Photo credits: King Khan
***Warning: this interview contains mature content and coarse language***
Contact / His Music / His Activism
By Monica Ng
Planting the seeds of change
How I came across King Khan is an interesting story.
It all started when Facebook (FB) made some changes to their ‘People You May Know’ section. Now it’s much easier to find people that you know because FB finds them for you and lists them. I saw my high school classmate’s brother Jason (who I haven’t seen since high school) on the list. I simply clicked on “Add Friend” and got a message back from him. We chatted a bit to catch up about life, music and Jason’s other talents and I mentioned my interviews with Canadian musicians on my blog. Jason mentioned that one of my schoolmates, Arish, is a professional musician named “King Khan”.
In school, I only knew Arish by name and face, but didn’t get a chance to know him because he was never in my classes. Not long after my chat with Jason, I received a FB message from Arish about his music and asking for an interview to help promote the activism/global movements that he is engaged in.
I admit that I was skeptical at first because “activism” often has a negative connotation. But the more information that Arish sent me about his music, art and work, the more I realized that I have been living a sheltered life with my head stuck in the sand. I experienced some racism while growing up as an Asian in Canada, but other than that I have been pretty lucky.
The truth is – our world is not at peace. We can choose to ignore what’s happening just because we may be able to, but there are real systemic problems in our world that create inequality, discrimination and repression, as well as oppression of different races and groups of people. In my own sheltered life, I have been advocating for veganism (animal rights) for the past eighteen months or so, but chatting with Arish reminds me that more needs to be done for humanity. In my personal quest, I find it frustrating that people don’t want to make change simply because it’s inconvenient for them. On one hand, they don’t feel right killing animals but then they are happy to eat the slab of steak on their plate, and throw a screaming lobster into a pot of boiling water.
Countless tragic events have taken place over the years. Most recently was the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. This tragedy brought more awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement working endlessly towards the end of oppression and violence against Blacks. Click here to read more about the Black Power movement.
Food for thought: just think of all the other tragedies that don’t make it to the news.
The question is: how can we make the world a better place? Arish told me that Malik Rahim is his mentor. From a video that Arish suggested I watch, Malik says that change must begin with compassion. It sounds so simple. The problem is that the root of evil is very deep. It’s time to plant more seeds of change.
I’m lucky to have a chance to connect with an old schoolmate and interview Arish – such a devoted and inspirational person.
About King Khan
Also known as Arish A. Khan. Indian-Canadian born in Montreal. King Khan is a singer, songwriter, producer, artist and activist. King Khan’s genres of music include garage rock, garage punk, psychedelic rock, rhythm and blues and jazz. In addition to his music, King Khan produces comical videos with a message for children. To-date King Khan scored three films: Schwarz Schafe by Oliver Rihs, Back to Nothing by Miron Zownir and The Invaders a documentary by Prichard Smith. King Khan is currently working on a short film titled Rat-Tribution Now with his daughter Saba Lou Khan. The film will be released on August 27, 2020 at Pop Kultur – a German music festival.
With the assistance of Irish artist, Michael Eaton (visual artist for Game of Thrones), King Khan created a major arcana deck of Black Power Tarot cards. The symbolic message is to allow everyone a chance to follow their path of illumination using 26 amazing African Americans canonized into the tarot. The Black Power Tarot cards were displayed at many international art exhibits. The exhibit consists of a large set of Black Power Tarot Cards on the walls. Prominent black people are depicted on the cards. Richard Pryor is the Fool. King Khan even did some tarot readings to help raise money for the Just Insulin Initiative he started teaming up with Malik Rahim. King Khan has raised over five thousand dollars in the past month!
King Khan is also involved in several social movements/organizations, he is the CEO and co-founder of Global Solidarity Forever which has several initiatives including the “Just Insulin Initiative”, to bring Insulin to the very large diabetic community in New Orleans. He is also fighting to get the Malik Rahim House registered as a site of consciousness, since for the past 40 years it has been the depository of the Black Panthers in the 70s and in 2005 it was the birthplace of Common Ground Relief which helped over 80,000 people after Hurricane Katrina devastated NOLA. King Khan has also worked with Viva Con Agua. He began the “Ambassador of Water” program which celebrates the lives of civil rights leaders who have devoted and often sacrificed their lives for bettering the world. According to King Khan, “By receiving an “Ambassador of Water” award, we ask that they help fight for water protection”.
Me: Arish, after Jason wrote about your music, I checked out some of King Khan and the Shrines’ music videos and I’m not going to pretend that I understand the music. When I asked you to explain your music, you told me that you play real rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps I’m not accustomed to listening to that genre of music. You introduced your latest jazz album to me as well. I have a really hard time to “categorize” your music, but I guess that’s the point – there is no specific genre nor any need to categorize. What influenced your wide range of musical styles?
Arish: I had a very f*cked up father, he was very abusive to me and my mother mostly, he even shot her down a flight of stairs when I was in her womb…so I was even attacked before I was born. My father got addicted to cocaine when I was about 14 or 15. He was a raving psychopath, and I watched his downfall. Since then I always looked for new fathers to guide me. I was adopted as a son by some really important people. The Mighty Hannibal was a great mentor to me and a granddad to my kids. Hannibal took Molotov cocktail lessons from Stokely Carmichael, he was the father of Message Music. Hannibal wrote Hymn No. 5 which was an anti-Vietnam gospel song that got him blacklisted from the charts by the American government. I learned a lot from Hannibal. One of my favourite memories of him was his response to when the doctors warned him that if he doesn’t take his glaucoma meds he would go blind. Hannibal told the doctors, “Ahhh I’ve seen enough!” Hannibal wrote gospels songs about how being blind was better than seeing because you couldn’t judge someone on their physical appearance.
Another father figure I had was Melvin Van Peebles, pioneer of Black Cinema, he called me his “Indian Son”. He was one of the most important black film makers, who became the first black superhero/anti-hero “Sweetback” from “Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Assss Songssss” a film that created the genre of Blaxploitation. Melvin was the granddaddy of black power – he was the one the panthers called when they needed help. So Melvin really loved the film I made the soundtrack for called “The Invaders”. He even called it “A work of Genius”…coming from him that meant a lot. I got to know Melvin very well and we gabbed on the phone a lot. He loved my movie ideas and gave me wonderful criticisms. We also laughed a lot. Sadly Melvin’s dementia has really gotten very serious, but he has a huge place in my heart and soul.
The Sun Ra Arkestra had a lot of influence on me in the past 20 years, and I have actually joined the band several times, reciting a poem I wrote called “We The People of The Myths”. The music was co-written by Harper Simon (Paul Simon’s son) and Marshall Allen, the grand poobah of the free jazz movement. Sun Ra taught me to listen to the music that thrives inside of me, and ever since I started doing that I followed a path of illumination, which always guided me in everything.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, surrealist film maker, is also a huge mentor and father figure for me, his films The Holy Mountain and El Topo changed my life. He accepted me as a student about 12 years ago, and I learned how to read tarot cards from him, a very handy tool when I need it…. Jodo guided me in dreams as much as he did in reality. I am honoured to be considered one of his spiritual warriors. If you don’t know and love this man then there maybe no hope left for you and the bucket of sand you hide your head in, haha.
Me: No hope. That’s rough but eye-opening. I am so curious – how did you end up in Berlin, Germany?
Arish: I was searching for the most hardcore techno vomitorium and found out that Berlin has an underground scene that defecates all over itself. Just kidding…I moved here cuz it is the freest place in the world, and the underground scene is insane if you are handed the keys to the city like I have been. Miron Zownir was the grand master of the freaks who gave me the keys to the city’s underground. He is like a black metal Andy Warhol – his photography is dark and twisted and he loved my music and antics, so we have this unending deal that I can use any of his photos for my projects as long as I keep making music for his films. I love deals like that, because they show how much trust exists between two artists who come from very different places. Miron Zownir’s film Back To Nothing (which I scored and made the Soundtrack for) was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s second to last “No Reservations” episode about Berlin, before he took his own life.
Me: I find it interesting because you mentioned that the goal of your music is to “opiate people and allow them to get into a frenzy and forget their pain” – that’s quite a goal. What kind of feedback have you received about your music?
Arish: My kids grew up on my music, and now they make their own ferocious music, the circle remains unbroken. I have been taking psychedelics all my life, and they provide me with guidance and understanding. I am also bipolar and take heavy meds as well. I have been opiating my mind since I was in high school, and I also watched my father turn into a cocaine addict. He used to mainline it, so he was in really deep, I remember my mom found a blackened spoon in our house and didn’t know what it was, and that was when I realized my dad was a bad junkie. In my recreational drug use I have never been a junkie. I know my limits and know how to use drugs for enlightenment and not as a dependence. I am however completely addicted to seroquil, my bipolar meds, I can’t sleep without them. My brain is always racing like a f*cking Kentucky derby winning horse. I need to shut it off sometimes and have funny ways of doing that. My new mantra is “Shut The F*ck Up for Peace and Tranquility”.
Me: I can’t imagine what you have gone through but appreciate your candidness. During one of our chats, you described yourself as “Weird” in high school. I think everyone had issues in high school. Personally I am very thankful that high school is long over. I only made it through because of my good friends. Why did you describe yourself as “weird” in high school?
Arish: Cuz I loved William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch was the first book that truly f*cked my brain, and left its protein ooze for me to taste for the rest of my life. I loved weed in high school, and punk rock… the girls I fell in love with had no interest at dating a “weirdo” like me. I found solace in reading beatnik stuff and focusing more on taking drugs and having fun, than getting my heart broken repeatedly.
Me: It sounds like you had a very tough time growing up but managed to overcome a lot of your issues in your life. Never mind co-ordinating and managing your career – you were able to keep your twenty-year marriage going, raise two daughters and even adopt a daughter. If you ask me, that’s quite a feat in itself.
In your own words, you mentioned that you managed to raise “two amazing daughters who also play music…not bad for having a transvestite dad.” Being a transvestite must be difficult as society usually frowns upon anything that it doesn’t understand. Was it hard for you to disclose your personal issues about your abuse, being a transvestite and bipolarism to your wife and daughters, and how did they react?
Arish: I wouldn’t call me an official transvestite, I dress up for my work, in show biz…not cuz I have to get off. I have been open about all the hurdles I had to by-pass to find my place in the totem pole. My kids and I have tons of fun, we share the same passion for music and cooking and they are the toughest girls on the block. My wife is my greatest critic, and she can tame the beast that I can become. She is tough as nails but also the most compassionate woman I have ever met – she even cried in Toy Story 2, which I thought was quite embarrassing…
Me: While chatting, you discussed your bipolarism and heavy medication. There are so many geniuses that are affected with bipolarism such as one of my favourite musicians, Matthew Good. When were you diagnosed with bipolarism? Do you ever worry that the medication will suppress your creativity?
Arish: I have way more creativity for three lifetimes. My drugs help me balance a million ideas and focus on the important ones, that’s why working as an activist came rather easily to me, it’s just finding the solution of the problem you wanna fix BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. I have an army of fans and friends who would do anything to help me out, so now that I am focusing on helping Malik Rahim, we literally have a rock ‘n’ roll army of volunteers out there to get real revolutionary change happening.
Me: How did you first discover your passion for music and production? And what is the first instrument that you learned?
Arish: Guitar, then bass…I love bass. I actually stole my little brother Faiz’s bass to join the Spaceshits, my first punk band. My brother became a very amazing social justice warrior / lung specialist. He works a lot with the Inuit. He just published an article in the British Medical Journal. His research was about how COVID testing is totally f*cked up. My sister is also a justice warrior, she is a lawyer and fights for water rights for indigenous people amongst other things, and she has worked for the UN. I think experiencing the horrors of having a psycho dad, brought us all very close and also made us fierce party machines as well as justice warriors.
Me: I am very inspired by the variety of your work as well as your involvement in social movements and organizations. What keeps you inspired and going?
Arish: I love life, and I have always been inspired by Black Power, ever since reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. As a kid I loved rock ‘n’ roll and rap, so becoming a punk rocker was very natural to me. Having a mentor like Malik, I speak to him everyday, his wisdom teaches me on how to effectively make social change happen. I feel like when you sign on to upholding justice there comes this wave of a karmic high, like a spiritual speedball, getting you higher than ever before and no hangover or drug dependency.
I have recently become friends with Sammy Butcher, the lead guitarist of one of my favourite bands called “The Warumpi band”. They released an album in 1987 called “Big Names No Blankets” and I listen to this album almost everyday, it fuels me to work for a better world.
Me: How can others support the social movements that you are involved in?
Arish: Well for starters – buy the stuff we are selling, tarot cards, masks, t-shirts, records… all sorts of fun art stuff. If you support our artistic endeavors then you are helping support all our initiatives that we are hitting simultaneously.
Me: Below is a video about the Just Insulin Initiative.
Me: When I asked you what kind of mark you wanted to make with your music, you told me that you already made your mark. I am especially impressed with your Black Power Tarot Cards. The collection has been featured at many international art exhibits. Can you explain what inspired you to create the Tarot cards and discuss them more?
Arish: The Black Power Tarot shows us the path of illumination which begins with the fool, and every number forward is the fool’s journey which ends with a total understanding of the world. The first step is the fool learning the tools to control his destiny, the fool then turns into a magician, then the next step after that is compassion – trying to understand the pain of others, making it your own and find a way out. The Tarot is basically a visual and spiritual language. When you understand what each card means, you can show others the path of illumination. Alejandro Jodorowsky was the one who inspired me the most, his surrealism is profound, and when I saw myself in that same path he was a very good mentor for me, and luckily his son Adan was the one who brought us together. Jodo also refers to the dance of reality, which I realized I had been doing since I was a kid.
Me: You sent me a photo of Joe Coleman’s painting. It’s an incredible painting of you holding a Tarot card. You mentioned the painting is worth $90,000 USD. Can you explain the significance of this painting and why it cost so much?
Arish: Well first of all you are talking about a man who has made his own genre of art called “Colemanism”. Joe Coleman has single handedly rocked the art world, held it hostage and exploded himself. His art exposes the raw guts of society and shows us the depth of evil that lurks in humanity. He was a teenage hero of mine because he would bite the heads off of mice and pull a gun on his gallerist. His art is like voodoo or any type of high magic, so the fact that I was able to crawl inside Joe’s mind and heart, makes me no longer a human. I am just simply a walking and talking Joe Coleman painting.
Me: I understand that you and your daughter Saba Lou are working on a very important short film called Rat-Tribution Now. The film will be released at Pop-Kultur – a German music/cultural festival taking place online between August 26-28, 2020. The film is dedicated to the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada that the police don’t care about. By extension, it really means that nobody cares about them. What is the message that your film conveys and why is it that the film is being released in Germany at this time and not in Canada?
Arish: The piece was commissioned by the Pop-Kultur festival. I had written a fictional story about the Musahars from Bihar, India. They were known as the “rat eaters” of India – they are even below the untouchable cast in India. The story is about the violation of a young girl by a group of men and her supernatural revenge. I think this story can apply to all indigenous people who continue to be hunted by fascist police in probably every country, especially Australia. I’ve seen terrible racism in Melbourne after an aboriginal man wanted the photo of his grandfather to be removed from the “Aboriginal” exhibit, because they feel that photography is evil and captures souls. So why would a museum put a bunch of photos of aboriginals captured and given haircuts as the first thing in the exhibit? Well, its cuz these museums are run by white power with no respect given to the Black Fellas. That is what they call themselves down under – black fellas.
You can purchase the soundtrack for Rat-Tribution by clicking here: Rat-Tribution Now.
Me: Arish, thank you for giving us a glimpse into your extremely interesting and creative life. You have used your status as a musician to bring up many important social issues that everyone needs to address collectively right now. Not only that, you are actively involved in helping the causes.
You have proved that adversity can make people stronger. It’s been great catching up. I hope this interview can help to spread the seeds of change. Before wrapping up this interview, is there anything else that you wish to share?
Arish: Yes… my new mantras are “WE NOT I” taken from my fave Malcolm X quote: “When the “I” is replaced by “We” then even “illness” becomes “wellness”. This is what I am all about, “Illness into Wellness” and of course having the most fun as possible…so pass me the DMT and let’s party with the alien overlords.