5 Questions With: Kabir Sehgal

February 5, 2019
by Elyssa Dole
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5 Questions With: Kabir Sehgal

Q.

How do you see your life’s work?

A.

I see much of my work through a principle of creativity: I put things out in the world and hope to drive awareness on things that matter. Music, for example, is a way to raise awareness and understanding between people and cultures. When I’m working on recording projects I ask, “What can we do that’s new?” One of my latest music projects was the album American Dreamers, which includes 53 Dreamers (those brought to the US as children) performing the songs of America like “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “America the Beautiful.” It’s demanding music — I believe in showing versus telling. We wanted to create a project that could showcase a swath of America: the Dreamer musicians are from both blue and red states, and this project has received bipartisan support. Putting music to a cause can create a more meaningful experience for the audience.

Since this interview was conducted, American Dreamers received 3 Grammy nominations!

Q.

What is most distinctive, innovative or unusual about the approach you take in your work?

A.

I operate in many different worlds. I come to music production with an investment banking and military background. It might seem scattered, but you can start to combine things that may not seem to go together at first. For example, I wrote an opera on the European debt crisis. When you combine things you are not competing with anyone else, you can create things that others might not have conceived.

Q.

Why is is so hard to prove the impact of the arts on society?

A.

The arts speak to hearts minds and souls, and it’s so hard to put a number on that. It’s hard to measure the value of putting a smile on someone’s face, and that’s all the data you need. I think Steve Jobs said he wanted to come back as a Pixar director. He was referring to the idea that moving images and sounds will stay in the hearts and minds of audience members for years to come.

Q.

What piece of impact are you most proud of?

A.

I went to Cuba in December 2014 for a music project. The US and Cuba had normalized relations while we were there, and we were were able to capture this zeitgeist in the studio. We played in the embassy, and then the album was featured on Delta Airlines. I like to think that people flying to Cuba from other countries could get more habituated to the culture while on the plane. I like to think that the album we made, in its way, could create more empathy and friendship among diverse groups.

Q.

What role has the NationSwell Council played in your life + work?

A.

The NationSwell Council is a community of like-minded individuals. You can meet bright and talented people, and have meaningful conversations. The Council also helps me cuts down on time by getting the right knowledge more quickly and collaborating with people. I met Ali Noorani (Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum) through the Council, and he then came on as a contributing producer on the Dreamers project.

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