Johnny Kalsi

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Johnny Kalsi
Johnny Kalsi TDF.jpg
Portrait of Kalsi for Afro Celt Sound System in 2016.
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 is a member of 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 2008

Kalsi was born in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1967. His parents had immigrated to the United Kingdom from Kenya; his grandfather had earlier moved to Mombasa from the Punjab. As a youth, he was interested in music though his parents had other aspirations for him, hoping he would become a doctor or lawyer. Kalsi was self-taught as a drummer when he joined a school jazz trio and they performed at school concerts and assembly hall meetings. He was also the Drummer in the Orchestra as well as the Rock band in school. It wasn't until many of his fathers' cousins were getting married where he would get the biggest musical injection of his childhood. The Indian Wedding Ceremony is full of color and food, occasionally alcohol but surrounded & laced with Music. His Uncles used to have a small Bhangra Dance Group in the early 70's and although never performed in public, they would perform and get together during weddings. The Dhol Captivated Kalsi and the sound of this indigenous instrument thrilled and dominated the scene. Based around his Tabla lessons he had with Pof. Gurmeet Singh Virdee, he had already gained the knowledge of reading the phonetic language of Tabla. Kalsi set up Dhol classes and even went back to his secondary school in Hounslow and wanted to teach Dhol there. He devised a syllabus using his knowledge of Tabla Language and transferred the beats on the Dhol. This became his Dhol Bible and his methods of practace and teaching have since been copied all over the World. As Kalsi played Drums the "Double Stroke Roll" became a lesson known as "Mummy Daddy". in the "TDF"(The Dhol Foundation) Syllabus this is the very first lesson taught to beginners. Soon and sure enough, students peeled off to form their own classes under different names and took the teaching method with them. The TDF methos to teach Dhol was bootlegged by many and is a sure method proven to be successful.[1] His exposure to a variety of genres embraced both traditional Indian music and Western influences, and he began making Eastern drum rhythms using Western instruments; along the way he redesigned the traditional dhol drum to his own specifications.[2]

Early career[edit]

In 1984, after leaving school and while in college, Kalsi joined a Local band called Mela Group for a few years and on the side he was also a session player for Wanjara Group & DJ Harvey from back then Calibar Roadshow. 1989, he joined the bhangra band called Alaap,[3] and assumed the role of lead percussionist and dhol player for the band. Alaap are the all time World famous Bhangra band of all time. They have Triple Gold Album & 2 Platinum selling albums. They have toured the globe extensively and for Kalsi, this became his first experience in Touring the planet and performing in front of thousands. This was also the year he set up his Dhol Classes in Slough and names it The Dhol Foundation as it was the only class in UK teaching the art of playing this type of Dhol Drum to kids. This was done completely independently and with no Grants or Funding from local authorities. In 1995 while still on & off with Alaap, 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. Session Recordings began and off the back of that the Live work kept him busy. He performed at a number of World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festivals around the world.[5] 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.[citation needed]

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.

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 with rock musicians Page & Plant.

Dhol Drum[edit]

Kalsi Designed his own "Straight Barrel" Dhol in 1984. He did an immense amount of research as to why the Dhol was shaped in the Barrel shape. He discovered that the only reason was because of the fact that there was Goat Skin on both sides of the Drum. The Treble skin had to be pulled very tight with the rope and the tension had to remain in the stretching process. The shape of the wooden barrel kept the tension in the rope therefor the skin would remain tight. As Johnny had mounted "Dholak" hooks he realized that the barrel shape was no longer needed as the hooks took up the tension. Johnny then went to Pakistan to get a straight barrel Dhol Drum made from a village outside Lahore, Punjab. From learning that tree's had to be planted in order to make 3 Drums 4 Dholaks & 6 Tablas from 1 Talli Tree (equivalent to an Oak or Mahogany) this was not going to be the easiest of tasks, however it was achieved with some backhanders at the airport and the DHol Barrel was carried back to UK.

Kalsi worked as a session musician for Fundamental and Transglobal Underground during the early 1990s,[7] and later joined the Afro Celt Sound System.<[8] During 1997, Kalsi was touring with Fundamental performing at WOMAD festivals all over the world.[9]

Later career[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.[10] Kalsi drew upon his experience as a session player and his understanding of ethnic and western instrumentsto work as producer for the album. .[5]

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 his songs, as did The Incredible Hulk.[11]

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. In early 2013 Johnny Kalsi tookThe Dhol Foundation to perform for Stand up To Cancer. Johnny Kalsi is a member of 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.[citation needed]


Kalsi received an Honorary Fellowship Degree from Leeds College of Music.

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. Archived from the original on 26 January 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Peter Gabriel". World Music 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Johnny Kalsi". 2006. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. 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. [permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Real World Records catalogue page for Capture". Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  9. ^ "Pulsate to the music: The Dhol Foundation". Slanted Magazine November 17th, 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  10. ^ "Asian Music". 27-08-2001. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  11. ^ "Air Studios - Technical - ISDN". 2009. Archived from the original on 12 January 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 

External links[edit]