blacKMahal: bringing people together through music (and tech industry connections)

Band Members: Lal Singh Bhatti, Jon Cook, Satish Pillai, Mandeep Sethi, Vijay Chattha

Special Guest: Tim Chang

Tech Industry Affiliations: Vijay Chattha is Chief Talker of VSC Consulting, a PR boutique focused on mobile and Web 2.0 clients ranging from start-ups to blue-chip players. Tim Chang is a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, where he concentrates on digital media and mobile investments.

SVR: Tell us about your band. How did you get started? How long have you been playing?

blacKMahal: Actually blacKMahal had two manifestations. Vijay met Lal Singh at an Indian wedding and was blown away by Lal’s amazing dhol drumming and Punjabi vocals. Vijay, at that time a DJ, decided to join forces with Lal Singh and create a new modern take on traditional Punjabi folklore.

That’s when blacKMahal was born. Over the years the band has continued to acquire members met during jam sessions, freestyles, and events hosted at Craigslist Foundation’s Darian Heyman‘s house. blacKMahal has now been playing together for five years and has performed all around the Bay Area and Toronto. The band is finishing their debut album.

SVR: Who are your major influences?

blacKMahal: Too many to name. Everything from hip hop’s “golden age” (1987-1992) to Gurdass Maan to Lee “Scratch” Perry.

SVR: What’s the ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune—at least in the music business?

blacKMahal: Our ultimate direction is to bring people together through music, find universal truths that unite us all, and bring happiness to people through music. Our spiritual leader and lead singer Lal Singh Bhatti has built his storied music career around these tenets, which has earned him the distinction of playing for every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter and touring around the world.

SVR: What’s your day job?

blacKMahal: Lots of day jobs, from PR to music teacher to HIV research to venture capital.

SVR: How does your music influence your work or vice versa?

blacKMahal: Vijay: For me at least, music is an extension of the creativity we exhibit every day in helping our clients “out-innovate” their competitors. Marketing and music both take a seventh sense of dynamic thinking and creativity, so the music makes me more effective in my day job.

Tim Chang is a VC and digital media connector by day whose job often deals with working with artists such as It should be noted that Tim has been a musician for three times longer than he’s been in the VC game. Tim and Vijay not only jam together but also work together in their day jobs, as VSC PR handles PR and strategy for some of Tim’s investments. They’ve also both invested in start-ups and connected each other with business contacts over the years. Music was a common thread and thus it all comes together for the Great American Music Hall show.

SVR: Why is music education important?

blacKMahal: First of all, it brings people together from every background, age, and race. Secondly, it’s a creative outlet that exercises a different part of the brain than what most of us use in our day jobs. Lastly, it’s fun to engage with an audience and other band members to create something on the fly.

SVR: What was your own experience learning music as a kid? Who flipped that switch in your brain?

blacKMahal: Vijay: My parents loved Indian Bollywood music, but I never could sit down and learn the piano or violin. When I hit adolescence, I started listening to the Oldies Channel and then hip-hop. I knew every lyric to every song in those days. Then I decided to take my first entrepreneurial leap and become a DJ. I funded my music tastes by DJing at weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and graduation parties. We had an old brown van that stored our equipment and over time we started to record our own stuff. And those were our humble beginnings.