up, Nottingham was already at the hub of cultural activity. Now, it seems to have reached new heights with the likes of Bent and Crazy Penis and a multitude of new arts venues. Vocal talent such as Zoe Johnston, who featured with both Faithless and Bent, certainly gets my vote. What a voice! Her first album will be released this Spring so watch out for that one.

What are your fondest memories of Nottingham?
The Arboretum, Goose Fair, playing at The Old Vic and Eden, Xylophone man and The Hippo.

You must have some amazing memories of touring with Faithless. Any funny stories you can tell us?
There's no real way of describing touring with Faithless other than utter madness. If a social worker passed by we'd probably be sectioned. Most of us have worked together in the band for ten years so we're completely like family. Funny stories? Wow! There are hundreds. Being chased off stage by hundreds of frantic Norwegians half way through our set was quite a mad one.

You did the percussion for Kylie as part of a full live stage PA at Cream when she launched Confide in Me and she made you wear a dinner jacket. Sounds like a strange musical experience..?
The dinner jacket part was rather strange but it kind of worked. I remember Kylie being quite nervous but very professional. Overall it was a professional affair.

The days you played at Cream sound pretty cool. Would you consider these your favourite career years?
Those days were simply fantastic. Playing at Cream, The Hacienda, Ministry of Sound in the early 90s was exciting, new and er… a little messy. It's amazing how many people I bump into from back then. Other favourite career days are playing with the likes of acid jazz band Corduroy and Dido.

Are there any female musicians, past or present, who are important role models to you?
Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar, Sheila E, Ricki Lee Jones, Bjork, Cindi Blackman, Annie Lennox, Carole King.

You are currently working on your own musical projects. How are they progressing?
I'm currently writing my album which should be completed by the summer. The music's cheeky and eclectic. Check my website for updates and downloads.

Future ambitions?
To have people listening to my music all over the world and to show young people, particularly girls, that it's possible to make your mark on the world in any way you want to.

What advice would you give to up and coming musicians?
If you're totally committed you'll get there. Doing something you love 100% is of utmost importance, but there will be times when you're not working, so have a back up plan too!

Sudha's website

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