Hargo GEORGE VARGA
There’s a good reason that even the most seasoned pop-music fans have difficulty naming any Sikh-American rock artists.
“That’s because there aren’t any!” said Oregon-born singer-songwriter Hargobind Hari Singh Khalsa, the leader and namesake of Hargo,
one of San Diego’s most promising bands. (Apart from the obscure group
Roving Sikhs, whose lyrics are sung in Punjabi, Sikh rockers
are almost unheard of, even in Punjab or other parts of the subcontinent.)
"Typically," Hargo explained,
"the majority of Sikhs are from Punjab, which is where
I went to school for a year when I was 16. The kind of music they would
play or listen to is traditional Sikh classical music, or Bhangra, or
hip-hop. Sikh-American kids born here, I don't think a lot of them are
comfortable in that environment. When I was in school I needed an
outlet, and hearing albums by (rapper) Tupac and (shock-rocker) Marilyn
Manson had an impact on me."
who was born and raised a Sikh, performs Saturday (July 28, 2012) at the Belly Up with
his three-man band (which, for the record, sounds nothing like either
Tupac or Marilyn Manson). Sikhism is a world religion that promotes
equality between men, women and all religions, eschews intoxicants and
espouses honest, truthful living.
lot of times, people see me onstage and they are confused,” said Hargo,
27, whose long beard and turban make him stand out in any rock-music
“They think: ‘Who
is this weird character in front of me?’ When they find out I’m not
(Hasidic reggae singer) Matisyahu, or a Hare Krishna, they are
surprise, though, at least for anyone who hasn’t yet heard the still
mostly under-the-radar Hargo, is the uniformly high quality of music he
and his band deliver on their 12-song album, “Out of Mankind,” which
came out in February. It was preceded by a 2010 EP, "The Faint Glow,"
and a 2007 album, "In Your Eyes."
thoughtful songs Hargo expertly performs on "Out of Mankind," are
clean, crisp and melodically rich. While the group's influences are
alternately apparent and subtle -- from Radiohead and Prince to The
Beatles and Sly & The Famly Stone -- they are able to build on their
inspirations with freshness and vitality. The band is also adept at
mixing and matching influences from different eras, be it Talking Heads
"That was an
inadvertent influence. I love Talking Heads," Hargo said, "but I never
set out as a songwriter to do anything like that."
Hargo bassist John Jolley, 24, nodded in agreement.
all have our own influences," he said. "Some of us may love Talking
Heads, but not listen to them. Radiohead is a bigger influence on us and
they took their name from Talking Heads. It's all connected at end of
day, if you want to play great music."
"Soul Survivor," one of the
standout songs on Hargo's new album, has a recurring melodic segment
that suggests Scott McKenzie's 1967 quasi-hippie anthem, "San Francisco
(Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" -- a musical reference point
that pre-dates Hargo's birth by 20 years. He smiled when the similarity
was pointed out.
that song, but wouldn’t have thought of that," Hargo, the son of two
former-hippie parents, said. "('Survivor') is a special song for me and for us
as a band. I don't typically write songs about my personal life. I
don't like it when an artist goes: 'Me this' and 'I that,' maybe because
it lacks a certain level of humility."
Jolley, guitarist Sanjay Parekh, 28, and drummer Ron Kerner, 44 -- all
San Diego natives -- Hargo has empathetic band mates who help make his
songs their own. With more exposure, the group has the potential to make
an impact across -- and beyond -- San Diego County.
goal may be furthered by the band's manager, Gregg Gerson, a veteran
drummer who has worked with everyone from David Bowie and Gloria Estefan
to Billy Idol and (a decade ago) San Diego's Jason Mraz.
exciting to see how fast Hargo has evolved as a band," said Gerson, who
helped the band secure four performance slots earlier this year at the
annual South By Southwest music marathon in Austin.
In turn, Hargo credits Gerson for helping the band's well-constructed music sound even more potent in a concert setting.
is a brilliant arranger," Hargo said. "He helped us deconstruct our
album and then reconstruct the songs for our live shows."
how effective that process has been could be seen and heard when Hargo
opened a Belly Up show for surf-rock pioneer Dick Dale at the Belly Up.
Although the two have little in common stylistically, Hargo earned an
enthusiastic response from the audience for its polished, rock-solid
At one point
during the Belly Up show, Hargo introduced a song by using a common
four-letter word. His delivery was matter-of-fact, and if you weren't
paying attention, you may have missed the word altogether. Still, it was
still surprising to hear a Sikh utter a profanity, especially from a
concert stage in a nightclub.
"Language is a tool and profanity is a useful tool at times," Hargo said.
you're trying to make a point it has to have impact. And sometimes it
provides levity. It's something I learned from my teacher, Harbhajan Singh Yogi. I
learned from him that using profanity is a tool. He was a spiritual
teacher, kind of like a grandfather to me. When he lectured, he would
swear constantly! Typically, you think of spiritual people as pious,
with a clean presentation. But he was all about being real with people.
He would scream at people. He screamed at me: 'You (expletive)
(expletive)!' He did it to make a point and get my attention, and he
did: 'OK, I'm listening'."
goes back," guitarist Parekh interjected, "to the idea of capturing
people's attention They see Hargo as a stoic character and expect him to
be a certain way. He shatters their preconceptions when he says: 'Put
your (expletive) hands together!' "
one profanity per concert, if that, is considered mild by today's
pop-music standards. And Hargo's goal is to win over listeners with his
band's music, not to shock them.
first take, a lot of the music I grew up on and love you just like at
face value. It has great melody, great phrasing, a great beat. And then
it starts to sink in a little bit, and you say: 'Wait, there's
something being said here.' Or you just feel the intent, even if its not
that obvious. That’s something we try to do as well."
[Courtesy: U-T San Diego. Edited for sikhchic.com]
July 26, 2012
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