Q&A: Vijay Chattha of BlackMahal

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Vijay Chattha of BlackMahal
  • Photo courtesy of Marc Bourgeois
  • Vijay Chattha of BlackMahal

BlackMahal mixes traditional Punjab music with funk, soul and hip hop; the band's Vijay Chattha grew up in the Pittsburgh area. Tonight is the band's first Pittsburgh show, but it made a splash a couple years back with "Black, Gold and Silver," a Steelers anthem. Chattha answered a few of our questions — a shorter version of this Q&A ran in last week's paper.

Whereabouts in Pittsburgh are you from?
Born and raised in Weirton, West Virginia, and my parents still live there. I went to Sewickley Academy from junior high onwards - talk about a cross-cultural experience!

Did you play music here before you moved to California?
Oh yeah - my first band was called 12' Tribe with my childhood buddy Rob Alpert and Dave Khera, circa 1992. Stedeford's Records on the North Side was our frequent source of all things golden era hip-hop and beyond.

How did you end up in a group with Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti, who's so well-known in the genre?
I had the great pleasure of meeting him at my sister's wedding and he absolutely blew everyone away with his traditional call and response freestyle. I had never met someone with his stage presence and knew that if we combined his style with hip-hop sensibilities, we could create something fun.

Is it fair to say BlackMahal is the zaniest Punjabi-American music group?
BRAAAAHHHH!!! (Bhangra for 'No Daht')

Why mix traditional Punjabi music with American hip-hop and soul? Why not stick with one or the other?
Because a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes better than either 1) a peanut butter sandwich or 2) a jelly sandwich.

Presumably you were the group member behind the Steelers song?]
I lit the match but this was a total team effort from the recorded version to a totally rockin' live version we're debuting at the Thunderbird Cafe.

Did it take some convincing to get the group to go along with that idea?
I had to convince our drummer and co-producer Jon Cook, a Boston native who eventually agreed since he hopes we'll reprise the song for the Boston Bruins at some point. I dunno about that. The rest of the band is an amazing group of musicians that are generally up for anything funky and love creating new things together.

Where are you going to eat when you get into Pittsburgh?
Primanti Brothers. They could use a Punjabi funk-hop anthem too. Agree?

BlackMahal with Kinetic, DJ Pandemic Pete. 9 p.m. Fri., July 13. Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $8-10.

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