Although it’s been a while, I’m taking a cue from Vinod and am holding the sentimentality for a moment, namely to revisit one of the most Mutinous Musicians Sepia has showcased: the inimitable Bhi Bhiman. Since Bhi was first broken to the desi masses, he has gone, well, viral. Not only has he managed to drop another amazing album, but Bhi has been profiled by such journalistic stalwarts as NPR, HuffPo, PopMatters, and that old rag, The New York Times. All of this without losing what makes him special: that astoundingly soulful and smokey set of pipes that fit his socially aware but catchy folk melodies quite nicely.
As promised, here is the long-awaited interview with the fabulous Bhi Bhiman, culled from email and conversation over a wonderful lunch at San Francisco’s now shuttered Pot de Pho.
Check out his video for “Guttersnipe,” his sultry voice set along a snapshot of “life along the Indian railways,” after the jump.
DJ Folk: how’d you get into it?
DJ Weren’t you just exposed to folk growing up in the South?
Bhi St. Louis isn’t really the South. There are Southern elements…it’s the Midwest. The Mississippi is there, so like with Memphis and New Orleans, there’s interchange between the South and Midwest. People still think it’s flyover country.
DJ We grew up around the same time. Would you say that there were any visible…
Bhi Kim Thayil. Soundgarden was my favorite band for at least four years…and to a fault. I listened to them way too much and that probably drove my parents and my brother insane.
DJ Would you say that knowing that Kim Thayil was out there inspired you?
I don’t know if I thought I could make it, but it kept me going. He might be like the only role model that looked me that I had. I can’t think of anyone else, really.
Also, I love comedy and I’ve always loved comedy, maybe more than music when I was teenager, and wanted to be a stand-up comedian but I wasn’t very good at it. Now I have a guitar and can have a “mask” I can put on when I sing. I don’t have to engage in the way a stand-up comedian does- that’s a lot scarier. There, you’re on a second by second interaction with the audience; when you sing a song you’re singing for four minutes… you’re a little more removed.
DJ You’ve listed Bill Maher and Larry David as your influences.
Bhi Definitely. I would say that Richard Pryor and Chris Rock were just as much as well. I love watching and listening to their standup. I always wanted to be as good as them…to have the confidence to do what they do. It’s really hard to do what they standup wise, and material is a whole other thing.
DJ Your voice: it’s amazing.
Bhi Thanks. It try not to believe it.
DJ You’ve been compared to Nina Simone.
Bhi A part of my voice is definitely a ripoff of her.
DJ White Man’s Burden’s Blues: fascinating song. The references are all over the place. Kinshasa, New Delhi, etc. Curry farts, I especially like. Are we still talking about Kipling here?
Bhi I like the Jungle Book…the movie, so maybe I was researching that or something.
DJ [Laughs] That was the genesis of the song? The movie?
Bhi Maybe. I’m not quite sure. I didn’t know about his “manifesto” until I starting reading about him. I definitely knew about Jungle Book first. and then I was reading about him and thought it was pretty f-ed up that he was this beloved children’s story writer but held these racist views. It used to be called Rudyard Kipling Blues, but White Man’s Burden is much more ingrained into people’s knowledge. It also was pretty much an excuse to say every funny racist thing I could think of…
I’ve been labeled very angry. I’m not really that angry. Sometimes I am. The angry label is funny. Cause I’m not that angry of a guy. I talk about social and political and racial issues in my songs, but often with a funny twist. I mean, for some people something just clicks when they hear certain words or topics and I think their instinct tells them that dude is angry. But I’m not creating any social or political situations. The elephant is usually already in the room. I’m just making the decision to either talk about it or not. Not everything is love and roses.