East Vancouver musician and artist Ruby Singh certainly has a capacity to surprise his fans. Over the years, he’s devised imaginative four-dimensional soundscapes, composed plenty of hip-hop music, and created videos. In addition, he’s written poetry, performed Qawwali with Rajasthani musicians, and developed scores for various films.
This year, Singh was nominated for a Juno Award for global music album of the year for Vox.Infold, which featured contributions from several Vancouver musicians.
His most recent album, Ruby Singh and The Future Ancestors, marks another twist in his evolving career.
“I had fallen in love with the Delta blues, and had just been listening to a bunch of Robert Johnson,” Singh tells Pancouver by phone from Castlegar. “Then, of course, my hip-hop brain starts sampling things as I’m listening to them. And reconfiguring them.”
It dawned upon Singh that it would be fun to create a thematic, bluesy hip-hop album. In fact, he felt that this would offer an opportunity to look at songwriting through a different lens. So he set out to assemble the right musicians to do this.
On vocals, he recruited Khari McClelland (The Sojourners), who was Singh’s roommate many years ago, as well as Holly Eccleston to inject soul and harmony. Versatile Juno Award–winning guitarist and oud player Gord Grdina and talented turntablist Paul Finlay also agreed to participate. For the rhythm section, Singh relied on two longtime collaborators, drummer Kenton Loewen and bassist Peter Schmidt.
“So as this idea started forming inside of me. Of course, I leaned on my friends, who happen to be incredible musicians,” Singh says.
Watch the video for “Big Ol’ Bang”.
Singh pleased with “Big Ol’ Bang”
Late last year, the band released its debut self-titled LP, which includes Loewen actually playing a typewriter and dried flowers to add texture to the percussion.
To Singh’s delight, his local supergroup will play its first live gig on Friday (April 14) at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby.
One of the highlights on the disc is the hypnotic and funky “Big Ol’ Bang”. The catchy hook declares that “Everything we do is just a big ’ol bang/Go on and do your/Go on and do your thing”. There’s even a nod to his own faith with the lyrics “Let the Sikhers Sikh/And let the speakers reach…”
Singh and Juno Award winner Chin Injeti co-produced this track. In addition, they both provided vocals with McClelland and Eccleston.
Meanwhile, the Flavourcel Animation Collective created the visuals for the song’s psychedelic video. It features a kaleidoscope of bright colours and imagery, with everything from flocks of East Van crows to sunflowers catching fire.
“I just love the tune,” Singh says. “This is the kind of song that I want to be able to write.”
The first single on the record, the pulsating “Dog Bone”, is an anthem to freedom. Singh was inspired to write it after travelling to Delhi, where encountered a pack of wild street dogs.
In a news release accompanying its release, Singh declared: “I think our world is in need of some rewilding and so I leaned into that for this song.”
Likewise, the video for “Dog Bone” was also animated by Flavourcel.
Watch the video for “Dog Bone”.
Musician discovers Rajput ancestry
The band’s name, Ruby Singh and The Future Ancestors, reflects his curiosity about ancestry and his worries about the world that he will eventually leave behind. Singh points out that humans are often in denial about the inevitability of death. And he believes that if people were more conscious of this, they might live with more consideration for future generations.
“I always love being in the present, but knowing that there’s this past that informed us and this future that we are informing,” he says.
Singh actually learned something surprising about his own heritage while working on Jhalaak a few years ago with some Rajasthani musicians. He describes Jhalaak on his website as a Sufi hip-hop project, which brought together sounds of hip-hop, EDM, and devotional Qawwali music from India.
The East Vancouver musician is a member of the Sidhu clan. While working with Manganiyar musicians, he discovered that the Sidhus trace their roots back to Jaisalmer. It’s a city in the Thar Desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan, which is where his Jhalaak collaborators were from.
The Manganiyars are Rajputs known for their folk music. Singh points out that they performed in the courts of the Moghuls, who ruled northern India prior to the British conquest.
“So there’s this thought that at some point in our histories, our ancestors probably crossed paths,” Singh says.
This leads Pancouver to ask Singh if he’s ever investigated his family history through Ancestry.ca.
“I have not,” he replies. “But it’s got me interested in that, for sure!”
Ruby Singh and The Future Ancestors will perform in the Studio Theatre at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts on Friday (April 14). For more information and tickets, visit the Shadbolt Centre website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.