Johnny Kalsi

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Johnny Kalsi
Johnny Kalsi 2.jpg
Kalsi performing with The Imagined Village at the Big Chill Festival in 2008
Background information
Origin India
Genres World music
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, Producer
Instruments Vocals, Tabla, Dhol, percussion
Years active 1986 - present
Labels Shakti Records, Real World
Associated acts Afro Celt Sound System, Dhol Foundation, The Imagined Village, Transglobal Underground

Johnny Kalsi is a British Indian dhol drum performer residing in London. He rose to prominence as a former member of Transglobal Underground and the founder of the Dhol Foundation. He also performs with the Afro Celt Sound System and The Imagined Village.


Early life[edit]

Kalsi and Martin Carthy performing with The Imagined Village at the Big Chill Festival
Kalsi performing with The Imagined Village in Barking in 2008

Kalsi was born in Leeds, Yorkshire. As a youth, he became increasingly interested in music, although his parents had other aspirations for him. They had hoped to see him move towards a profession in law or medicine as a lawyer or doctor. Kalsi was self-taught as a drummer when he joined a school jazz trio and they performed at school concerts and assembly hall meetings.[1] His exposure to a variety of genres embraced both traditional Indian music and Western influences. His style became a blend of Eastern drum rhythms utilizing Western instruments. Kalsi redesigned the traditional dhol drum to his own personal specifications.[2]

A Nomadic family past[edit]

In the early 1900s his Grandfather was born in a British Indian Empire Ruled by King George V. This gave them everyone born at that time (and before) British Nationality. During the Second World War Sohan Singh Kalsi of Sungh Desian, Punjab was an Engineer for the British repairing rifles. After he was married both sets of grand parents (his Mother & Fathers' side) were in search of prospects and better paid jobs and a suitable stable future for their children so with British Passports in hand off they went on a one way journey by ship to East Africa along with thousands of others in search of the same. This was another British Empire that spread from Ethiopia all the way down (Except Addis Ababa (Which was Italian)) to South Africa and a bit of South West. As all this side of Africa was British so it was open to British Citizens from all over other British Empires. His Grand Parents settled in Nairobi and on his Mothers side they settled in Mombasa where they went to British Schools and Graduated with a higher education and degrees and 5 languages under their belts. His parents (Kulwant Singh Kalsi & Gurbux Kaur Kalsi) got married and by 1963 they had 2 daughters. both born in Nairobi, as were other cousins and some uncles & aunts. Then in 1967 in the neighboring Country of Uganda, the third president Idi Amin came into power and said, “anyone with a British Passport can get out of my country or I'm going to kill you”! A very evil man with bad intentions. Between 1967-69 he massacred thousands of innocent people across Uganda. For the fear of this happening across the border in Kenya, Johnny's parents decided to up & leave for England. They settled in Leeds in autumn of 1967 and in October Johnny Kalsi was born.


Merging the sound of bhangra into the World Music organisation.[edit]

In 1986, after leaving school, Kalsi joined a bhangra band called Alaap,[3] and assumed the role of lead percussionist and dhol player for the band, where he developed his own playing style and learned management skills necessary for a successful band. In 1995, Kalsi joined an emerging world music organization founded by Peter Gabriel, based at Real World Studios in Box, Wiltshire, England.[4] That connection served as a springboard for his career and exposed his talent to a global audience.

The rise of the Dhol Foundation[edit]

WOMAD festivals around the world soon appreciated the musical talents of The Dhol Foundation and provided many opportuniies to reach a broader audience.[5] Kalsi progressed to improve his skills with the dhol. While performing at ceremonial weddings, Kalsi was encouraged to teach his techniques to others.[6] He became the first dhol player to perform live with DJs, which appealed to younger audiences.

Kalsi's first dhol classes in Britain took place in 1989. No one had previously taught dhol as an ensemble instrument. Kalsi self funded his first tutorial classes in Slough, England in 1990.[7] During 1991 he assembled lead drummers to perform in local charity events. 1994 saw his exposure to non Asian worldwide audiences. In 1995 he progressed on the instrument while performing with more non-Asian bands. By 1996 he began to assist other artists and began collaborating on their album productions.[citation needed]

Kalsi worked as a session musician for two bands: Fundamental and Transglobal Underground during the early 1990s.[7] This period also provided European audiences with exposure to individual traditional music artists such as Miguel Bosé from Spain. Kalsi joined the biggest new world muaic[8] band called Afro Celt Sound System.[9] During 1997, Kalsi was touring with Fundamental performing at WOMAD festivals all over the World.[10]

Kalsi took on the role of a sideman in addition to session work, and performed with the Afro Celt Sound System on their second album, Release, which also featured Sinéad O'Connor. During the time he was with Transglobal underground Kalsi and The Dhol Foundation provided support in a European tour of the famed rock musicians Page & Plant, (both formerly of Led Zeppelin).

Recording artist to producer[edit]

In 1999 Kalsi's drumming troupe, The Dhol Foundation recorded their first album. The album was recorded live at performances around the world, absorbing the differing musical influences of bands they toured with, and contributed to their sound. Big Drum Small World, featuring a large photo of Kalsi on the album cover, was released on Shakti Records in 2001. The album received positive mention from critics.[11] Kalsi drew upon his experience as a session player and his understanding of ethnic and western instrumentsto work as producer for the album. .[5]

Film scores[edit]

Peter Gabriel's label, Real World Records, recorded Kalsi's first album in 2002. Martin Scorsese's movie, Gangs of New York featured one of the Big Drum songs along with music from the Afro Celt Sound System and U2, to use on the movie soundtrack. It was a big opportunity for the Dhol Foundation in Hollywood films, but were quickly followed by more performances and compositions, including music for a scene in The Incredible Hulk. Eleven ISDN links were used from the Air Studios in London to form an audiovisual link a film studio in San Francisco. While watching the film studio action on a huge plasma screen, the band were also able to monitor the reaction of Ang Lee the film director, via Webcam link from San Francisco on another smaller screen, as he in turn watched them performing live in the sound recording studio.[12] More recently (2014) The Dhol Foundation have been featured in another block buster movies end credits called "The Reluctant Fundamentalist".

Charitable works[edit]

Towards the end of 2002 Kalsi worked with the teenage pop singer Avril Lavigne, when she recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". It was sung by Lavigne at a War Child Charity Concert covered by MTV. Kalsi was selected to give the track an ethnic Indian feel and add some light percussion. Another charity organisation that Kalsi and The Dhol Foundation perform for is the London Parade, an organization that raises money globally for SCOPE, a charity for people with cerebral palsy.[13] Early 2013 Johnny Kalsi tookThe Dhol Foundation to perform for Stand up To Cancer. A Channel 4 endorsed programme to raise Money and awareness to what the effects of cancer are. Johnny Kalsi is a member of S.W.A.T (Sikh Welfare Awareness Team) and each week he donates his time to feeding and clothing the homeless and people below the poverty line in central London.

Work with other artists[edit]

Discography (selected)[edit]


  1. ^ "Johnny Kalsi ?Ambassador Of Love.?". Real World Publishing 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  2. ^ "World on your street". BBC Radio 3 June 2004. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  3. ^ "Alaap Profile". House of Bhangra 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Peter Gabriel". World Music 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Johnny Kalsi". 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  6. ^ "Dhol Foundation :: Drum-Believable". 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Awakening the lion in us". New Straits Times, Sep 4, 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  8. ^ "Label Focus - New World Music". 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  9. ^ "Real World Records catalogue page for Capture". Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  10. ^ "Pulsate to the music: The Dhol Foundation". Slanted Magazine November 17th, 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  11. ^ "Asian Music". 27-08-2001. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  12. ^ "Air Studios - Technical - ISDN". 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  13. ^ "The History of the Parade". 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 

External links[edit]