Chat In The Cafe With The Band, Chinese Man, About Their Journey Through India, Life And Music
By: Shruti Sunderraman on Feb 25th, 2016
Image credit: Chinese Man

When I first heard that Gently Altered and The Lost Party were rolling the carpet for Chinese Man (supported by Chinese Man Records) at BlueFROG Mumbai, I quietly tiptoed to the shoe rack, and dusted off and readied my best dancing shoes. Almost on cue, my playlist blasted Chinese Man’s Indi Groove EP. I took it as an auspicious sign.

For the uninitiated, Chinese Man is a trip hop collective comprising DJ Marseille Zé Mateo, High Ku, and beat-maker SLY from Aix-en-Provence, France. They are widely popular for their sick trip-hop beats that have multifarious influences of reggae, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and dub. Basically, they make it really difficult for you to leave the dance floor.

I caught up with them before their gig and had a hearty chat about everything - from their life and growing up in France, to their favourite Asha Bhonsle song (yes, they have one!).

Image credit: Chinese Man

This is your first visit to India. What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you so far?

Mateo: Yes! It’s been great so far. We’ve met some incredible musicians here and we’re working on a project with a bunch of them.

SLY: This place has been great. My God, you guys really have some incredible instruments to work with. It has almost been cathartic sitting in a room with Indian musicians.

Oh, yes! Viveck Rajagopalan recently posted pictures about your recording sessions. Tell us more about this, please?

Mateo: We’d been planning this for a while actually. So we’d co-ordinated with Viveck and a bunch of Indian musicians to get together once we’re here. Since we don’t create music ourselves, we listened to them weave the magic and worked on the arrangement.

SLY: We worked with multiple Indian instruments – tabla, sitar, violin, bansuri, and this rare violin-like instrument whose name I can’t recollect. It was a privilege listening to it.

High Ku: I think it’s called belabaharr. It’s actually pretty rare, and we were in awe when Navin played it.

Footnote: A belabaharr is a bow instrument, a mix of sarangi and violin, invented by Pt. Babulnath Gandharva and is also played by his son, Navin Gandharva.

Image credit: Chinese Man

Gosh, that sounds goosebump-worthy. Tell us about your journey. How did you guys meet and become Chinese Man?

High Ku: We were all working in the dance music industry for a while. I think we met in 2000 and just started working on stuff together and in 2004, we started Chinese Man.

Mateo and SLY have known each other longer. They went to school together.

SLY: Yeah, we hated each other in school though. *laughs*

Tell us about your childhood. When did you start getting into the music industry?

Mateo: We all grew up in Provence. I started DJ-ing 13 years before Chinese Man. So, it’s been a long journey. I used to do multiple things since my childhood, actually. I used to act, dance and even did a stint as a comedian. I was also part of a circus once!

High Ku: I was a rapper for many years. I even had a hip-hop band a long time ago. We were terrible. *laughs*

SLY: I grew up to a lot of fusion music. So, I started on the same along with hip-hop and a little bit of metal.

How did you decide on calling yourself Chinese Man?

Mateo: Haha. People really think there’s this huge story behind this. “Why would a French collective call themselves Chinese Man?,” they think. I wish I could give them an interesting answer but the truth is that it just randomly happened.

High Ku: Yeah, the three of us got together and we were randomly having some conversation about random things and someone said Chinese Man and we decided to just call ourselves that. Pretty anti-climactic, eh? Haha.  

Yes, but at least your music isn’t. You’ve worked extensively on vinyl and have released most of your EPs on vinyl. What makes you particularly fond of the medium?

Mateo: The sound, hands down. Nothing compares. When we started out, there were no players and digital technology like there are today. Most DJs only used vinyl and that worked great for us because we made more and more copies on vinyl for them. Consequently, we released our EPs for the audience on vinyl, too.

Image credit: Chinese Man

Who have been your greatest musical influences?

High Ku: Umm, that’s really difficult to say but I think we started out with listening to a lot of stuff by DJ Shadow and Massive Attack, and the likes. There were a lot of local French instrumentalists and arrangers we listened to.

SLY: Recently, we’ve been listening to this musical team from Austria called Restless Leg Syndrome, and they’re pretty interesting.

What’s on your playlist right now?

Mateo: Lots of different artists, but we were recommended Asha Bhonsle and haven’t stopped listening to her. She’s got such a lively voice.

SLY: Yeah, her song Ina Mina Dika is on our playlist right now and we absolutely love it!

Asha Bhonsle is a legend around here. We’ve all grown up to her music. Did you have a chance to check out other Indian musicians? In the indie scene, perhaps?

Mateo: Nope, we haven’t had the time yet. We’re hoping to listen to some artists suggested to us and also from the line-up of The Lost Party. Will be cool to know what the music scene here is like, on the ground level.

Do check out our interview with various other music bands like Eluveitie, The Revisit Project, Clown With A Frown, Ministry Of Blues and Underground Authority, and popular musicians like Ajja, who talks about his music and Gabriel Daniel, who gives us an input on how music can impact mental health.


What do you think about the music band, Chinese Man? Did you like this story? Do tell us, in your comments!

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Shruti Sunderraman
When she's not trying to satiate her itchy feet through travel journalism, she tries to rid the world of musical hunger. Her idea of an ideal Saturday night involves curling up with badass movies and a dog. She travels, she writes but mostly, she sleeps. A firm believer in the religion of cookies, she blogs at...   Read more
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