By guest contributor Sudha Kheterpal
I’m a British Asian female percussionist and have been playing on the pop music scene for over twenty years. I’ve toured with the likes of Faithless, The Spice Girls, and Dido and have been lucky enough to play some really big gigs. These shows require a huge amount of energy to run and also a huge amount of energy to give out as a performer on stage.
For the last year, I’ve been developing a prototype musical instrument – a percussion shaker – that converts the energy from playing it into electricity. It’s called SPARK and it enables people to generate electricity so they can plug in a light or charge up a mobile phone, simply through having a music jam.
I began researching and developing SPARK because I’d had a curiosity for many years as to whether the large amounts of energy produced whilst performing on stage, could be harnessed and used. Alongside this, came the realisation that there was something wider; that music has the power to cross paths of inequality and to bridge gaps of power imbalance on a global level.
Standing on the stage in front of thousands of people, watching them all come together as a collective as they dance to the same beat, you can’t help but realise the impact and power that music has. Historically, communities have come together all over the world through rites and rituals, to the sound of the same beats and tones. Music has always and still does pull us together as a global community.
A year ago, I began developing SPARK with a graduate Product Designer from the RCA and a now my project #Shake Your Power ready for launch. I’m taking it to Kenya first, where 75% of the population live without access to electricity. Having the ability to read at night or charge up a phone gives people the chance of a better education and also access to services like the revolutionary money transfer system, M-PESA.
My recent testing there included taking SPARK to schools and homes throughout rural Kenya, and the people who used our prototype said it was useful because they had light in the evenings, which they used for doing homework, household chores and for lighting their way home in the dark. It also became clear that SPARK will enable children and their families to be safer by eliminating the need of kerosene for light for example, and by providing light for women and girls in areas where rape is a huge problem.
As part of the project, I will be developing and distributing educational assembly kits, which will allow school children to learn the technology around the shaker by building the component parts themselves and subsequently their own power. Children studying science, technology, engineering, and music will all benefit from the application that these kits show. The aim is to first distribute these kits to as many schools as possible in rural Kenya and it’s great to imagine the impact this will have if 75% of Kenyan children can study at night.
SPARK is powered by innovative kinetic energy technology and currently 12 minutes of shaking it gives an hour of light, which can be stored in a battery. So if SPARK is played in a music lesson for example, it would provide light at home for a whole evening. In Kenya, many of the schools I visited began with singing and dancing in the morning before lessons began. Music is a focal part of a child’s activity there.
Music has empowered people for thousands of years and it is an integral part of culture in both Kenya and the rest of the world. It is what has kept communities alive throughout time.
SPARK is more than just a musical instrument. It is a 21st century way of bringing people together. It is a tool of empowerment providing a new way of bringing communities together, of keeping cultures alive and of bringing power to those who need it.
Sudha is a ground breaking Percussionist; the heartbeat of electronic band Faithless for 15 years, she has enjoyed huge global success. An artist who wears many hats (and not just the glittering cowboy hats for which she is widely recognised), she has been an integral part of club culture since the ‘90s, performing live in legendary clubs like Cream, Ministry of Sound, The Hacienda and Turnmills, to name but a few.