October 12, 2022October 12, 2022 8min readBy Arun S.
From forming bands in high school to shredding guitar solos on the biggest world stages, Dave Baksh became a guitar virtuoso. Baksh started out in bands called Embodiment, 747 and others before he joined Sum 41. The first ever guitar riff Baksh learned was called “Caught In A Mosh” by the thrash metal band Anthrax. Baksh has been influenced by the bands Genesis, Foreigner, Led Zeppelin, Rage Against The Machine, early Iron Maiden and more. Outside of rock, Baksh has been influenced by many genres including soca, calypso, funk, reggae, hip hop, and more. He has also played guitar outside of Sum 41 in the bands Organ Thieves, Black Cat Attack and Brown Brigade. It may be hard to believe, but Baksh is one of the earliest forms of North American representations of South Asians coming from the late 90’s. Continue reading to learn more about Dave Baksh’s journey!
Through research we learned that you were exposed to many different genres of music such as soca, calypso, funk, reggae, hip hop, and more through your uncle and cousins. What were your early memories of listening to music, what groups or artists were you listening to, and how do these genres relate, link, and impact the way you go about making different subgenres of rock music?
For me music Boils down to the beat, everything else is there to enhance that experience. A beat can move us in many different ways depending on how the music is arranged and produced. From a traditional standpoint this is a strange opinion as I’m a guitar player who should be thinking melody first.
The reason I play this way is the music you mentioned that molded me as a youth made me more conscious of my rhythm playing which is heavily percussive, meaning I tend to concentrate on my picking hand and the delivery of the note length, shape and pick angle. It also helped me understand that you can accent more than just the downbeat in a musical phrase thanks to soca and one drop reggae especially. In short, I think my percussive guitar style is my contribution to punk rock.
We were wondering if you were exposed to Chutney music at a young age as well which is a combination of South Asian Folk music and Caribbean calypso and soca music and how this impacted you?
I was, as far as impact I’m glad I’m answering this question at 42 with the benefit of hindsight. Now that I am older I can trace my love for music that makes the listener feel good to those roots in particular. I associate those musical genres with memories of family parties, joy and unity. Sad music, though I do like some has a tendency to not resonate with me, I often listen to music to bring my mood up and not down.
When was the first time you picked up a guitar and what were the first few riffs you learned? Additionally, did you start learning with sheet music, guitar tabs, by ear or other?
I was with my cousin when I first picked up a guitar, his brother and he were in a band together and I was always over at the house seeing these cool instruments laying around. The first time I picked one up I held it wrong and that same cousin had to teach me how to hold a guitar and read tablature. The first riff I learned was “Caught In A Mosh by Anthrax”. My whole life has been learning and writing music by ear. I don’t see any benefit outweighing any other way of learning this was just my path.
What was the first lyric you ever wrote?
The first lyric would be too old to remember. May favourite lyrics is by Ol’ Dirty Bastard “If I got a problem, a problem’s got a problem ’til it’s gone.”
What is your favorite guitar solo of all time and what is your favorite Sum 41 guitar solo to perform in front of a live audience? We loved seeing you perform Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”!
To pick one solo would be too hard but I think my favourite Sum 41 solo to play live would be in “Out For Blood” off of our record Order In Decline.
You were one of the first South Asian artists from North America performing on the world’s biggest stages in the 90’s. What were the first grueling years like for you and did you face adversity during these times?
Well, I think that honour belongs to Kim of Soundgarden and Tony from No Doubt. I think we all face adversity when we are put under the spotlight, negativity is a part of showing yourself to the world. Punk music was the most accepting place for me to be as a guitarist with Guyanese roots because of who we surrounded ourselves with. Honestly, I think growing up as a kid in Ajax made me face more adversity than the music business. Once I found a family in music, our attitude was it’s us against the world so I had support in any time I needed it thanks to the guys in the band.
Through research we learned that you met Deryck Whibley in high school and got kicked out of class for talking about music on the first day. Who were some bands and artists you both bonded over in the early years of becoming friends?
The obvious ones were Nirvana and Metallica. We always tend to like the same heavy music and our love of going to shows to see bands hasn’t slowed at all.
What were your thoughts, feelings, and emotions around creating your first album and how did it feel to follow it up with another one the year after with such a quick turn around?
Our first record with a producer was a quick lesson on how to be a band in the studio. Lessons like: know how to play the song without any accompaniment were huge. I think emotionally I felt a sense of accomplishment due to pushing my boundaries and achieving things I didn’t think I could do on a guitar. We recorded two records at once in order to keep touring and make the most of our time on the road.
The Sum 41 album “Chuck” was my favorite of all time. What was the process of creating this iconic album?
That album catches inspirations from many different things that were happening in the world, to us as individuals and our trip to the DRC in Africa.
So much happened during that time, it’s a whirlwind and I think that the state of the world and our aggression on that record are tied together. It was at that moment that I started noticing tensions with our manager, we were all doing way to much in the way of drugs at that point and I started isolating myself from the hard drugs even though I was smoking weed chronically. This was a strange time for all of us but I think it lends to Chuck being the ruff kitten of our offerings.
Seeing you shred guitar solos on stage was one of the first forms of representation I saw for South Asians. You made rock music look more inclusive and in turn inspired me to play rock music on my electric bass by attempting your solos which I understood to be nearly impossible. What does it feel like to have a profound impact on individuals and be labeled a pioneer?
To be told someone looks up to me is a rare and beautiful thing, it makes me smile every time and makes me reflect on the guitarists I identified with as a youth. No one ever told me to my face that I would never make it due to my heritage but it’s plain to see there is a major lack of us in North American pop culture. I’m honoured to be of South Asian heritage through Guyana and I implore anyone to pick up an instrument no matter where you and your family come from.
We loved seeing you form the group Brown Brigade with your cousin Vaughn Lal which encompassed soca, calypso, funk, reggae, heavy metal and more as well as showcased your lead vocal abilities. What was this time like for you to experiment with a different sound?
That album is filled with good and bad memories. My cousin and I got to work together which is something I have always wanted to do on a major level. I think that I was not a good leader at that time because I was too cocky and full of myself. The sounds we created on Into the Mouth of Badd(d)ness were supposed to be a teaser to what we wanted to do. We wanted to be the Ween of heavy metal, giving us the freedom to write what we wanted when we wanted.
The original idea for Brown Brigade was to offer a subscription service at $1CAD per year which would give access to all aspects of the art we created; Music, interviews, paintings and other media. This idea was squashed by so many Canadian record execs;
For example we were told by The late Sen. Jon McCain’s daughter Sid McCain said, “…it will never work and no one wants their music to be online, they want physical copies.” We were at the mercy of big ideas and a lack of technical know how, based on how everyone gets their music nowadays I’d say we were on to something the industry couldn’t wrap their head around.
You started in the music industry pre-social media where an artist and band created a following locally. How do you feel about the current generation of streaming music and how social media has exposed artists to audiences worldwide?
I think due to how people consume music nowadays there is more wiggle room for artists that don’t fit in a mold, it removes some of the influence that the music business can create. People are more free to do what they want and we are free to listen to what we want with easier access and less influence.
You’ve had a couple of nicknames throughout such as “Pleasure” “Hot Chocolate”, and more. We would love for you to tell us the meaning and story behind your nickname “Brownsound”.
It’s really down to how I like my guitar to sound in the studio, I’d constantly say things like: “I need it to be punchy and percussive.” It needs to sound like it’s puking out of the speaker! Someone told me that I was going for the “Brown Sound” which was made famous by Eddie Van Halen. Our engineer Blair Calibaba at the time said I should be Dave “Brownsound” Baksh.
I got the chance to see y’all perform live in Salt Lake City, Utah pre-pandemic. What has it felt like to get back to performing all over the world?
As I’m reflecting on this we are about to play for our biggest crowd in Paris, I tend to get emotional when it comes to playing post pandemic because of what my family went through during that time. My mother and I had to beat cancer, we lost so many beloved family members and pets during that time and I had to figure out what I am when music no longer needs me.
How has your approach to music changed when you started in the music industry to current times?
Experience, emotional awareness, less practice because my practice regime used to control my life.
Who would be your dream collaboration or collaborations?
Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt. To sit in a room and lay down some guitars on something the three of us created would be a dream come true.
How do you get through writer’s block when you’re not feeling creative?
Stop, mow the lawn, fold laundry, clean the bathroom. Remember how much housework sucks, then I tend to take my thankless ass back to a thankful headspace.
What are your thoughts running through your head while you are shredding a guitar solo?
Nothing, focus and feeling are all that’s happening.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
To quote a great chef “Love the process.” Apply this motto to all things you go through, if you don’t love everything about being in a band or writing music then step aside and get a job doing something else.
Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Relatability, possibility and inspiration, without these we can’t picture ourselves in a place we want to be.
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
Passion is something many claim to have, but few truly possess. Whether it’s hobbies, professions or romances, it’s the secret ingredient we all crave but is quite difficult to come by. But on meeting Chef Devan Rajkumar — aka Chef Dev — it takes just a few moments to understand true passion. For the Indo Guyanese chef from Toronto, passion has always been food and its power to connect, nourish, excite and represent.
Whatever the outlet, Rajkumar feeds his mission to bean ambassador for modern, West and East Indian cuisine. I recently sat down with him to talk about this and the experience of bringing Indo Caribbean flavors to South Asia and beyond.
Feeding a passion for food
“The sights, the sounds, the aromatics. The excitement of the kitchen has just always appealed to me,” he began. “Food moves me in a certain way. I want to nurture and nourish. I’ve just always wanted to do for others.”
As he sat back in a ‘Guyana vs. the world’ tank top, Rajkumar’s energy was palpable.
“I’ve always lived and breathed food, all day, all night. Like I’m talking about food right now. I’m constantly talking about food.”
To Rajkumar, food is education — one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn, teach and explore the world — and he credits his older brother Jai for inspiring this mindset. Jai was the first to introduce him to different cuisines, teach him to be curious about the world and show him how to challenge the norms of a “typical brown kid.”
Despite this encouragement, however, a culinary career wasn’t Rajkumar’s first instinct. The son of a businessman, he initially jumped around universities and career paths. He also struggled with substance abuse and grief after Jai’s passing. Through all the challenges, food remained a constant, and the sense of community it created was a powerful draw.
“At a very young age, I recognized how food made me feel if I was in a bad mood and how it made others feel,” he shared.
He’s always looked forward to sitting around a table with friends and family, enjoying a nice meal, and how everybody could share their stories or just forget their troubles.
“Food is a very powerful vehicle for transporting someone.”
In 2009, Rajkumar finally followed his passion and joined a culinary school. He realized he had a knack for creating this experience for others.
“I realized I had the power and the gift to nourish and nurture someone else in this way,” and it became irresistible.
A cook with no boundaries, Rajkumar didn’t want to limit the number of people he reached to just those in Canada.
For many, success in the culinary world is having a thriving restaurant, but after spending six months opening one with The Food Dudes in 2015, Rajkumar realized this route wasn’t for him.
“I wanted more culture,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and not so much get my ass kicked, but to be a sponge. I knew I needed to travel to broaden my horizons.”
So he did. Rajkumar spent months cooking in India, London, Peru and Dubai. He shared his experiences on social media and people back home took note.
“When I returned to Toronto,” he continued, “that trip had established me as a cook who had no boundaries. As someone who wasn’t afraid to explore and get out of their comfort zone.”
And get out of his comfort zone he did.
“From catering to a pop-up abroad to filming ‘Cityline’ and speaking engagements, every day is different,” he explained. “I’ve had my bouts with imposter syndrome, but ultimately, I’ve gotten to make more of an impact than just opening a restaurant.”
That impact has especially been prominent in South Asia.
Rajkumar embraces not only his Caribbean culture, but his South Asian roots as well.
The temple he grew up in was a blend of Guyanese and East Indians, so he knew foods from a typical Guyanese household like alu curry and saijan but also East Indian favorites like dhokla and malai kofta.
“Ultimately, we came from India,” he declared. “I embrace the culture and I am very comfortable leaning back and forth into it. It’s in me. It’s who I am.”
In fact, Rajkumar noted his career became much more defined and successful when he really began to identify as not just a chef, but as an Indo Guyanese Canadian chef.
Hearing this, it was no surprise that Guyana, India and Pakistan stand out as some of his favorite destinations.
“Guyana is hugely impactful for me,” he shared, having visited his parents’ homeland frequently. “As soon as that door opens [at the airport], you smell Guyana. You smell the sugarcane burning from rum factories. I have all these wonderful sights, sounds, smells and flavors from those trips.”
His sentiments for India are similar.
“Incredible India is incredible India,” he referred to the country’s tourism slogan. “Every 100-200 kilometers, the menus can change completely. I can live in India for the rest of my life and never see it all.”
Rajkumar’s first trip in 2020 was only nine days long, but its impact stayed with him.
He couldn’t have been more excited to return for a month, earlier this year, and host what his friends there dubbed the “Mad Love Pop-Up,” after one of his signature sayings.
He filled the menu for the 18-day event with global dishes like ceviche and scotch eggs but infused them with West and East Indian flavors like masala, jerk and cassareep — a rich extract of the bitter cassava native to Guyana. Before he left, he even prepared Guyana’s national dish of pepper pot, a hearty meat stew, for the staff meal.
“My whole thought process was ‘let me give these people — my family there — an experience they’ve never had before,” he detailed. “Any time I give someone pepper pot or cassareep, they’re just so shocked. It’s so unique.”
Rajkumar is always excited to share the flavors and culture of Guyana with new people, but with his roots in South Asia, bringing them to Pakistan was that much more profound.
“In India, maybe it’s different, but in Lahore, most people don’t know about Guyana or where it is. That’s another reason why I did this. That’s why I do all the things I do. That’s why I’m wearing this tank top — to raise awareness about my culture and how beautiful it is,” he said.
Time in South Asia has also helped Rajkumar gain a deeper appreciation for the origins of many Indo Caribbean dishes and reinforced his love for them.
“Guyanese cuisine doesn’t just have Indian influence, but so many dishes in some way, shape, or form come from there. Like when I’m eating sada roti, I can tie it back to which type of flatbread it came from in India. I feel like a better-equipped chef at the end of the day. I’m more connected to my Guyanese roots and to the culture overall.”
Rajkumar wants to foster a deeper understanding and relationship between both heritages. He wants his food to build connections, not disparity.
Bringing the world back home
Rajkumar has visited over 20 countries, but Pakistan remains one place he’ll cherish his entire life. He is grateful not only for the opportunities he’s had there, but also for the chance to offer a fresh, alternative view of the country from what is often shown by the media.
“When people saw me posting content from Lahore, they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is Pakistan?’ This is not what we expected. This is not what we thought we’d see.’ They were shocked at how beautiful, kind, and welcoming everyone was.”
Reactions like these are Rajkumar’s ultimate goal.
A cookbook is due next year. He has aspirations of launching merchandise and cookware, traveling to South East Asia, and continuing his pop-ups, but ultimately, he concludes,
“I just want to stand for something. I want to continue to learn, remain humble, represent my Western and Eastern cultures and spread mad love. I want to be an ambassador to that world and be someone who’s dedicated to his craft, bettering himself and those around him.”
“I just want to continue to grow as a person,” he added with sincerity as he touched on his sobriety and what it’s taught him about achieving your goals.
“That might sound cliche, but it’s new to me. I’ve spent the last two years learning about myself and being vulnerable about how I feel, my healing journey and what I’m going through. If I excel and continue to invest time and discipline in that arena, everything else around me will flourish. I believe that goes for anyone.”
Rajkumar is going far literally and figuratively, but no matter where he lands, you can be sure he’ll bring something back for his supporters, whether it be a new view of the world or a concoction like a ceviche pani puri on one of his menus.
“That’s my travels to India, Pakistan and Peru all in one bite!” he exclaimed.
Chef Dev’s journey has not always been an easy one, but it’s a powerful example of the success one can taste with hard work, embracing authenticity and following true passion.